The tallest mountain in North America has a new name, which is its old name. Standing at 20, 237 Ft, this peak doesn’t have a say in the matter, but many others do. Mount McKinley was just renamed by President Obama as he embarks on a visit to Alaska to discuss his views on climate change. The image above is from the National Park website, already updated to reflect the change. McKinley was given that name in 1896 from a gold prospector showing support for the man who became president the next year. In 1917, President Wilson officially named it in the Mount McKinley National Park Act. The Unites States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, but was welcomed into the US as the 49th state in 1959.
Obama is the first sitting president to go visit Alaska. Considering his affiliation with Hawaii, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he is making an effort to show respect for the Pacific extension of our county. But after almost seven years as president, he is going at the end of summer, when our 49th state is not showing off its full charm of low sunlight and bitter chill. I personally would prefer to see and feel the burnt of the cold. But I do love winter and don’t have tropical roots. To be honest, coastal Alaska does escape the worst of the cold often, and during an El Nino charged year, likely to experience warmer than normal weather this upcoming winter. You can see live webcams of many beautiful places across Alaska. I’ve placed a few links at the bottom of this post.
Beyond my debate on seasonal preference, the naming has many arguing this morning. I wonder if this is pinning two states against each other, or it this is bigger than that. Denali after all is the Koyukon word for big or tall. And while there has been a movement in Alaska to revert the mountain to its local name, McKinley was from Ohio and political leaders there take this as a personal attack. McKinley was a Republican, Obama is a Democrat, and this is a pre-election year.
I do not want to get in to the politics. My purpose is purely for the geography, my love of mountains, and the inevitable connection to weather. Mountains hold the imagination and stake their claim influencing the surrounding land. Denali does have a charm to it, well beyond the name of a truck.
Renaming a road, airport, even a sports stadium stirs up debate. So this mountain has done just that. It’s a place I often discuss in my school assembly program (Wind for Change), and with my two boys. Books and maps will be rewritten. I am open to change, but also was among the many feeling a sense of loss when Pluto was declassified as a planet. Everything I learned in school then was left with a gaping hole. “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine…” Nine what?!?
Food for thought… When Thurgood Marshall’s name was honored at our local airport, the old name remained part of it: BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. I wonder if there was a way to keep both sides happy with something like Denali at McKinley National Park? Denali gets the mountain name and the park remains McKinley?
What do you think? Was it political? Was it respect for the natives? Is it just an item for a slow weather/news day? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share either in the comments below or on the social media post where this story was linked.
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