JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A proposed 500-mile hiking trail from south-central Alaska to Fairbanks aimed at drawing more adventurers to the state has garnered support from the governor, tourism officials and others, and it could get a funding boost to help begin stitching it together.
The state budget, under debate in a special legislative session, includes $13.2 million toward beginning to build the Alaska Long Trail, similar in concept to grand treks such as the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Funds proposed in the budget would go toward projects that in some cases are directly or peripherally related to the Alaska Long Trail, and would help officials access additional federal dollars or private investment funds.
Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, a project supporter, said the budget proposal “is a really important first step in the vision of an Alaska Long Trail. That takes it from an idea to a reality.”
Building the entire trail is expected to take years and cost millions more dollars. But the project has gotten support from economic development and tourism organizations that see it as a potential draw for hikers and adventurers that could encourage them to stay in Alaska longer.
Chris Beck, a lead planner of the project, said the concept came in part from a desire for a trans-Alaska trail. The 500-mile segment is billed by supporters as the first part of what could be a longer trail, extending, for example, to the North Slope.
Beck said much of the Fairbanks to Seward route is on public lands. The area has 200 miles of trails that could be stitched together.
Julie Saupe, president and CEO of Visit Anchorage, said travelers are trending younger and seeking experiences.
“A long trail project fits perfectly into a tourism growth strategy,” she said.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy included funding for pieces of the trail in legislation that did not advance this year. The funding proposal currently in play was added as a budget amendment in the Senate. Budget line items are still being negotiated between the House and Senate.
Jeff Turner, a Dunleavy spokesperson, said the Alaska Long Trail “promises to be a world-class hiking adventure that will draw Alaskans and outdoor enthusiasts from across the globe. It will import new economic activity to Alaska and become a powerful marketing tool for the state’s tourism efforts.”