| ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 27
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 27 A century after the
first climber reached the summit of North America's tallest
peak, a growing movement of Alaskans is seeking to have it
renamed Denali, a moniker meaning "the High One" that is
traditionally used by Native Alaskans.
The 20,320-foot (6,194-metre) peak is officially named
"Mount McKinley" after the 25th U.S. president, William
McKinley, although many mountain climbers and locals refer to it
by the name used by the region's Athabascan people.
"This is the tallest mountain in North America and we
deserve to have this Alaskan landmark bear an Alaskan name,"
Alaska Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said in a
statement announcing her introduction of a bill in January that
would officially designate the mountain as Denali.
Previous efforts to rename the peak, including an earlier
attempt by Murkowski, did not succeed.
The McKinley name has been ardently guarded for decades by
Ohio politicians, who say it is a fitting tribute to the Ohioan
who was president from 1897 until his assassination in 1901.
Former U.S. Representative Ralph Regula, an 18-term
Republican whose district included McKinley's hometown of
Canton, was the most prominent defender, often using the
appropriations process to block any name changes.
When he retired in 2009, younger Ohioans took up the cause.
U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, has introduced
his own bill to preserve the mountain's McKinley name.
"We must retain this national landmark's name in order to
honor the legacy of this great American president and patriot,"
Ryan said in a statement.
The official U.S. government name was bestowed at the urging
of a gold prospector to celebrate the 1896 presidential
nomination of McKinley, a Republican champion of the gold
standard and political foe of Democrat William Jennings Bryan, a
Name-change advocates are hoping the 100th anniversary of
the first summit expedition will give their campaign momentum.
Murkowski's bill is co-sponsored by Alaska's other senator,
Democrat Mark Begich, and has the support of Senator Mark Udall
of Colorado. Udall, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources subcommittee on public lands, has climbed
the Alaska mountain.
"I think the idea of designating `Denali' keeps faith with
the Native people," Udall told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
The Alaska-Ohio name debate began in earnest in 1975. That
year, the state of Alaska officially designated the mountain
name as "Denali" and urged Congress to do the same.
A compromise of sorts was struck in the 1980 Alaska National
Interest Lands Conservation Act, which established more than 100
million acres (40 million hectares) of new parks, wildlife
refuges and other protected land units in Alaska. That act
tripled the size of the old Mount McKinley National Park,
creating today's 6 million-acre (2.4 million-hectare) Denali
National Park and Preserve.
McKinley name supporters counter that before 1896, the
mountain had several names bestowed in different Alaska Native
languages and in Russian, including "Dghelay Ka'a" and
"Bol'shaya Gora." They translated to "big mountain," "the big
one," "the high one" or "great mountain," according to the
Alaska Dictionary of Place Names.
For now, the U.S. Department of the Interior has staked a
neutral stance in the name debate.
"The department does not object to this bill and appreciates
the long history and public interest for both the name 'Mount
McKinley' and the traditional Athabascan name 'Denali,'" Peggy
O'Dell, deputy director of the National Park Service, said at
In 1913, Walter Harper, a 21-year-old Athabascan, was the
first member of a four-man climbing party to reach the top.
This summer, Harper's great-grandnephew and descendants of
other members of the 1913 summit team will mount an expedition
to follow their ancestors' path. The trek is scheduled to start
on June 7, 100 years after Harper reached the summit.
It is significant that three of the six people in that first
successful expedition were Alaska Natives, said Dana Wright,
Harper's 27-year-old great-grand-nephew. Aside from Harper, the
other two maintained a base camp and delivered supplies by
sled-dog team, he said.
Wright, a back-country snow boarder from Anchorage, said he
would prefer the mountain be named "Denali," which he said was
what the original summit team called it.
"I would like the name changed back. I think it's a much
more majestic name than Mount McKinley," he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)