Outdoors Act offers Alaska $3.6 million annual for state, local parks if funds can be matched

Sign to Flattop trail.
Sign to Flattop trail.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 4:51 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - This week President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law, providing nearly $3 billion a year to parks and conservation of public lands and giving states like Alaska access to more federal funds.

One component of the Great American Outdoors Act is it required the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be fully funded each year. The LWCF uses royalties from offshore oil and gas to support a broad range of public lands, including state and local parks.

Ricky Gease, the director of Alaska State Parks, says that having a fully funded LWCF will approximately double the amount of federal funds the state can access for park maintenance and infrastructure improvements -- up to around $3.6 million.

“Now that comes with a string attached. We have to match those dollars one-to-one,” Gease said.

This year, visitation at Alaska State Parks is up 50-60 percent, Gease said.

“All this visitation use is from Alaskans, and it’s great to see Alaskans getting outdoors and using these facilities and it’s a fortuitous time to have this injection of potential money that we can build the infrastructure up so everybody has a safe and wonderful time when they do outdoor recreation,” Gease said.

The Alaska State Parks system is the youngest and largest state park system in the country. This summer marked its 50th anniversary.

“Much of what we have in terms of infrastructure for campgrounds, trailheads, parking lots, is first generation. And at some point that needs to be replaced. Currently, right now we have a 60 million dollar backlog on deferred maintenance and replacement for projects, that includes parking lots, extensions at Rabbit Creek, new trails up in the Hillside. Ptarmigan Valley needs new paved parking area,” Gease said. “Each one of these facilities where we access the park, specifically around here in Chugach, they need upgrades, and we need to build better facilities to deal with the increase in use that we see.”

Given the state of Alaska’s economy and budget woes, even before COVID-19 hit and caused lost revenue, tapping into the funds the state has access to will require the legislature and administration increasing contributions to public lands.

“We just need to have the will and dedication to make the investments that are necessary,” Gease said. “This is a good kind of carrot, if you will, to make these investments in outdoor recreation.”

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