The pandemic has introduced some truths about Alaska’s out of doors recreation sector into excessive reduction and makes the case for better state funding within the state’s $2.2 billion out of doors recreation financial system. As elected leaders think about methods to kickstart the restoration, out of doors recreation offers a means ahead.
Public lands are to the out of doors trade as roads and bridges are to the automotive or transportation trade. Alaska lawmakers have thought-about conventional infrastructure like highways, bridges, airports and ports to be important to our state’s financial well-being. Public lands like nationwide parks, state and native parks and trails, forests, rivers, mountains and historic websites carry the identical degree of important financial significance to the out of doors trade.
These of us within the out of doors trade have lots to be grateful for. Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink supported the concept the outside was a protected place to apply social distance pointers and hold mentally and bodily properly, even on the top of pandemic well being hunker-down mandates. Alaskans responded by flocking to native and state public lands. State Parks Director Ricky Gease commented, “In 2020, the fiftieth anniversary of Alaska State Parks, we noticed report numbers at trailheads, campgrounds, public use cabins and boat launches. A variety of Alaskans rediscovered the worth of outside recreation, in addition to many first-time customers.”
A central downside for Alaska is that the finances for our state park system has been stagnant for greater than a decade. State Parks is more and more unable to maintain tempo with demand or get forward of its massive and rising deferred upkeep backlog finances, now at $65 million. The distinction between Alaska and Rhode Island state parks illustrates the magnitude of the necessity. The smallest state within the union has 52 full-time staff who handle 8,200 acres of parks, preserves and seashores. Alaska has 25 full-time rangers to scrub, keep and police 3.4 million acres of state park lands.
One answer put forth by the Dunleavy administration is to totally leverage federal grants for out of doors recreation infrastructure, such because the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, and the Leisure Trails Program, aka RTP, that maximizes native and state funding in public parks, trails, boating amenities, sports activities fields and extra. One other answer on the desk by the administration is for the Legislature to make use of American Rescue Plan funding to help out of doors recreation infrastructure which interprets into jobs and financial growth whereas increasing the capability to deal with the growing reputation of recreating outdoor.
Outside recreation, conservation and restoration initiatives helped get Alaskans again to work final summer time. Juneau, Sitka and Anchorage allotted almost $6 million in CARES Act funds to create native work crews in efforts that harkened again to the profitable Civilian Conservation Corps of the Nice Melancholy period. Based mostly on its spectacular outcomes, Juneau’s Path Combine Inc. is main the cost to achieve the help of the Dunleavy administration and Legislature to broaden this mannequin to a statewide workforce growth program that would launch as early as this summer time.
In the meantime, land managers, native governments, tourism organizations and civic leaders from Seward to Fairbanks are working collectively to safe funding for the 500-mile Alaska Lengthy Path. Funding for this venture, initially put ahead by the governor, would fill key gaps within the deliberate route which might bolster tourism and rural financial growth. On the similar time, Rep. Geran Tarr has launched a decision that asks Gov. Mike Dunleavy to create an Workplace of Outside Fairness to advertise pathways to attain better fairness, variety and inclusion in out of doors actions and workforce growth. This workplace would search out grants to foster grassroots and tribal applications to attain such targets so that each Alaskan can hike, camp, fish, hunt and benefit from the particular locations that solely Alaska can supply. A grassroots-led effort by the newly based Alaska Snowmachine Alliance is working with legislators on a measure to extend snowmachine and off-road automobile registration charges to higher help funding in winter transportation networks.
Approving and funding these requests would go a great distance towards getting the Alaskan financial system again in gear, getting Alaskans again to work on initiatives that hold Alaskans lively, wholesome, and joyful exterior, whereas including causes for our guests to spend extra money and time in Alaska. There couldn’t be a greater alternative than now to make sure that our out of doors infrastructure is given the precedence that it deserves to greatest construct upon and strengthen Alaska’s out of doors heritage.
Lee Hart serves as govt director of Alaska Outside Alliance
Ryan O’Shaughnessy is govt director of Path Combine, Inc.
Chris Beck is coordinator of the Alaska Trails Initiative.