OPINION: What it would mean for the Alaska Long Trail to be a National Scenic Trail

The Alaska Long Trail is a work-in-progress, 500-plus mile multimodal route connecting trail systems from Seward to Fairbanks. Apart from planning and constructing new segments, the AKLT project also aims to maintain and improve existing trails that are well-loved by communities along the route.

In December 2022, Congress allocated $1 million for the Bureau of Land Management to conduct a National Scenic Trail feasibility study for the AKLT. National Scenic Trails are one of three main federal trail designations, outlined under the National Trails System Act of 1968. The act established various existing National Scenic Trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, and specified the criteria for others to be added. There are currently 11 National Scenic Trails in the country.

What does this designation do for the Alaska Long Trail and outdoor recreation in Alaska? Besides offering a competitive economic benefit from increased worldwide recognition, National Scenic Trails receive federal funding for maintenance and administration. In particular, national trails are eligible for annual federal funding for trail crews to clear, brush and perform repairs. Since the Alaska Long Trail’s proposed route passes through many of Alaska’s most used outdoor spaces, the designation would open up funding to address the existing demand on our trails infrastructure.

How does this designation affect access, existing user groups and land management? A National Scenic Trail is federally administered, but not managed. In other words, local control is maintained in matters of access, planning and development, and visitor use. A federal agency is assigned by Congress to administer the trail and coordinate with different state, federal and local land managers along the trail route for matters of interagency agreements, financial assistance and resource protection. For the existing national trails in Alaska — the Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Chilkoot Trail — the administering agency for the former is the BLM and the latter is the National Park Service. The administering agency doesn’t take over control of any lands if a trail is designated. The management policies of existing segments are not changed with the designation, and management policies of future segments are decided by corresponding land managers — boroughs, municipalities, state agencies, etc. Specific language about the roles, rights and responsibilities of each party can be found in Sections 7-9 of the National Trails System Act.

While National Scenic Trails are primarily non-motorized, section 7(c) of the National Trails System Act lists several exceptions to this and gives a significant amount of latitude to local land managers and the administering agency for determining what use policies are appropriate for which trail sections. This practice can be seen in other National Scenic Trails — for example, the Continental Divide Trail: about 23% of the nearly 3,100 miles of the CDT are multi-use trail systems that include motorized use.

What is the timeline and how do you get involved? The feasibility study for the designation is currently underway. General public comment on the trail and preferences for the route are being accepted through June 28 on BLM’s eplanning website and map portal. For those who have not yet provided feedback, information and listening sessions will take place via Zoom on June 11, 13 and 27. A draft of the National Scenic Trail feasibility study will be released to the public for feedback this winter, and a final recommendation will be submitted to Congress for a decision in Fall 2025.

Current efforts for construction, planning, and development of the Alaska Long Trail are ongoing, independent of the National Scenic Trail feasibility study. Alaska Trails believes this designation would be a rising tide to lift all boats for outdoor recreation in our community, and we encourage you to share your feedback on this project with the BLM.


Sam Dinges, Mat-Su coordinator, and Mariyam Medovaya, project manager, work on the Alaska Long Trail project at Alaska Trails, a nonprofit organization promoting trails and outdoor activity in Alaska.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.