Opinions

OPINION: Alaska wins with America’s Outdoor Recreation Act

Chugach Hike

Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of Alaska’s economy and culture, buoyed by the state’s majestic glaciers, vast tracts of rugged wilderness, and pristine national parks. With 34,000 miles of coastline and 222 million acres of national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and more, it comes as no surprise why visitors flock to the state in droves each year. As many come to appreciate all Alaska’s natural beauty has to offer, it is important we ensure everyone has the necessary access to these lands and the tremendous benefits they provide. Thankfully, a bill being discussed right now in the U.S. Senate -- the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, supported by Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- would go a long way toward achieving this goal.

This historic legislation -- the most comprehensive outdoor recreation bill since the 1960s -- will invest in outdoor infrastructure, public parks and systems and allocate funds to those who matter most -- local communities. This is especially important for Alaskans, as 60% of the state’s land is owned by the federal government. The America’s Outdoor Recreation Act will improve, protect, and provide additional access to the state’s wonders while supporting the important economic contributions that come from the outdoor recreation industry.

There is no shortage of outdoor spaces, and activities like boating, fishing, hiking, biking and snowmachining that depend on these spaces and continue to be vital to Alaska’s economy. In fact, the outdoor industry contributes more than $1.6 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 5% of Alaska’s total employment. Alaska’s booming seafood industry is the largest private-sector employer and produces more seafood than all other states combined, providing two-thirds of the nation’s wild-caught fish and shellfish. Preserving these public lands and waters are vital to Alaska’s long-term viability and Sen. Murkowski is committed to safeguarding Alaska’s natural resources for decades to come.

Over the past two years, Americans’ renewed appreciation for the great outdoors proved that the benefits of a strong outdoor recreation industry reach far beyond the economic implications. In 2020, the highest participation rate in outdoor recreation activities was recorded, with more than 50% of people participating. Glacier Bay National Park – just one of Alaska’s eight national parks – sees half a million visitors to the wild coastlines every year, and even more venture to see North America’s tallest peak at Denali National Park.

Alaskans will reap immense benefits from the increase in opportunities for motorized and non-motorized access and experiences on federal lands only if there is a concerted effort to improve, modernize, and preserve these places. Along with supporting increased access to federal lands for visitors and working with gateway communities to identify economic impact needs and opportunities, the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act seeks to provide federal funding for specific infrastructure like cycling trails and outdoor entrepreneurial training programs and to utilize real-time data to extend the outdoor recreation season. Policymakers understand the frustration that Alaskans feel in the time it takes to process permits, and with this legislation, will cut the regulatory red tape that holds people back from experiencing all that Alaska has to offer.

While Alaska is surrounded by many natural beauties, most of the population lives in the Anchorage metropolitan area. Unfortunately, urban spaces are often disconnected from nature, and more than 100 million Americans do not live in walking distance to a park or green space today. Nature is not an amenity, but a necessity for health and well-being. It is crucial that all people have access to and can enjoy green spaces. This legislation will provide immediate change by investing in more local parks and playgrounds in communities like Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

The outdoor industry is working with legislators and allies like Sen. Murkowski to support Americans’ renewed appreciation and desire to explore the great outdoors. The America’s Outdoor Recreation Act is a crucial step in the right direction to continue to uplift investments and legislation that seek to make a real impact on the physical and mental health of Americans while preserving our public lands and waters and the industries that drive local economies.

Lee Hart is executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Alliance and Lise Aangeenbrug is executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).

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