A simple step toward a sustainable economy: Alaska long trails

Building a new sustainable economy can be complex and have numerous hurdles. But sometimes a simple and easy first step forward stands right in front of you. It’s not a new idea; it’s not expensive; and much of it is already in place. It’s the kind of realization that makes Homer Simpson slap his forehead and say, “D’oh.”

That first step for Alaska is trails — long trails, in particular. Long trails are the ancient paths in Alaska that were used for commerce and communication by foot and dogsled and boat. These same trails became the Klondike and the Iditarod as later settlers and gold seekers traveled for mineral riches. Long trails tell the story of Alaska. They can also now be part of framing the future.

While long trails have existed for centuries, they are now capturing the interest of people all across the world: the Coast to Coast trail in England, the Inca Trail in Peru, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the hut-to-hut trails throughout the Alps, the Himalayan trails of Bhutan and Nepal, the Appalachian Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail in America, to name a few. Millions of visitors are now traveling to trek on these trails.

There are three possible Alaska Long Trails, or ALTs, that are now ready for development. They could rival other international long trails by filling in the gaps.

The first is the brilliant idea of Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, an Alaska legislator, to use the current TAPS (Trans Alaska Pipeline) corridor for a 900-mile Trans-Alaska Trail from the Beaufort Sea to Valdez. Two years of quiet work and a fast-growing body of public support is beginning to take this from an idea to a practical possibility.

A second could be the 129-mile connection between the Anchorage Coastal Trail and the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward. Significant portions of this spectacular hiking, biking and possibly ski trekking trail are already in place.

A third could be the 179-mile route from Glennallen to Cordova, with its breathtaking course along the abandoned railway route on the Copper River bordering the spectacular Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Chugach National Forest.

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