OPINION: Outdoor recreation funding will benefit Alaska

It is another good year for outdoor recreation in the state capital budget. The Legislature passed its version of the budget on May 15, and it is now on the way to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his approval. The budget provides more than $13 million for outdoor recreation projects across the state. A $13 million investment in outdoor recreation may sound big, but it’s worth noting that it is only 0.3% of the overall capital budget. While a small percentage, this funding will make a big difference for trails and other facilities that you enjoy. Statewide highlights include funding for Alaska State Parks sanitation facilities, winter snowmachine trail grooming and marking, operational support for the Iditarod Trail Committee, and matching funds for federal grant programs for outdoor recreation.

The Alaska Long Trail Coalition is particularly excited about the $3.7 million in the budget for nine Alaska Long Trail projects in the Anchorage area. Several of these projects are in Chugach State Park. In particular, the budget invests $500,000 to reroute the trail to the most hiked peak in all of Alaska, Flattop Mountain. For years, the deteriorating conditions have been a safety hazard for the many visitors and residents that hike this trail; rerouting the trail is a matter of public safety.

Another large Chugach State Park project is the $1 million for the development of the 13.5-mile Ship Creek trail that will connect the recently constructed Muktuk Marston Trail and the soon-to-be realigned Indian Valley Trail. This construction will complete a 25-mile section of the Alaska Long Trail from Turnagain Arm to north Anchorage. This project will improve the ability of hikers, hunters, equestrians, and skiers to access the interior of Chugach State Park. Other Chugach State Park projects include a study of trailhead parking expansion at Arctic Valley Ski Area, funding for the Ram Valley trail and parking lot once a final alignment is determined through the ongoing Ram Valley Feasibility Study, and funding for additional public use cabins within the park.

Projects in the Anchorage area — but outside of Chugach State Park — include investments in trail improvements and construction for a Girdwood segment of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, connectivity and planning in the U-Med and East Anchorage trail systems, an expansion to the network of bike trails at Hillside Park in Anchorage, and a bike path in Portage Valley. With in-state and out-of-state tourism growing in Southcentral Alaska, new and expanded trailheads and trails will give users more recreation options, reducing congestion at existing access points. On May 21, the Mat-Su Assembly passed a resolution reaffirming its support for the Alaska Long Trail from a previous 2021 resolution and outlining priorities for land management, and we hope to see Mat-Su area projects in the state budget next year.

It is encouraging to see so much support for diverse forms of outdoor recreation in the state budget over the past couple of years. Outdoor recreation constitutes 4% of Alaska’s GDP, supports over 20,000 jobs, and is one of the fastest growing industries in the state. Trails bring economic development to local communities through tourism spending, job creation, business opportunities, and tax revenues. Trails and other outdoor recreation infrastructure also help to attract and retain a workforce that enjoys recreating outdoors. Further, projects such as the Alaska Long Trail create new opportunities for Alaska residents to access public lands as existing access opportunities become insufficient to satisfy the growing demand. Funding for outdoor recreation is a smart decision, and we commend the state Legislature and the governor for this investment.

Steve Cleary (executive director, Alaska Trails), Haley Johnston (chair, Chugach State Park Citizens Advisory Board), Beth Nordlund (executive director, Anchorage Park Foundation), Beverly Luedke-Chan (president, Anchorage Ski Club), Lee Bolling (president, Single Track Advocates), Ky Holland (secretary, Mid-Valley Trail Club-snowmachine trail grooming), Will Taygan (executive director, Chugach Mountain Bike Riders) and Jonathan Sewall (vice president, Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance) are leaders and advocates in Southcentral Alaska’s outdoor recreation community.

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