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What Is Katmai National Park?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Cartwright
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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Katmai National Park is a US national park southwest of Anchorage, Alaska on the northern end of the Alaskan Peninsula. The name is pronounced "cat-my." At more that 4,000,000 acres (about 16,200 sq km) it is the fourth largest National Park in the US. The park was first established in 1918 and was enlarged in 1980. Geologic formations related to volcanic activity, rugged Alaskan scenery, and wildlife are the principal attractions of the park. All access to Katmai National Park is by air or sea.

When the Novarupta volcano on the Alaskan Peninsula erupted in 1912 it covered 45 square miles (about 120 sq km) of the surrounding countryside with a layer of ash 650 to 700 feet (about 198 to 213 m) deep. Superheated water from underneath the ash sheet broke through to the surface, forming jets of steam. Called the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, the area continued to steam for years. In 1918 a national park was established in the area to preserve the unusual feature.

The steam jets have died down, but volcanoes and associated geologic features still play an important part in Katmai National Park. There are six active volcanoes within the park boundaries, and ten that are considered possibly active but have not erupted in recent centuries. The ash sheet in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes is one of the park's most popular attractions.

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In 1980 the park was enlarged to include and protect more of the surrounding area. Land features within the park include the Aleutian Range of mountains, glaciers and extensive forests. Wetlands, coastal areas, rivers and lakes are found within the park's boundaries as well as Arctic tundra and grassland areas.

Katmai National Park provides a rich environment for animals. Smaller mammals found there include snowshoe hares, beaver and porcupines. Moose and caribou live within the park as well as wolves, lynx and wolverines. The park also provides shelter to at least 150 species of birds including ptarmigan, tundra swans and loons. Bald eagles, hawks and owls are among the birds of prey found there.

Brown bears are one of the biggest attractions in the park. Salmon runs in the area are among the largest in the world and every year great numbers of brown bears gather to catch fish during the runs. At other times of year they spread throughout much of the park, but are still easy to find and observe.

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