May 21

By Sabine Poux

Money for a 500-mile Alaska Long Trail will likely be included in the Alaska Legislature’s budget this year.

The nonprofit Alaska Trails came up with the idea for a multi-use trail between Seward and Fairbanks last year and has been trying to find money for it since.

On Wednesday, Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman and Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski sponsored an amendment to the Senate’s version of the budget to set aside $13 million for the project.

Boosters say destinations like the Appalachian Trail bring in tourists and revenue for the communities they pass through. They hope that could be true for Alaska, where hiking already brings in many visitors.

Plus, Wielechowski said, much of the path already exists.

“This would be mostly connecting areas that aren’t connected,” he said. “And making improvements and adding bridges and things like that.”

Sections not yet built include a stretch between the Interior towns of Healy and Nenana, as well as sections of the Iditarod National Historic Trail on the Kenai Peninsula.

The amendment, which would pay for the project with federal COVID-19 relief money, passed the Senate unanimously. Because the money was not in the version of the budget passed by the House, it now has to be approved by a conference committee.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy will also take a look at the amendment. He’s proposed funding the Alaska Long Trail before, as part of a general obligation bond package that failed to get traction with legislators.