Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Rights-of-Way Law-of-Way Law

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Rights-of-Way Law-of-Way Law

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Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Rights-of-Way Law

In Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, there are over 1 million acres of non-federal inholdings to which access is, and has been a major issue of controversy. Park managers and landowners alike are trying to reach an agreement which would provide for the access to private property, as well as towns such as Nabesna, McCarthy, and Kennecott. The following information will be used to convince park managers and conservationist groups that access via R.S. 2477 rights-of-ways are not only necessary, but also guaranteed by state and federal law.

For most Americans, traveling to and from home is relatively simple. Travel in most of the United States is on paved roadways, and most roadways draw very little attention from conservationist groups. This, however, is not the case for residents in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. ANILCA is an act established ”To provide for the designation and conservation of certain public lands in the State of Alaska, including the designation of units of the National Park, National Wildlife Refuge, National Forest, National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Wilderness Preservation Systems, and for other purposes.” (96th Congress of the United States, 1980) This act provided for the protection of millions of acres of Alaska’s wilderness through the creation of national parks and preserves, but in doing so, surrounded many small towns and villages by federally protected land.

Despite protecting millions of acres of wilderness, this act provided for the numerous groups of people affected by the establishment of this law. Stipulations regarding the use of protected lands by private landowners were made. People living inside the park lands were guaranteed the right to subsistence hunting and fishing, as well as the guaranteed access to their lands. This right of access is the main concern for this argument, as it is a major management issue for park officials and land owners alike.

As aforementioned, access to park lands is guaranteed by ANILCA, Title 11, §1107, but it is also protected by the Federal Reserved Statute 2477. R.S. 2477 is a federal statute providing for the access across public lands. Once established, RS 2477 claims can not be eliminated. This policy was put in place in 1866 by The Mining Act to provide for mineral and resource extraction as well as for expansion to the west.

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Despite the end of this policy in the 1970s, all RS 2477 claims must be honored under federal law.

Many of the proponents of RS 2477 claims are residents of McCarthy, Alaska, a town located within the boundaries of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. A group known as the Coalition for Access to McCarthy or simply CAM is arguing and petitioning that their legal rights are being impeded on by park managers and conservationist groups alike. In one article by CAM, they list their goals to “promote increased access to the McCarthy Corridor, Accomplish enhanced access through improvements to the McCarthy Road, up to and including installation of hard surface, in addition to increased access to coalition searches for solutions to road safety concerns, equal and shared access, and year round maintenance,” finally, “the coalition believes that upgrading the road will ultimately result in its primary goal of increased economic development for residents of McCarthy Corridor and the Alaskan public.” (Coalition for Access to McCarthy, 2004)
These goals that have been established by CAM are not only founded in federal law, but also rights that every American believes they are entitled too. Imagine an America where we had no roads, and where access to our homes, to our places of employment, and even access to grocery stores was being impeded on by not only the government but also civil groups looking to the environment.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is 13.2 million acres in size, and the largest national park in the United States. Surely access to the inholdings on unimproved rights-of-ways would not be too greatly noticed. Opponents of this policy, attempt to argue that these RS 2477 rights-of-ways will interfere with nature’s natural order, and in some cases even claim that these so-called “highways” are really non-existent roadways. In an article from the Sierra Club’s publication, Sierra, it is argued that pro-development politicians’ claim the presence of “nonexistent roads” to circumvent wilderness protection. (P.R. 1998) Additionally, many articles such as one by the National Parks Conservation Agency’s article “Parks threatened by rights-of-way claims,” in their publication, National Parks, argue that there is no basis on how RS 2477 claims are processed and approved, and argue that many times these roads are not really roads at all. (National Parks Conservation Association, 2004)
Despite this, R.S. 2477 rights of ways are not defined as being routes for motor travel. In fact the law was put into effect 40 years before Automobiles were manufactured.

Now that legal precedence has been established, it must also be recognized that these R.S. 2477 claims were intended for mineral and resource extraction. It is imperative that these access corridors be allowed to remain for resource management and extraction alone. Towns within the park such as McCarthy and Kennecott are founded on mining and now even have protected historical structures based on its history in mining.

Section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866 stated that “the right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses is hereby granted.” Being that this law was established by a Mining Act, it only seems reasonable to allow for access for the requirements of mining.

These RS 2477 claims could be considered a backbone of American economy when related to mineral and resource extraction. Much of the economy of the United States is derived from mining and logging that is done in otherwise pristine areas. In a 1998 report by the United States Department of Energy, entitled “The Future Begins with Mining,” it is stated that “The industry will employ processes and produce products that provide greater utility at lower costs, reduce energy consumption, and will continue to minimize the adverse environmental, health and safety effects associated with mining and mining and mining products. Achieving this vision will provide enormous benefits to the world’s growing and prospering population, their quality of life and the environment.” (The National Mining Association, 1998)

In the abovementioned quote, it seems as if environmentalist fears that mining in National Parks via access on RS 2477 claims is damaging and negatively affects the park can be quelled. Mining plays a very major part in the economic stability of The United States, and the removal of RS 2477 rights-of-ways will clearly have a negative effect on this strength. From the same DOE report, it is stated that “(the mining industry) …will enable economic growth and improved public welfare, while enhancing environmental performance.” (The National Mining Association, 1998)

As described by the National Park Service and Wrangell-St. Elias’s website, copper mining in Kennecott from 1911 to 1938 was responsible for a high level of economic growth in the U.S. In fact, “The total value of the copper extracted was approximately $200 million. Capital generated from the operation went on to stimulate mining endeavors in other parts of the United States and South America. Kennecott Copper Corporation remains an important name in the international mining community today.” (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, 2004)

While there are currently only 2 recognized roadways within Wrangell, The McCarthy Highway and the Nabesna Highway, totaling approximately 100 miles, there are over 1,600 miles of RS 2477 rights-of-way within the park. (See attached map) These rights-of-way are providing for the future of the people living within the park, and also potentially providing for the economic future in the United States.

In conclusion, it is obvious that RS 2477 claims are valid, and not only provides for the economic stability of the country, but is also guaranteed by the Mining Act of 1866 and by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Access through RS 2477 claims provide for the access to the more than one million acres of non-feral land within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and enable the resource management and extraction that is the property of all Americans.


Coalition for Access to McCarthy (2004). CAM. Retrieved November 15th, 2004 from

National Parks Conservation Association (2004). Parks in Peril. Retrieved November
15th, 2004 from

P.R. (1998, May / June). This is a Road?. Sierra, 83(3), 18. Retrieved November 15,
2004 from,ip,url,uid&db=aph&an=502121

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (2004). Kennecott National Historic Landmark.
Retrieved November 17, 2004 from

The National Mining Association (1998, September). The Future Begins With Mining: A
Vision of the Mining Industry of the Future. United States Department of Energy. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from

96th Congress of the United States (1980, December) PUBLIC LAW 96-487-DEC. 2,
1980, 94 STAT. 2371. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from

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