Federal planning for Alaska Long Trail hits potential pushback in Mat-Su over ‘overreaching restrictions’

PALMER — The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly on Tuesday will consider a resolution that would formally oppose federal oversight of a more than 500-mile trail envisioned to stretch between Seward and Fairbanks over what the measure calls “overreaching restrictions.”

The Alaska Long Trail would connect an existing network of paths and trails such as the Iditarod National Historic Trail with newly created trails throughout the state. The longest section would run through Mat-Su, stretching from the Knik River over a hundred miles through Denali State Park.

A $1 million Bureau of Land Management study ordered by Congress in 2022 and currently underway is looking at whether the trail should be federally designated as a National Scenic Trail, a move that comes with millions in funding and some federal oversight and regulations, supporters say.

The resolution up for consideration Tuesday states the Assembly “is opposed to relinquishing authority over Borough owned and/or operated trails and lands and opposed to over-reaching restrictions.” It also expresses concern that federal officials have not started working with the borough on right-of-way and other agreements. The resolution does not identify what specific restrictions might be included in a National Scenic Trail designation.

Resolutions are non-binding. Federal trail planners said they will include all local government input in their final report.

[New Mat-Su plan envisions 130 miles of new walking and cycling paths in Alaska’s fastest-growing region]

The resolution is sponsored by Assembly member Robert Yundt, whose district includes Wasilla. Yundt did not respond to a request for comment.


Only 11 trails nationwide including the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail have been designated National Scenic Trails since the program’s inception in 1968, according to the National Park Service. There are none in Alaska.

Proponents of the Long Trail project said that while becoming an official Scenic Trail does bring some federal oversight of the trail’s creation, such as deciding its exact route, it does not take away any local land oversight. Instead, federal officials are required by law to work with state and local landholders to determine trail use and maintenance rules, including whether motorized vehicles will be permitted, they said. Once created, a local nonprofit organization would manage the trail, they said.

“I don’t really see a downside to the designation,” said Sam Dinges, a Mat-Su coordinator for Alaska Trails, a nonprofit that advocates for trails statewide and is spearheading Long Trail efforts. “A Long Trail supported by the ‘Scenic Trail’ designation is a sensible way to be proactive about having something that’s planned, broadly recognized and supported.”

Federal officials said they haven’t worked with the borough on land-use agreements because conducting the feasibility study doesn’t include that step, they said.

“If Congress decides to move forward with a designation after the study is completed, all of those permits, rights-of-way and other cooperative agreements would have to be made during the comprehensive management plan portion,” Zach Million, who is leading the study for the Bureau of Land Management, said in a statement.

Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages the state lands the trail would use, said they have been working closely with federal officials on a technical analysis of the proposal.

The Mat-Su is thus far the only municipality to consider such a resolution in opposition, Alaska Trails officials said.

The Assembly in 2021 — when Yundt was also a member — approved a more general resolution backing the trail concept. Federal oversight of the project had not yet been proposed. That resolution expressed support for the Long Trail because it would “expand recreation opportunities” and “provide additional reasons for visitors to spend time and money in Alaska.”

Meanwhile, work continues on previously or partially constructed portions of the trail, Alaska Trail officials said, with most of those efforts focused south of Girdwood along federally managed sections of the Iditarod National Historic Trail and state-managed trails in and around Anchorage, they said.

About $9 million in state funding has been allocated for Long Trail-related projects since 2022, they said, with about $3.1 million of that approved by the Legislature last week as part of a 2025 budget awaiting Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s signature.

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.