Murkowski suggests taxing outdoor rec gear to help fund park projects

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media)

Senator Lisa Murkowski used a mudslide prone stretch of the Denali National Park Road to point to the need for more funding to address major maintenance at parks. In July 2016, a slide blocked the Park Road at mile 67, through Polychrome Pass, stranding visitors on the other side of the dead end road. Repairs were made, but the stretch of road remains subject to unstable slopes. Murkowski brought up the issue during a meeting yesterday of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee she chairs.

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”We’re gonna have to do something aggressive here and rerouting a road in this area is extraordinarily difficult, extraordinarily timely and extraordinarily expensive,” Murkowski said. “But instead of coming up with a rerouting plan, we’re basically using cyclic funds to just kind of patch it.”

Murkowski says the Polychrome pass re-route, which is currently being studied, is not even included on a list of nearly $12 billion in nationwide deferred maintenance projects at parks. Just announced modest entrance fee hikes will contribute to that backlog, and Murkowski suggested a federal tax on outdoor recreation gear to help fund park projects.

”I just want to throw a little bit of a wildcard out there,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski asked hearing witness R.E.I. government affairs director Marc Berejka whether his company, and others who benefit from parks, would be open to a gear tax. Berejka was not receptive.

”You know, most states, they don’t tax milk because milk is good for you,” Berejka said. “And we feel that the outdoors is good for you,so there’s no reason to make it harder to acquire the things that make their lives better.”

Murkowski did not press the issue, but suggested that a gear tax, like revenue from higher park entrance fees, would be a way for users to help insure park facilities are safe and enjoyable.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.