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Trans-Alaska pipeline trail: A world-class tourism draw with a clear view of responsible development

  • Author:
  • Updated: June 26, 2016
  • Published April 9, 2016

The moment I heard about the vision for the Trans-Alaska Trail, I was really excited.

This is the kind of idea Alaska needs right now. Our economy is on the ropes. Our budget deficit is huge. We need new ideas and entrepreneurial energy.

If you missed it, the Trans-Alaska Trail was reported by Alaska Dispatch News last week. The idea, coming from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Valdez-based economic diversification nonprofit Levitation 49 (levitation49.org), is to create an 800-mile adventure tourism gateway from the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the trans-Alaska pipeline right-of-way. This is an independent, entrepreneurial effort that aims to capture nonprofit and private sector dollars to execute its vision.

I worked several summers surveying the pipeline. This job that helped pay my way through college also opened my eyes to the vast and breathtaking geographical expanse of our state. Through my years working for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., I walked most of the 800 miles, some stretches numerous times, most always marveling at the mountains, glaciers, tundra, taiga, forests, rivers and everything else along the way. I can't begin to find the words to describe how spectacular the route is.

For its duration, the pipeline is accompanied by what we would call the "service pad," what I spent those summers walking. Think of Powerline Pass Trail (which is also a pipeline right of way). Except the Trans-Alaska Trail is 780 miles longer than Powerline Pass, and connects two oceans and crosses three major mountain ranges.

The aktrail.org website notes this project is actively evolving. An incredible amount of progress has been made so far. Lots more questions remain, many involving Alyeska and the landowners, primarily BLM and the state of Alaska. I hope all the stakeholders can work together to make this idea happen and find solutions.

Having been involved in a vast array of Alaska sports events and as the founder of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, I've seen the contributions BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Alyeska have made to our communities, sports events and teams. Ultimately this project should be a success story for Alaska's tourism industry, but also for Alaska's oil industry.

This is an opportunity to show that Alaska can, and does develop its resources responsibly — so much so that a piece of industrial infrastructure, an oil pipeline of all things, can serve as a world-class outdoor tourism attraction at the same time. It's a huge opportunity to change preconceived notions and share with the world what responsible development actually looks like.

I?ve spent my life living in and loving Alaska. Growing up in Trapper Creek and having competed for decades in Alaska's mountain races and camping and hiking with my family, I love Alaska's backcountry. The vast majority of people out there don't go mountain running or compete in wilderness races. The Trans-Alaska Trail is the kind of route in the average person's comfort zone, without sacrificing scenic views and a natural experience.

Most importantly, this idea offers something Alaska doesn't have: an adventure gateway for tourists and visitors wanting to experience Alaska. We don't have an Alaska equivalent of the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, which attract literally hundreds of thousands of hikers to do segments of the route, or even the entire thing. Those trails are world-class attractions and economic drivers.

The Trans-Alaska Trail has world-class potential — the potential to draw visitors from around the country and world who are looking for a bucket-list Alaska experience. The Trans-Alaska Trail is a vision we can and should all get behind.

Harlow Robinson lives in Anchorage. He is the executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and its Healthy Futures program. When he is not working, you might spot him playing in Alaska's backyard.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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