Department of Interior changes name of highest mountain in North America back to 'Denali'
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The highest mountain in the United States and North America returned to its original Koyukon Athabascan name, Denali, Aug. 31 when the interior department announced the name change ahead of the president's visit to Alaska.
President Barack Obama approved Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's decision to officially change the name from Mount McKinley back to Denali, which has been the officially used name by the state of Alaska since 1975. More importantly, the mountain has been called Denali for generations by Alaska Natives.
"The name change recognizes the sacred status of Denali to many Alaska Natives," Jewel said. "With our own sense of reverence for this place, we are officially renaming the mountain Denali in recognition of the traditions of Alaska Natives and the strong support of the people of Alaska."
Jewell is granted the authority to make such changes in certain cases per the 1947 federal law that provides for the standardization of geographic names through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The name change will be reflected in all federal usage.
Before Aug. 31, the mountain had been called Mount McKinley. In 1896, a prospector emerged from exploring the mountains of central Alaska and received news that William McKinley had been nominated as a candidate for president of the United States. In a show of support, the prospector declared the tallest peak of the Alaska Range as Mount McKinley - and the name stuck even though for centuries the mountain that rises more than 20,000 feet above sea level, the tallest on the North American continent, had been known by another name - Denali.
McKinley, the 25th president, was assassinated just six months into his second term, but he never set foot in Alaska. The mountain retained the federally authorized name Mount McKinley, even as the name of the national park was changed in 1980 from Mount McKinley National Park into the new (and larger) area named Denali National Park and Preserve under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Efforts to change the name back to Denali officially began in 1975 when the governor of Alaska requested the name change based on a resolution that was passed by the Alaska State Legislature.
Since 1977, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, in deference to potential congressional action, had not resolved the proposal for changing the federally recognized geographic name from Mount McKinley to Denali. But the announcement of the name change officially resolves the former governor's petition.