Denali Foundation was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in November, 1989.
Denali Education Center, known as Denali Foundation before 2007, was established by the Denali Park Concessionaire and the Denali National Park Superintendent. Their vision was to create a non-profit to support research in the Park and serve as a meeting place for ideas; where researchers would share their findings with conservation professionals, guides, visitors, and the local community.
Three Decades and Counting
At its core, the Denali Education Center is about three things; community, education, and partnerships. We have grown and changed over the years, but these core tenants remain as central to our mission as they did on day one. From our residential Road Scholar and affinity programs, to our robust youth program offerings, we work tirelessly to support educational programming that speaks to the mission of Denali National Park.
Through the years, our programs have diversified to include summer camp programs for local and at-risk youth, developmentally challenged outdoor enthusiasts, naturalist-led day programs for park guests, and lectures, concerts, and workshops for the local community. In 2020, DEC merged with the Northern Susitna Institute allowing us to provide education and outreach programs in Denali’s southern gateway community.
1989 – Formation of DEC in Denali, Alaska
George Fleharty, park concessionaire, and Bob Cunningham, superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve, conceptualize the Denali Foundation. The organization was incorporated on Nov. 13, 1989, with 3 acres of land adjacent to the Nenana River and an office at McKinley Village Lodge.
The Denali Learning Center Campus opens. It’s North America’s first campus built specifically to house Elderhostel (now Road Scholar) programs. 17 weeks of programs for lifelong learners have consistently filled the campus since its inception.
The First Annual Auction was held in the Kantishna Room of the McKinley Village Lodge. 32 people attended, raising over $900.
The Charles Sheldon Center was completed with a grand opening ceremony held on June 20, 1998. Construction began in 1995 with 175 logs donated by loggers in Nenana.
Denali Discovery Camp was launched for local elementary-aged children; the administrative office was moved year-round to the Denali campus.
A lease/purchase agreement was signed with the Peterson family for the 7-acre parcel that had been leased for Elderhostel programs since 1990. Denali Education Center, officially, has its forever home on 10-acres next to the Nenana River.
Our Road Scholar offerings expand to include one-week programs with local experts such as Birds of Denali with Nan Eagleson and Tom Walker leading a photography expedition. Other offerings include Active Hiking, Kantishna, the Alaska Railroad, and Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks.
DEC makes a final balloon payment for the 7-acre campus and renovates all 12 guest cabins to include a shared porch and a private bath for each room (previously shared) through a loan package with Denali State Bank. This was a milestone accomplishment for the organization!
The completion of a large capital project brought water and bathrooms to the Sheldon Center and the construction of a facility that houses a commercial kitchen and the staff kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry. Funds were raised over a number of years and included donors ranging from the State of Alaska and Rasmuson Foundation to camp families and everything in between.
In the midst of the pandemic, we merged with the Northern Susitna Institute in Talkeetna, bringing together a shared mission and a 3-acre campus that includes the Susitna Hall, a community-built classroom, and a staff bunkhouse.