Alaskans have one more week to comment on the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ statewide recreation plan, a twice-a-decade exercise that helps determine where money is spent on parks for years to come.
The department produces a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan once every five years as a detailed look at how and where Alaskans are recreating on public lands across the state.
This 2023-2027 plan, now in draft form, is meant to guide decision making on how users want public lands managed for recreation users and money spent. It will eventually help determine where $37 million in federal funding lands. Every state compiles a similar recreation plan.
“It’s how we set priorities for the future,” said Ricky Gease, the director of Alaska State Parks.
This year’s plan includes “supporting the Alaska outdoor recreation way of life,” outdoor recreation as a driver of economic growth and as a way to attract workers and businesses to the state, among others, as priorities.
This year, for the first time, the state has new technology that shows with new precision just where and how people are using Alaska’s state parks. New GIS and anonymized cell phone data allows for “heat maps” to show exactly which parks and areas are getting the most use -- insights the department hasn’t seen in this detail before, Gease said.
Some of the biggest takeaways:
• The most used areas are state public land, such as Chugach State Park and the Kenai River Special Recreation area, rather than federally managed lands like national parks
• More people really are using Alaska’s public lands, a dramatic increase that started during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and hasn’t ebbed.
• Alaskans most commonly recreate close to home, at neighborhood parks, greenbelts and open spaces.
• Locals say they want more public-use cabins, campgrounds, better trailhead parking and fishing access.