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Skijorring on Campbell Tract. Photo by Bob Wick (BLM).jpg

@Bob Wick (BLM)

AKLT NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL FEASIBILITY STUDY

With the help of Senator Lisa Murkowski (THANK YOU!), on December 29th 2022 the Congress directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conduct the National Scenic Trail feasibility study for the Alaska Long Trail. 

The National Scenic Trail (NST) system comprises 11 long trails around the country, including the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. The NST designation opens doors to more federal funding in the future and will be critical to the development of an Alaskan long trail. The designation would also bring more nationwide recognition, leading to increased visitation and business to communities along the route. The NST designation does not set restrictions to specific trail use (motorized can be included), and decisions on the trail use are left with land managers such as municipalities, boroughs, and state and federal agencies. The feasibility study is now underway, expected to be completed by the end of 2025. We hope that the study results in a positive recommendation to the Congress to designate the Alaska Long Trail as a National Scenic Trail. 

1. What does this designation do for the Alaska Long Trail and outdoor recreation in Alaska? 

Besides offering a competitive economic benefit from increased world-wide recognition, National Scenic Trails receive federal funding for maintenance and administration. In particular, national trails are eligible for annual federal funding for trail crews to clear, brush, and perform repairs. Since the Alaska Long Trail’s proposed route passes through many of Alaska’s most used outdoor spaces, the designation would open up funding to address the existing demand on our trails infrastructure. 

2. What is the extent of the federal oversight if the NST designation is approved?

The federal oversight of the entire trail is limited to coordination and administration of the trail across multiple ownerships. A National Scenic Trail is federally administered, but not managed: a federal agency is assigned by Congress to administer the trail and coordinate with different state, federal, and local land managers along the trail route for matters of interagency agreements, financial assistance, and resource protection. Land managers maintain control of land management policies, access, planning and development, visitor use, etc. For the existing national trail in Alaska - the Iditarod National Historic Trail - the administering agency is the BLM. Pages 29-30 (items (e) and (h)) of the National Trails System Act talk about management of trail segments on non-federal lands.

 

Typically, other NSTs in the country have a corresponding nonprofit that acts as a "manager" of the trail in addition to the federal administrator. An example in Alaska is the Iditarod National Historic Trail which is administered by the BLM and stewarded by the nonprofit Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance. As the INHT Trail Administrator, BLM facilitates efforts by volunteers and local, state and federal agencies on behalf of the entire trail.  

3. Does NST designation put restrictions on land use?

The NST designation itself does not put special restrictions on land use. Land use policies are set by land managers (for example, municipalities, boroughs, state and federal agencies) that oversee specific trail segments. No federal agency takes control over any non-federal lands if a trail is designated. The management policies of existing segments do not get changed with the designation, and the management policies of future segments get decided by corresponding land managers (boroughs, municipalities, state agencies, etc). 

4. Will motorized use be allowed under the NST designation?

Yes, and other NSTs in the country incorporate motorized use (for example, the Continental Divide Trail). In Alaska, another national trail - the Iditarod National Historic Trail - allows motorized use.

The Frequently Asked Questions on the BLM site for the feasibility study specifically address the motorized use: 

Q: How are motorized uses managed on national scenic trails?

A: While Section 7(c) of the National Trails System Act (Act) states that "the use of motor vehicles along any national scenic trail shall be prohibited," Section 7(j) allows vehicles to be permitted on certain trails. These may include, but need not be limited to, snowmobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, four-wheel drive or all-terrain offroad vehicles, and trail access for handicapped individuals. The feasibility study will examine the appropriateness of motorized trail use along the trail. If Congress designates the Alaska Long Trail as a national scenic trail, they can specify acceptable uses as they did with the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which permits the use of motorized vehicles on designated segments of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Where allowed, the Act intends for motorized use to occur in accordance with regulations prescribed by the appropriate Secretary in accordance with other Federal laws, or any State or local laws.

 

Q: What types of uses could be allowed on a national scenic trail?

A: Potential trail uses allowed on designated components of the national trails system may include, but are not limited to, the following: bicycling, cross-country skiing, day hiking, equestrian activities, jogging or similar fitness activities, trail biking, overnight and long-distance backpacking, snowmobiling, and surface water and underwater activities

While National Scenic Trails are primarily non-motorized, section 7(c) of the National Trails System Act lists several exceptions to this and gives a significant amount of latitude to local land managers and the administering agency for determining what use policies are appropriate for which trail sections. This practice can be seen in other National Scenic Trails, for example the Continental Divide Trail: about 23% of the nearly 3,100 miles of the CDT are multi-use trail systems that include motorized use. Every time a new national trail is added to the system, the NTS Act gets amended with specific language about that trail. The Continental Divide NST is written in the Act with specific permissions for motorized use along the trail. Nothing precludes the Alaska Long Trail to be written into the Act with a similar language.

5. Where can I find more information? 

Best place for information about the NSTs is the National Trails System Act. The Act gets amended every time a trail gets designated. Another resource is the Frequently Asked Questions at the BLM's Alaska Long Trail eplanning site.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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