Alaska Trails Seeks $20.3 Million in State Funding for Expansive 500-Mile Trail Network

Alaska Trails, a nonprofit organization, together with its coalition partners, is asking state legislators for over $20.3 million to fund 21 projects. These projects are part of an ambitious plan to create a 500-mile trail system stretching from Fairbanks to Seward, known as the Alaska Long Trail. The envisioned network aims to connect various trails and resemble renowned paths like the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Haley Johnston, the deputy director of Alaska Trails, shared the progress on the Alaska Long Trail during a presentation at the state Capitol. Already, expansions and improvements have been made, and the concept is gaining recognition among both tourists and Alaskans. This year, it’s anticipated that hikers will travel from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula to Eagle River, near Anchorage, despite a few gaps in the trail that are currently manageable.

The southern end of the historic Iditarod Trail in Seward is intended to become the starting point of the trail network. In addition to local initiatives, a comprehensive study is being conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with federal funding secured by Senator Lisa Murkowski, to evaluate the potential of designating the Alaska Long Trail as a National Scenic Trail. This status could mean more federal support and lighten the state’s financial load.

Most of the current funding proposals are directed at projects within the Municipality of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which holds over half of Alaska’s population. The requests include significant amounts for trail design and engineering, such as $3.5 million for a 7-mile trail near Denali National Park and Preserve and $2.7 million for realigning trails on Flattop Mountain to enhance safety.

The economic impact of outdoor recreation is emphasized by Alaska Trails as it lobbies for state funding. Outdoor recreation constitutes 4% of the state’s gross domestic product, with jobs in this sector growing significantly in 2022. Trails not only fuel economic growth but also attract and retain residents, serving as a deterrent against outmigration.

Although the current fiscal budget funded only a few projects compared to the total requested by Alaska Trails, the organization continues to garner legislative support. Federal funding and contributions from outside government sources, such as the Mellon Foundation’s $1.7 million grant for Indigenous language signage on Anchorage trails, have supplemented the financing of these projects.

Despite some funding requests being vetoed by Governor Mike Dunleavy, the popularity of trail projects among legislators remains high. Trails have proven to be a cherished asset, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when usage soared.

The Alaska Long Trail has temporarily reverted to its original name for clarity during the BLM’s feasibility study, despite earlier attempts to rebrand it as the Alaska Traverse. The name may be revisited once the study concludes.

In closing, Alaska Trails and its supporters highlight not just the recreational importance of the trail network but also the potential economic benefits for Alaska, arguing that investing in trails is investing in the state’s future.

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I'm Chloe Raley, the proud founder and curator of this travel haven. As an intrepid explorer and wordsmith, I founded this website to share my adventures.