A 500-mile hiking trail across Alaska? Advocates say the pandemic is a perfect time to start

Since the pandemic started, storefronts in towns around Alaska may have emptied, but trails?

“They’re jammed with people, and that’s all the trails — trails up in the Chugach all the trails here in town,” said former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, standing on the Coastal Trail near downtown Anchorage.

Park use around Alaska is up over 150% since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Google, which is why Knowles says now is the perfect time to start thinking about a trail project even more ambitious than the Coastal Trail.

It’s called the Alaska Long Trail, and it would connect Seward to Fairbanks along 500 miles of existing and yet-to-be-built hiking trails. And that’s just the first section of it. Someday it could include 2,000 miles of trail stretching from the Panhandle in Southeast Alaska all the way to the North Slope.

While there are a lot of other issues that need funding during a pandemic and an economic crash, funding for the project might be easier than one might think. Federal programs, such as the recently-passed Great American Outdoors Act, could funnel millions into deferred trail maintenance projects. There are also foundations that might be willing to donate to the project for causes like climate change mitigation, promoting public health and wildlife enjoyment.

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