As recent ADN articles have highlighted, Alaska and Anchorage are experiencing workforce shortages and outmigration. Access to outdoor recreation is our state’s greatest competitive advantage and a huge factor in retaining and recruiting a skilled workforce to live and work in our state. Investing in the infrastructure that makes outdoor recreation accessible to all Alaskans while simultaneously helping to bolster our visitor industry has never been more important.
Thankfully, outdoor recreation has a powerful ally in Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
In December, the U.S. Senate passed and the president signed an omnibus appropriations package containing funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2023. As the ranking member on the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Murkowski negotiated provisions for important projects all across Alaska with impact areas including infrastructure on public lands, early monitoring systems for natural disasters, support for Alaskans’ health and safety, monitoring greater salmon and many others.
At Alaska Trails, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to building trails for Alaska’s people, communities and economy, we are especially excited about those projects, which will increase recreation access to public lands and help to move forward important trail and outdoor recreation priorities.
Among these advancements are legislation designating the 16-mile U.S. segment of the Chilkoot Trail in Southeast — first a Tlingit trade route and then used during the gold rush — as a National Historic Trail. In addition, $2.5 million was allocated for the Winter Access Trails pilot program, which provides for the creation of temporary winter trail access between communities on the North Slope.
Murkowski also helped push forward two important projects in the Denali area. Those include funds for the design and construction of pedestrian pathways along the Parks Highway corridor in the Denali Borough, which will make the area near the Denali Park entrance a safer place for walkers and bikers. The bill also provides funding to restore access to the Denali National Park Road — a huge benefit not only for the visitor industry but also for the thousands of Alaskans who utilize the road to walk, hike, ski, bike or backpack each year.
The omnibus bill also includes funding to complete the Iditarod National Historic Trail-Southern Trek in the Chugach National Forest, building key missing segments and bridges.
And finally, the senator was instrumental in securing the funding for the BLM to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the proposed 500-mile Alaska Long Trail, which will connect Seward to Fairbanks, should become a National Scenic Trail. As the senator said herself on a recent episode of Alaska Public Media’s Talk of Alaska, the Alaska Long Trail is “something that (she is) very excited about”.
If there is one thing we know at Alaska Trails, it’s that these trail projects don’t just happen. They are the product of dedicated local advocates, volunteers, trail crews, land managers, individual donors, foundations and allies in our local, state and federal governments.
We know that the only way those exciting next steps will come to fruition is through collaborative work with the communities that benefit from these outdoor recreation improvements and with the support of our representatives who help to ensure funding for worthy projects is secured. We are grateful to Murkowski and look forward to working with all elected officials to keep building trail connections across the state.
Haley Johnston is the Trails Initiative Manager for Alaska Trails, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to building trails for Alaska’s people, communities and economy.
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