Wrangell–Saint Elias National Park and Preserve

Wrangell–Saint Elias National Park and Preserve

national park and preserve in southeastern Alaska, U.S., on the Canadian border adjoining Kluane National Park and Reserve in Yukon Territory. Proclaimed a national monument in 1978, the area was established as a national park and preserve in 1980 and was designated a World Heritage site in 1979. It is the largest unit in the U.S. national park system, with a total area of 13,006 square miles (33,685 square km). At the convergence of the Chugach (Chugach Mountains), Wrangell (Wrangell Mountains), and St. Elias (Saint Elias Mountains) mountain ranges, the park includes the largest assemblage of glaciers and the greatest collection of peaks above 16,000 feet (4,880 metres) on the continent. Mount St. Elias (Saint Elias, Mount), at 18,008 feet (5,489 metres), is the second highest peak in the United States.

      The Chugach Mountains, located along the park's southwestern boundary and near the Pacific coast, are the site of the 80-mile- (130-km-) long Bagley Icefield. Spawning several large glaciers, it is the largest subpolar icefield in North America. To the north of the Chugach Mountains the braided Chitina River flows northwestward to drain into the Copper River, which, in turn, empties southward along the park's western border into the Gulf of Alaska (Alaska, Gulf of). Crossing the central part of the park from the northwest to the southeast are the volcanic Wrangell Mountains (northwest) and the St. Elias Mountains (Saint Elias Mountains) (southeast). Mount Wrangell, which rises to 14,163 feet (4,317 metres), last showed signs of volcanic activity in 1900, when vents of steam appeared near its summit. The Nabesna Glacier, one of the continent's longest, extends northward out of the Wrangell Mountains. The St. Elias Mountains also contain glaciers. The Malaspina Glacier, some 40 miles (65 km) wide and 1,500 feet (460 metres) thick, is the largest piedmont glacier in North America; it flows out of the St. Elias Mountains in the southeastern part of the park.

      The park's vegetation consists largely of coastal spruce-hemlock forests, floodplain spruce and deciduous forests, and alpine sedges and grasses. Wildlife includes caribou, brown and grizzly bears, Dall sheep, moose, wolves, trumpeter swans and other waterfowl, and marine mammals. Access to the interior of the park is by two roads, one in the north and one in the south, and by aircraft. The southern road through the Chitina River valley allows access to McCarthy and the ruins of the Kennecott Mines (copper). The park is the scene of such wilderness-oriented activities as backpacking, hunting and fishing, river running, and mountaineering.

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Universalium. 2010.

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