MCCARTHY -

The way to this town at the edge of Wrangell St. Elias National Park is 60 miles of dusty narrow dirt road, including a countless many potholes and blind corners and a one-lane bridge that stands 320 feet high.

While it may seem like the people at the end of the road would be ready for an update, not everyone wants the path to get easier to travel along.

That is why some speak against a series of improvements recently started by the Alaska Department of Transportation.

"The spirit of McCarthy is the wild west of Alaska, the rough around the edges," said Dasan Marshall, a guide for a local tour company. "If you take that away, you do a disservice to the place and the reason why people come out here."

The McCarthy road is carved around stunning vistas in the national park, and the town that bears the same name is at the end of the road, a quarter-mile walk after a footbridge crossing the glacier-fed river.

Three miles away lay the ruins of the old mining town Kenicott which was abandoned in the 1930s. The town was nearly abandoned when boom turned bust, but over the past 40 years the area has had a rebirth as a park and destination.

During its mining heyday, McCarthy was the place someone could go for a drink and a good time, things prohibited in the company town. Some of the people living in the area like to think the town has maintained that old frontier spirit.

Most visitors arrive on the bumpy road.

Kristin Link owns a piece of property near town and said she is worried what change will mean.

"We worry that if the road gets improved, then it changes the character of the town." Link said, adding that she felt the DOT had already set its mind on improvements after when it took public commentary.

The current project is part of a $1.6 million earmark of federal funds in 2005. The DOT is not paving but instead "high floating" the road.

DOT engineer Daniel Adamczak said this means an emulsion is placed on the road with the gravel that makes everything stick together. The result is something between pavement and a dirt road.

In the long run, the better road will save the DOT money in maintenance costs, Adamczak said.

10 miles down the dirt road, Tenley Nelson said she and her husband are pleased with the improvements. The couple has lived on a family homestead for 11 years.

Their children recently reached school age, meaning during the school year, they make an hour and a half commute every day.

"I don't see it changing anything other than our cars might not rattle apart as rapidly as they did before," Nelson said.

The way she sees it, McCarthy and Kennicott grew up, and they are no longer the wild west some like to imagine.     

"It's just not a frontier anymore," she said. "It's the hub of a national park. It's the jumping off place for so many people to come."

Nearly 70,000 visitors to Wrangell St. Elias keep food on the table for many residents, including Richard Kirkwood, owner of the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

"Anything that makes it's better for the guests makes it good for our business and good for for all of the businesses out here," Kirkwood said.

Concerns about community spirit are largely overstated, Kirkwood said: "You're going to find controversy about anything anywhere. I don't think its unusual we are at the end of the road too so you are always going to get people who have different opinions at the end of the road."

20-year summer resident Tom Golden put the place McCarthy finds itself in in terms many Alaskans can understand.

He said the place should not become like Denali National Park, which sees more than seven times the amount of visitors annually as Wrangell St. Elias.

"If you go to Denali, you go to the backcountry, but you're still going to see a lot of people," Golden said. "Here, you go across the mountain and you're not going to see anybody."