Updated: 10 hours ago Published: 10 hours ago
Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of Alaska’s economy and culture, fueled by the state’s majestic glaciers, vast swathes of rugged wilderness, and pristine national parks. With 34,000 miles of coastline and 222 million acres of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, national forests and more, it’s no wonder visitors flock to the state each year. With many appreciating Alaska’s natural beauty, it is important that we ensure everyone has the access they need to these lands and the tremendous benefits they offer. Luckily, a bill currently under discussion in the US Senate — the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski — would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
This historic law — the most comprehensive outdoor recreation law since the 1960s — will invest in outdoor infrastructure, public parks and systems, and provide funds to those who matter most — local communities. This is especially important for Alaskans since 60% of the state’s land is owned by the federal government. America’s Outdoor Recreation Act enhances, protects, and provides additional access to the wonders of the state while supporting the important economic contributions that come from the outdoor recreation industry.
There is no shortage of outdoor spaces and activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, biking and snowblowing that depend on these spaces and continue to be critical to Alaska’s economy. In fact, the outdoor industry contributes more than $1.6 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 5% of Alaska’s total employment. Alaska’s booming seafood industry is the largest private employer and produces more seafood than all other states combined, providing two-thirds of the country’s wild-caught fish and shellfish. Preserving these public lands and waters is critical to Alaska’s long-term viability, and Senator Murkowski is committed to protecting Alaska’s natural resources for decades to come.
Over the past two years, Americans’ renewed appreciation for the great outdoors has proven that the benefits of a strong outdoor recreation industry far exceed the economic impact. In 2020, the highest participation rate in outdoor leisure activities was recorded, with more than 50% of the participants. Glacier Bay National Park — just one of Alaska’s eight national parks — sees half a million visitors flock to its wild shores each year, and even more dare to see North America’s tallest peak at Denali National Park.
Alaskans will derive immense benefits from the increasing opportunities for motorized and non-motorized access and experiences on state lands only if there is a concerted effort to improve, modernize, and preserve these places. In addition to supporting increased access to state lands for visitors and working with gateway communities to identify economic impacts and opportunities, America’s Outdoor Recreation Act aims to allocate federal funding to specific infrastructure such as bike lanes and outdoor entrepreneurial training programs and Use real-time data to extend the outdoor recreation season. Policymakers understand the frustration Alaskans feel at the time it takes to process permits, and with this legislation they will eliminate the red tape that is preventing people from experiencing all that Alaska has to offer.
While Alaska is surrounded by plenty of natural beauty, the majority of the population lives in the greater Anchorage area. Unfortunately, urban spaces are often disconnected from nature, and more than 100 million Americans today do not live within walking distance of a park or green space. Nature is not a convenience, but a necessity for health and well-being. It is crucial that all people have access to and can enjoy green spaces. This legislation will make immediate change by investing in more local parks and playgrounds in communities like Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.
The outdoor industry is working with lawmakers and allies like Senator Murkowski to support Americans’ renewed appreciation and desire to explore the great outdoors. America’s Outdoor Recreation Act is a critical step in the right direction to continue to drive investment and legislation aimed at making a real impact on the physical and mental health of Americans while protecting our public lands and waters and industries preserved that drive the local economy.
Lee Hart is executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Alliance and Lise Aangeenbrug is executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).
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