Funding for Trails
There are many trail funding sources in Alaska, ranging from federal programs to state and local opportunities. Below you'll find both an overview and in-depth look at federal funding sources, along with urgent issues at the state and national level for building more and better trails and a stronger Alaskan outdoor recreation economy.
FEDERAL FUNDING FOR TRAILS
LAND MANAGEMENT AGENCY BUDGETS
These funds recur annually
Land management agency budgets are decided annually. The budget for 2021 is still in negotiation, and the 2022 process begins Feb 2021.
Trail users like you can influence these budgets
SPECIAL FEDERAL LEGISLATION
These funds occur once
Individual pieces of legislation passed by congress like the Great American Outdoor Act and the National Surface Transportation Act provide funding for key trails programs and deferred maintenance.
Contacting your congressional delegates can influence this process
FEDERAL TRAILS/REC PROGRAMS
These funds are ongoing
These established programs like Recreation Trails, Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and Federal Lands Access have the potential to subsidize millions of dollars of Alaska outdoor recreation projects, covering between 50-90% of the cost for these needed investments.
Contacting your state legislators can influence these funds
These funds occur once
The current CARES Act included $1.5 billion for Alaska. Another COVID-19 stimulus bill is currently being debated in Congress. Both offer options for trails funding with a focus on getting Alaskans back to work, particularly those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic.
Contacting your elected representatives can influence these funds
CURRENT TRAIL FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES AND ISSUES
Outdoor recreation is a major force in our state’s economy, supporting 1 in 10 jobs and in 2018 contributing $3.2B in consumer spending. Yet, Alaska has potential to grow outdoor recreation economy much further. For example, if just half of typical out-of-state AK visitors spent one more day in Alaska, the result would be an additional $137M in annual spending.
Securing funding for investments in trails/outdoor recreation is particularly important in current COVID times as a way to:
get Alaskans back to work in the near-term;
build a foundation for a stronger Alaskan economy into the future;
provide opportunities for healthy, safe outdoor activity.
There are many trail funding sources in Alaska: ranging from federal programs to state and local opportunities. Federal funding sources include the Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, and US Fish and Wildlife. On this page, we bring your attention to current federal funding opportunities, as well as urgent issues at the state and national level, for building more and better trails and a stronger outdoor recreation economy in Alaska.
Alaskan trails groups and agencies have access to a large chunk of federal funds, but several issues need to be resolved in order to bring that funding to intended projects. We propose solutions to these issues here.
SOLUTIONS TO FUNDING ISSUES + ACTION ITEMS
1. “UNCLOG” THE FEDERAL OUTDOOR RECREATION FUNDING PIPELINES AT THE STATE LEVEL
Annual federal outdoor recreation programs can subsidize $millions of Alaska outdoor recreation projects, covering between 50 and 90% of the cost of these needed investments. Putting these potential dollars to work requires a match (dollars or in-kind) at the state and/or local level and in-direct/administrative costs. The State Legislature has yet to take these critical steps to accept “receipt authority” for some of these federal dollars, and consequently Alaska risks losing these funds. The example of the Land and Water Conservation Fund below illustrates this issue.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and
Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA)
Through the 50-50% match requirement, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) doubles available dollars to build trails, trailheads, bridges, river launches, cabins, playgrounds and more on state and local lands.
Alaska’s FFY2018 share of LWCF was $615,000, but the state did not take receipt authority for those funds, nor allocate resources to fund the LWCF administrative position (about $75K). LWCF funding has to be obligated within 3 years, and this summer, at the end of State’s 2020 fiscal year. Through this inaction, and the fact the State had a 50% match in hand, Alaska effectively lost $1.23M that could have helped improve a local park or trail.
The lack of receipt authority for Alaska Department of Natural Resources to accept LWCF dollars means FFY 2019 ($1.5M) and 2020 ($1.9M) authorizations are now also on the clock. Utilizing the LWCF funds to invest in capital improvement projects can provide work for Alaskans both near and long term. When the COVID-19 disruption is over, these projects will be assets to our public lands, gateway communities and growing tourism and recreation economies. The recently adopted federal Great American Outdoors Act (S.3422) adds new funding for outdoor recreation through LWCF. The Act, which passed with support from all three Alaskan congressional delegates – Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Congressman Young – permanently secures funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and Alaska’s annual share is predicted to grow to $3.5M/year – IF we cover administrative costs and secure the required match.
2. NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION BILL
The surface transportation authorization expired September 30th, 2020. The new transportation bill, the INVEST in America Act, has passed the House and is now in consideration in the Senate.
Several federal funding programs relating to trails and alternative transportation options are affected by the proposed bill, all under the Federal Highway Administration: Recreational Trails (RTP), Transportation Alternatives (TAP), and Federal Lands Access (FLAP). It is imperative to make sure that all these programs receive funding under the new bill.
In particular, the nation’s recreational trails community is advocating for provisions of the INVEST in America Act which increase funding for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The RTP has been the key to better and safer trails across the nation. In Alaska, the RTP provided over $18M to fund 507 projects between 1993-2018. Yet, the funding for the RTP has stayed flat for more than a decade while demand for trails increased. In addition to opportunities to increase funding, work is needed to make the process for reviewing and approving RTP grant applications. Making the process simpler and more predictable would save time and money both for applicants and for the DNR Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
Another important step is adopting provisions relating to traffic safety, including safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. We understand the Senate Commerce Committee may consider including this action with the title “Safety Through Connectivity Act”. Senator Dan Sullivan has a key role in this committee, and we encourage you to contact him to voice your opinion.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Contact your congressional delegates and urge them to advocate for increased funding to the RTP, TAP and FLAP programs as well as adopting provisions for safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in the next national transportation bill. Support Alaska Trails as we partner with applicants around Alaska, and with the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, to create a more effective RTP process.
3. COVID-19 RELIEF
Alaska needs a generous, next generation COVID relief bill, that provides financial support in places like Alaska where the pandemic has had devastating impacts on tourism businesses and directly related local government revenues. This bill – still being debated in Congress – should provide direct support to businesses and individuals, but also include the option for trail and outdoor recreation projects that simultaneously put money in people’s pockets in the near term, and create a foundation for lasting economic health into the future.
Further, we need to adopt policies (regulatory and appropriations) to provide for more flexibility and impact from existing CARES Act dollars, including temporary reductions in the matching fund requirements on federal outdoor recreation programs like LWCF, and allowing money to be encumbered this year to set the stage for specific job-creating projects next summer.
Our partner Alaska Outdoor Alliance addressed some of these items in the letter sent to all three Alaskan congressional delegates in April 2020 and signed by over 80 tourism businesses and outdoor recreation professionals: https://www.alaskaoutdooralliance.org/post/alaska-outdoor-stimulus-request.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Contact your congressional delegates and urge them to advocate 1) for more COVID-19 relief funds for Alaskan outdoor recreation projects; 2) for temporary reductions on the matching requirements for federal funding programs like LWCF; and 3) allowing funds to be encumbered this year for next summer projects.
4. USE CARES ACT $$ FOR NEAR TERM AND LASTING STATEWIDE ECONOMIC BENEFIT
Alaska has received large federal CARES Act grants, that provide the option to fund outdoor recreation projects that get Alaskans back to work. Alaska’s share of CARES Act funds totals $1.5 billion, of which $700 M has been passed to local governments and native corporations, leaving $800 M to be spent or assigned to be spent by the end of December, 2020. For a variety of reasons, this money is being dispersed slowly, and risks being lost if not spent or encumbered by the fast approaching December 31 deadline (or equally undesirable, being dispersed hastily in ways that provide fewer lasting benefits). Anchorage and Juneau provide good examples that show how these CARES Act funds can be used to benefit tourism and outdoor recreation. These two communities have already directed approximately $2M of CARES Act funds to get Alaskans working on high-value trail projects.
Further, pressure is growing for additional COVID-19 economic stimulus funding to become available to states. Alaska needs to be prepared to have quality projects shovel-ready when/if this funding becomes available. The Alaska Trails Initiative, in collaboration with local, state, and federal land managers, has created a list of high-return-on-investment outdoor recreation projects, ready for implementation. You can find more information about our efforts in the Statewide Trails Investment Strategy, developed by the Alaska Trails Initiative partners and available on our website: https://www.alaska-trails.org/trails-investment-strategy.