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OPINION: What it would mean if the Alaska Long Trail were a National Scenic Trail

From Mariyam Medovaya and Sam Dinges

Updated: 4 Hours ago Published: 5 Hours ago

The Alaska Long Trail is a 500+ mile multimodal route currently under construction that connects trails from Seward to Fairbanks. In addition to planning and building new sections, the AKLT project also aims to preserve and improve existing trails that are popular with communities along the route.

In December 2022, Congress appropriated $1 million to the Bureau of Land Management to conduct a feasibility study for a National Scenic Trail for the AKLT. National Scenic Trails are one of three major federal trail designations established in the National Trails System Act of 1968. The act established several existing National Scenic Trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, and set the criteria for adding more trails. There are currently 11 National Scenic Trails in the country.

What does this designation mean for the Alaska Long Trail and outdoor recreation in Alaska? In addition to the economic competitive advantage of global recognition, National Scenic Trails also receive federal funding for maintenance and management. Specifically, National Trails are eligible for annual federal funding for trail crews' clearing, cleanup, and repair work. Because the proposed route of the Alaska Long Trail passes through many of Alaska's most heavily used natural areas, the designation would free up funds to address existing needs for our trail infrastructure.

How does this designation affect access, existing user groups, and land management? A National Scenic Trail is administered but not managed by the federal government. In other words, local control is retained with respect to access, planning and development, and visitor use. A federal agency is assigned by Congress to manage the trail and coordinate with various state, federal, and local land managers along the route on matters such as interagency agreements, financial assistance, and resource protection. For the existing National Trails in Alaska—the Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Chilkoot Trail—the managing agency for the former is the BLM and for the latter is the National Park Service. The managing agency does not assume control of any lands when a trail is designated. Management policies of existing sections are not changed with the designation, and management policies of future sections are determined by the appropriate land managers—counties, municipalities, state agencies, etc.—see sections 7 through 9 of the National Trails System Act for more specific provisions regarding the roles, rights, and responsibilities of each party.

While National Scenic Trails are primarily non-motorized, Section 7(c) of the National Trails System Act lists several exceptions and gives local land managers and administration considerable latitude in determining which use policies are appropriate for which trail sections. This practice is also seen on other National Scenic Trails—for example, the Continental Divide Trail: About 23% of the CDT's nearly 3,100 miles are multi-use trail systems that also allow motorized use.

What's the timeline and how can you get involved? The designation feasibility study is currently underway. General public comments on the trail and preferences for the route will be accepted through June 28 on the BLM's e-Planning website and mapping portal. For those who have not yet provided feedback, information and hearing sessions will be held via Zoom on June 11, 13, and 27. A draft National Scenic Trail Feasibility Study will be released to the public for feedback this winter, and a final recommendation will be submitted to Congress for a decision in fall 2025.

Efforts to build, plan and develop the Alaska Long Trail are currently underway, separate from the National Scenic Trail Feasibility Study. Alaska Trails believes this designation would be a sign of support for outdoor recreation in our community, and we encourage you to share your feedback on this project with the BLM.

Sam Dinges, Mat-Su Coordinator and Mariam Medovaya, Project Manager, working on the Alaska Long Trail project at Alaska Trails, a nonprofit organization that promotes hiking trails and outdoor activities in Alaska.

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