OPINION: The Alaska Long Trail is a route to outdoor recreation and economic prosperity

Outdoor recreation in Alaska is unique because Alaska’s landscapes are different from anywhere else. Our mountains are bigger, our wild spaces more vast and our wildlife more abundant. While plenty of issues threaten to divide us, prioritizing time spent outside might be the most universal — and unifying — of Alaska values.

Alaskans demonstrate their commitment to outdoor recreation in both their rate of participation and their intensity. Across nearly all types of outdoor recreation activities, we get outside more and we play harder than folks in other states. Statewide nonprofit Alaska Trails, along with our Alaska Long Trail Coalition partners, is proposing another opportunity for Alaskans to play outdoors — the Alaska Long Trail — a 500-plus-mile multi-braid trail system connecting Fairbanks and Seward.

While a lot of work has already been done in the past year, specific questions about routes remain unanswered, and the bulk of the planning work is still ahead of us. Most of the proposed route will pass through U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and state of Alaska lands. While some other long trails, like the Appalachian Trail, are hiking-only footpaths, we seek to embrace the multi-use spirit of Alaska’s trails. The trail system will incorporate a variety of year-round uses, motorized and non-motorized, along different braids. Sections of the proposed trail will be open to hikers, bikers, ATV-ers, skiers, snowmachiners, skijorers, equestrians and others. Which sections? That depends on a few key factors: the constraints of the physical landscape, the policies of the agencies that manage the land through which the trail passes, and the recreation communities that participate in the planning process. The Alaska Long Trail Coalition is not seeking to change any designated uses for existing trail sections or areas.

The Long Trail concept has received outstanding bipartisan support across user groups, local governments and geographic regions. We are excited to see so much interest and enthusiasm. Several Long Trail projects have recently been funded — and in some cases completed — through federal grant programs and national outdoor recreation funding. Now, Alaska Trails and partners are working together this legislative session to secure funding for shovel-ready and/or planning-ready Long Trail projects in the FY2023 state capital budget.

In addition to providing more ways for residents to get outside and enjoy Alaska, the Long Trail will provide reasons for visitors to spend more time and more money in our state, benefiting Alaska businesses and communities. While there is no doubt that a world-class long trail will attract visitors — and their wallets — to our state, this will be our trail. So whether you enjoy the Alaska Long Trail by riding your snowmachine for the day on the Johnson Pass Trail, by gravel biking through Tanana Valley State Forest, or by through-hiking its full length on foot, we hope all Alaskans will take great pride in the creation of this world-class trail system, here in our world-class scenic landscapes.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the process, or learning more about the Alaska Long Trail and how you can show your support, visit our website: https://www.alaska-trails.org/the-alaska-long-trail. We are also hosting a session on the Alaska Long Trail at our annual Trails Conference on April 7 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. This session will start the process of regional planning to identify routes, uses and gaps along the Alaska Long Trail corridor. Attendance is free, and anyone interested in the Alaska Long Trail is invited to participate.

Chris Beck, Mariyam Medovaya and Haley Johnston are Alaska Trails staff members.

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