VISION: A world-class trail system connecting 500+ miles of Alaska’s iconic terrain and diverse communities from the Pacific to the Interior, embracing the many ways Alaskans recreate outdoors and bolstering the Alaska economy by attracting visitors from all over the world.
GOALS AND BENEFITS: With some of the world’s most stunning wild places, Alaska is overdue in creating a world-class, long trail system of its own. Goals and outcomes of building the trail include:
- Improve Access – Expand year-round non-motorized, motorized, and multi-modal outdoor recreation opportunities; increase the supply of outdoor recreation opportunities which has fallen behind the demand.
- Enhance Alaskans’ Quality of Life – Make Alaska an even more attractive place to live for current and prospective residents.
- Encourage Healthy Lives – Make it easier and more inviting to be active and healthy outside.
- Celebrate Heritage – Support, preserve, and celebrate Alaska’s vibrant traditional cultures and ways of life.
- Build a Stronger, More Durable Economy – Long trails are potent, proven attractions that will increase the time and money travelers spend in Alaska, growing jobs for residents, spawning business opportunities, and invigorating the economies of trail towns and communities along the route and statewide.
- Celebrate and Sustain what Makes Alaska Unique – Be good stewards of outdoor recreation resources: our wild spaces and healthy ecosystems, lively communities, and access to abundant, diverse recreational experiences. The Long Trail will become a national treasure, benefiting Alaskans, and creating a legacy for future generations.
WHY FAIRBANKS TO SEWARD?
The ultimate goal for the Long Trail is a route extending north to the Arctic and south to Alaska’s southern boundary. This ambitious project is starting with the 500-mile section through Alaska’s most populous populated railbelt region for the following reasons:
- Momentum and Landowner Support: largely on public land, a substantial portion (25%) already exists
- Manageable Costs: buildable terrain, good access
- Community Connections: more jobs, businesses, tax revenues
- “Goldilocks Factor”: Wild, but not too wild; manageable logistics in this most populous area of Alaska for both residents and visitors
- Multi-Season/Multi-modal: options for summer and winter; options for river and train-based connections
- Wow Factor: mountains, glaciers, wildlife, honoring and celebrating the long, diverse history of these lands
USE & USERS: The trail aims to support diverse trail users. Uses on specific trail segments will be determined by the realities of terrain and the management policies of individual landowners and agencies. The ultimate goal is a network of routes accommodating a variety of uses, including some braids open to motorized use, and others for non-motorized hiking, biking, and skiing. Some segments may include the option to travel on the Alaska Railroad or, like in Nenana Canyon, with a local rafting guide company.
WHO IS MAKING IT HAPPEN?
Alaska Trails, a statewide non-profit, is coordinating this ambitious project, working with the Long Trail Coalition (representatives from each region along the route) and more focused Regional Working Groups. In addition to determining preferred routes and uses, these groups will explore the best long-term solutions for trail maintenance and management. Options will include a consortium of landowners and agencies along the trail system, perhaps with a dedicated non-profit comparable to the Appalachian Trail Coalition.
We are extremely grateful for the generous $50,000 grant from Rasmuson Foundation that allowed us to launch the Alaska Long Trail Fund at the Alaska Community Foundation! We are also immensely grateful to several founding donors who further helped establish the seed money for the Long Trail Fund, approaching $10K.
Our goal is to raise $100,000 to complete the first planning stages of the Long Trail project over the course of 2022, and with current individual and Rasmuson contributions, we are well on our way towards that goal.
With these planning funds we will accomplish these objectives:
1. Production of “Long Trail Workbook”
- Convene regional working groups along the Seward-Fairbanks corridor to work together to identify and map specific preferred route(s). These groups will include trail users, communities, trail organizations, tourism representatives, non-profits, Alaska Native entities, and other landowners, businesses, and land management agencies in key locations.
- Develop integrated GIS maps showing existing and possible new segments of the trail, documenting land ownership, physical constraints and opportunities, and other trail issues.
- Identify anticipated trail construction costs and the most promising funding sources.
- Identify a subset of highest priority trail segments for near-term action, aiming for projects that will most quickly increase the use and grow the reputation and value of the trail.
- Initiate a transparent, open, and inclusive public review/comment process.
2. Branding and Promotion
- Explore options for a possible alternative trail name (Alaska Long Trail is a placeholder).
- Develop and begin carrying out a branding strategy, including designing a logo for use on trail signs, markers, and maps.
Our goal beyond 2022 is to raise funds for trail construction. It will take millions of dollars to fill in all the gaps along the trail route. Most of these funds will likely come from federal and state grant programs but those typically need a match ranging from 9% to 50% from a local source. The donations collected through the Alaska Long Trail Fund are intended to provide this match for Long Trail projects and help fund the work necessary to bring the Long Trail to completion.
WORK TO DATE
Over the past 1.5 years, the Long Trail Coalition has identified and advocated for key Long Trail shovel-ready or planning-ready projects in each location along the length of the trail. Partners and parties consulted included: numerous cities and boroughs; Alaska DNR (Divisions of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Forestry, Mining Land & Water); Alaska DOT; Alaska Department of Fish & Game; Chugach National Forest; Denali National Park; NPS Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program; Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KTMTA), representatives of regional tourism marketing organizations and individual tourism businesses; non-profit regional trails organizations and individual trail users.
Several Long Trail projects have recently been funded and in some cases completed through federal grant programs and national outdoor recreation funding legislation. By region, these projects include::
- Nenana River Trail
- Antler Ridge Trailhead and Trail
- Collection of Mile 231/McKinley Village Projects to improve pedestrian safety and trail connectivity
- Curry Ridge Connector Trail, Denali State Park
- Two key bridges completing a 6-mile segment of the Turnagain Pass Trail, US Forest Service
The Long Trail concept has received outstanding bipartisan support across user groups and geographical regions. We are excited to see so much interest and enthusiasm. Alaska Trails and partners are working together this winter-spring 2022 legislative session to secure funding for a number of Long Trail projects in the FY2023 state capital budget.
Photo credits: Chris Beck, Alaska Trails, and Tim Charnon, USFS