Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge.

Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.



The Legacy of Ginny Wood and Celia Hunter

March 24, 2016

Few people would contest the statement that Ginny Wood, born Ginny Hill, and Celia Hunter were two of Alaska’s pioneer conservationists, each with a heart that was drawn towards exploration. Their friendship started as they worked side by side as WASP pilots during WWII; shuttling planes around the United States for the war effort. For them, the freedom that came with flight “...was sheer magic!” Early in their friendship their mutual sense of adventure enticed them to attempt sailing from Seattle to Anchorage, and then later carried them to Europe, cycling through the war-torn landscapes of western Europe.

Following the war, the Alaska Territory caught their interest, and provided a blank canvas for exploration. Ginny and Celia first touched down in Alaska on New Years Day, 1947. They had flown two, single-engine Stinsons between Seattle and Fairbanks.  Due to temperatures that frequently dipped to -50F, the 30-hour trip had taken 27 days to complete- not to mention only one of the two planes had a functioning heater!

In the years that followed, Ginny would marry Morton “Woody” Wood and the adventuring duo would gain a third. Intrigued by the hut system of lodging popular in Europe, the trio began to dream of creating similar style of accommodation in Alaska. Their vision took form in 1951 when Celia staked 67 acres of land on the northwestern boundary of then Mt. McKinley National Park. The following summer of 1952 Camp Denali welcomed its first guests. Ginny, Woody and Celia designed Camp Denali for “...those who want a genuine Alaskan experience; for those who are willing to forgo modern conveniences, to live for awhile in the midst of primeval grandeur.”

Over the years Camp Denali would become an island of private land surrounded by an expanded, and recently renamed, Denali National Park. Over the 24 years that Ginny and Celia operated Camp, they relished sharing the beauty and wonder of Denali National Park. They sought to combine exploration of Denali’s vast landscape with an understanding of its history, science, and people.

In 1975, Ginny and Celia passed ownership of Camp Denali to the Cole Family; who still own and operate it today. As for these two amazing women, they never stopped exploring. They spent the next years trying to educate others and instill in them a passion for wild places. Ginny continued to lead backpacking and rafting trips into Alaska’s remote Brooks Range until the age of 70.

Throughout their lives Ginny and Celia would remain friends and allies in Alaska conservation. In 1960, they helped to found the Alaska Conservation Society, the first state-wide conservation organization, and both worked towards the formation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They jointly supported and helped pass the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act; a piece of legislation that preserved 100 million acres of Alaskan wilderness. In 1991, both Ginny and Celia received the Sierra Club’s highest honor, the John Muir Award. Later, in 2001, they received the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

With first Celia’s and then Ginny’s passings, in 2001 and 2013, we lost two amazing women who not only helped shape Alaska, but also aided in protecting the land that had so greatly shaped their own lives. Each year nearly two million of visitors make their way north to explore the wilds of Alaska. It is thanks to the conservation efforts of innumerable people, such as Ginny and Celia, that Alaska can still offer the promise of vast wilderness, and wildlife one is hard-pressed to find elsewhere. It is our hope that the lives and legacies of Ginny and Celia will continue to inspire others, and show the importance of preserving the wild places that call to all of us. Perhaps Ginny said it best: “ ...[the] values of such an area are those one cannot put a price tag on any more than one can on a sunset, a piece of poetry, a symphony, or a friendship…"

                                                                                                            

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