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Denali Ain't Just a River in Egypt

by Jay Marshall Wolman, CIPP/US

I hate to admit it, but I first learned the term “Denali” when reading the Twilight series.  My wife and I had taken a vacation to the Pacific Northwest and visited the Olympic peninsula.  Edward and Bella references were everywhere, and we had no clue what it was all about.  So, I read the books.  And I have a problem with leaving a series unfinished (I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin).

This past Friday, with formal announcement yesterday, the Secretary of the Interior renamed Mt. McKinley, “Denali”.  Apparently, we have something called a U.S. Board on Geographic Names that was asked in 1975 to rename the mountain. It is authorized to establish uniform name conventions.  43 U.S.C. sec. 364, et seq.   The whole park was already called Denali, but the mountain itself was left unchanged.  Because the question was pending perennially before Congress, in a perpetual battle between Alaskans (Republicans and Democrats), who wanted it renamed and Ohioans, who wanted it to remain named for their native son (born in Niles, Ohio), the Board deferred action.  The Secretary declared that with 40 years of inaction, he had the authority to do it himself; I will assume he does.

In looking at the law, I was first taken by the odd language, that the Board, with the Secretary,  gets to resolve questions regarding the “standard name”.  See, 43 USC 364b.  I figured it already had a standard name, promulgated when the park was created in 1917.  But, 64.Pub.L. 253 only establishes the Mt McKinley National Park and did not name the mountain itself.  Since the park was redesignated in 1980 as the Denali National Park ( Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act Dec. 2, 1980, P.L. 96-487, Title II, § 202(3)(a), 94 Stat. 2382), it does seem that the name of the mountain itself was non-standard.

Chalk this one up to things that you didn’t know Congress had delegated to the executive branch.

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