Governor’s vetoes whittle list of funded Alaska Long Trail projects to four

hikers on a mountain
Hikers ascend Anchorage’s Flattop Mountain on June 17. This is a section of the mountain where the trail has eroded, causing conditions that are dangerous for some hikers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Only four of nine projects that the Legislature funded this year as part of an envisioned Alaska Long Trail network survived Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto pen.

Dunleavy’s vetoes left a bit over $1.1 million of the $3.7 million in Alaska Long Trail projects that lawmakers approved in their capital budget.

Steve Cleary, executive director of the nonprofit Alaska Trails, said the veto decisions left trail and outdoor recreation advocates far short of what they had hoped to get in the budget.

“We think these were a lot of projects that would be a good investment for Alaska, so we were disappointed. So were our partners,” Cleary said.

The Alaska Long Trail, an ambitious project being pursued by Alaska Trails and other groups, would be a network of connected trails spanning about 500 miles from Fairbanks to Seward.

At the start of the session, Alaska Trails sought about $20.3 million in state funding for 21 projects. The list was winnowed down to nine, all in the Municipality of Anchorage, when lawmakers finally passed the budget.

Despite the disappointment, Cleary said, “we’re grateful for the ones that were passed and are looking forward to working on them.”

Left intact are projects to improve trails at Chugach State Park’s 3,510-foot Flattop Mountain, the state’s most-climbed peak; develop an Indigenous gateway in downtown Anchorage at what is intended to be an intersection of trails; make improvements in Girdwood to a section of the Iditarod National Historic Trail; and start design and feasibility studies for expanded trailhead parking at Arctic Valley.

a statute at a park
Upper Cook Inlet, off downtown Anchorage, is seen on June 26, 2023, beyond a statue of Olga Nicolai Ezi, a Dena’ina matriarch and an important figure in local history. This area at the Ship Creek boat launch is envisioned in the Alaska Long Trail plan as a connecting site linking the Ship Creek Trail and Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The plan also envisions this site as an expanded gateway focused on Indigenous culture. That project won funding in this year’s capital budget. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Also surviving the veto pen were several trail and outdoor recreation projects outside of the Alaska Long Trail plan. Those seven projects, totaling about $5.5 million, include support for the Iditarod Trail Committee, state park sanitation facility maintenance and repairs, winter trail grooming grants and money for the statewide trail program.

Additionally, the Dunleavy-approved budget includes $450,000 for parking and access improvements on the back side of Flattop Mountain, the alternative trailhead on Anchorage’s Canyon Road that is sometimes referred to as “Sunnyside.” That project was not among those pushed by Alaska Trails, Cleary said. Rather, it came out of requests from the neighbors who have coped with overcrowded parking there.

In his veto memo, Dunleavy cited the same reason for nixing the five Long Trail projects as was used for almost all of his vetoes: “Preserve general funds for savings and fiscal stability.”

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