Denali National Park holds special meaning to many different people for all sorts of different reasons.

When Jodi Rodwell, the executive director of the Denali Education Center, arrived at Denali more than 20 years ago, she came seeking adventure like so many others. She told herself her infatuation with the mountain and its ecosystem could last only two years. A marriage, one child and a career working with the education center later, that infatuation has clearly matured into something much more for Rodwell.

Rodwell describes wilderness as an amorphous presence that varies from place to place. For the education director Denali is no different. That definition can vary by each individual’s experience and what they hope to find when they visit Denali, Rodwell said.

Most people don’t realize some form constantly surrounds them or another of what is defined as wilderness.
“It scales from place to place,” Rodwell said. “It’s your sanctuary.”

When Charles Sheldon came to Denali in 1906, surely his vision of Denali was something unique even to those who he arrived with.

Some people come to experience the simplicity of being one with nature, the hiking, the wildlife and so on.

That’s how it started for Rodwell, too. In the 20 years since her Denali adventure began, however, that sanctuary has evolved and expanded in many ways, meaning something much more simple.

These days the wilderness includes the family and the residents Rodwell shares with a community that lives year-round within a seven-mile radius of America’s tallest peak. Those residents, of course, include myriad flora and fauna that also live in Denali all year long.

“I expected it to be wild; I expected it to be different; but what I didn’t expect was the all-inclusiveness of it, just the open arms the people have and the community has,” Rodwell said. “You kind get that feeling from the wild itself; we’re all part of this wilderness.”

Now that allure has deepened into something more comforting. It is Rodwell’s home, Grizzly bears, 50-below degree winter days and all.

“Over the years that feeling of ‘I am here,’ and at times still so much the visitor,” Rodwell said. “The caribou and the moose that I meet to and from work, I can still feel so out of place here, so I think it’s part of always having to readjust my expectation.”