Here in Alaska, trails mean business

Alaska has amazing outdoor recreation resources; resources that provide the foundation for our state’s $2.2 billion outdoor recreation industry. These same resources — our rivers and lakes, mountains, coastlines, cultural traditions, wildlife and wild places — are a big reason many of us chose to live here in Alaska.

Alaska’s large, growing outdoor recreation industry has long suffered from underinvestment. The good news is that businesses, communities, elected officials, Native organizations and nonprofits like Alaska Trails are now rallying to expand support for smart recreation infrastructure investments, including more and better maintained trails, trailheads, backcountry cabins, parks and rest areas. Benefits of these investments can be tremendous. For example, if just half of a typical year’s out-of-state visitors spent one more day in Alaska, they would inject an additional $137 million annually into Alaska’s economy.

The Alaska Long Trail — the work-in-progress, world-class route from Seward to Fairbanks — is a compelling example of the investments Alaska needs. Quality trails benefit residents and all categories of travelers. Trails provide an up-close experience of Alaska, and more reasons for visitors to slow down, stick around, and spend money at local hotels, BnBs, retail stores, restaurants, and with outfitters and guides. The Lower 48′s Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails, New Zealand’s network of huts and trails, and long trails abroad like Spain’s Camino de Santiago, leave no question: long trails attract wealthy tourists and generate significant jobs and community benefits.

State investment is critical for improving our trails and leveraging an array of other funding sources. This year’s legislative session was a good start. In February, the governor proposed funding the first phase of the Long Trail in his General Obligation Bond package. After the GO Bond was dropped, the Legislature approved Long Trail funding in the bipartisan capital budget. Unfortunately, the governor then vetoed the funding for the Long Trail, along with other outdoor recreation funding.

We applaud the initial effort by the governor and the Legislature for recognizing the economic engine that is outdoor recreation. But we ask the governor and Legislature restore this funding and deliver the economic and other benefits that come from outdoor recreation investments. We also want to thank Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is launching the feasibility assessment process that could lead to a National Scenic Trail designation for the Long Trail, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, who recently supported legislation to connect the gaps in urban pathways.

Alaska is well positioned to capitalize on the growing demand for active outdoor recreation. Travel from the Lower 48 to Alaska is quicker and cheaper than flying to Europe or New Zealand, and no passports are required. With good planning we can grow our outdoor economy and sustain the qualities that make Alaska a unique place to live and visit. But for too many years the state has failed to invest in planning, building and maintaining the infrastructure outdoor-oriented travelers seek. As a result, year after year, we have lost visitors to other destinations with superior trails and cabins, better wayfinding and better funded statewide marketing.

Our businesses and organizations all depend on visitors and residents who want to explore Alaska’s outdoors. While we are a long way from fully developing our outdoor recreation resources, these trail investments offer an historic, transformational step. At a time when Alaska’s economy is in transition, we would be thrilled to see the state invest to improve active recreation opportunities, grow our sustainable outdoor recreation industry, and make it easier and more inviting for everyone in Alaska to be active, healthy and happy outside.


Chris Beck is Alaska Trails Initiative Coordinator for Alaska Trails.

Mandy Garcia and Candice Kotyk are owners of Salmon Berry Travel and Tours.

Tennelle Peterson Wise is general manager of the Denali Bluffs Hotel.

Christina Grande and Dustin Eroh are owners of Alaska Bike Adventures.

Naomi Norem is store manager of The North Face Anchorage.

Dan Oberlatz is owner-guide of Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Stacie and Troy Smiley are owners of Dancing Leaf Gallery Talkeetna.

Jason Buttrick and Britta Sonerholm are owners of Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking.

Steve Judd is president of Alaska Tour and Travel.

Lee Hart is the founder of the Alaska Outdoor Alliance.

Tim Dillon serves as executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District.

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