by Phillip Manning ~ July 3rd, 2014
Wednesday afternoon, Denali National Park held the official dedication ceremony for the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station. Attendees included multiple members of the Harper family, notable figures in the Alaska climbing community, and Senator Lisa Murkowski. K-T-N-A’s Phillip Manning was also there, and has this report:
The Talkeetna post for Denali National Park has been named for Walter Harper for months, but Wednesday marked the official dedication. Harper, a Koyukon Athabascan, was the first known person to set foot on the summit of Denali in 1913. A century later, an act of Congress renamed the Talkeetna Ranger Station in his honor. This week, some of Harper’s descendants, representatives of the Park Service, and one of the U.S. Senators who pushed the legislation through were in Talkeetna for the ceremony.
Mike Harper, Grand Nephew of Walter Harper, says the naming of the ranger station is significant beyond the Harper family.
“We are so thankful to the Park Service, today, for this celebration and dedication of the ranger station in the name of Walter Harper. It’s just a source of great pride, not just for the family, but for Athabascan people and all Alaska Natives.”
Dana Wright, Great Grand-Nephew of Walter Harper, spoke about recreating Harper’s footsteps as part of a centennial celebration climb last year, and Bishop Mark Lattime (lah-TEEM) of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, gave a significant portion of the credit for the 1913 summit to Walter Harper’s backcountry skills. Those sentiments were echoed by Don Striker, Superintendent for Denali National Park.
“Some of the guests that we had here, today, certainly the bishop and Mike from the family, sort of framed the issue really well. Climbing Mt. McKinley was quite a feat, and due recognition of the Native Alaskans’ participation in that feat, and the characteristics and skills that made that expedition successful.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski was also among the speakers. After the ceremony, she also stressed the value of naming the Talkeetna Ranger Station for Walter Harper. For her, as well as Mike Harper, the goal will not be reached until the name of the mountain itself is officially changed from Mt. McKinley to Denali.
“I think we recognize that there is more to be done. Naming a simple ranger station is one thing. Getting Denali rightly named on the maps and in the minds of people around the country and around the world is going to be the next mission.”
Senator Murkowski has introduced legislation to officially rename North America’s tallest peak, and advanced it out of committee, but it has not received a full vote. Park Superintendent Striker also says that he supports the renaming of Mt. McKinley to Denali, an approximation of the Koyukon Athabascan word for the peak.
After the ceremony, Walter Harper’s family, park staff, climbers, Senator Murkowski, and other attendees mingled and enjoyed a celebratory atmosphere on the warm, sunny summer afternoon.