Good news regarding funding for trails programs in Alaska. In a response to an advocacy letter from the Interior Trails Preservation Coalition, based in Fairbanks, Rep. Grier Hopkins (D – Fairbanks) wrote that a subcommittee had restored funding for the Recreational Trails Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Snowmobile Trails Program.
“I am happy to report that the House Finance Subcommittee for the Department of Natural Resources (on which I sit) reinstated the funds for trails programs which you referenced in your letter, thereby rejecting the budget decreases proposed by Governor Dunleavy,” Hopkins wrote in a letter dated March 22. He added that the, “budget now heads to the House Finance Committee before making its way through the subcommittee process in the Senate.”
Rep. Hopkins also warned trail advocates should not to get complacent.
“Make no mistake, the budget process is a political one. Please consider voicing your values and positions by sharing your views through letters to the editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, posts on social media and by continuing to attend community meetings and social organizations – and asking that those organizations take a stand on the issues important to them.”
Several veteran state workers are leaving these programs, either to retire or to take jobs elsewhere. Alaska State Trails Coordinator Darcy Harris left April 1 to take a job with the Municipality of Anchorage. Her position had reportedly been downgraded.
Grants Administrator Steve Neel, another key staff member, is laid off effective June 30 under the governor’s budget. Neel may retire even if the funding is restored.
Diane Houston, an accounting technician, who has done billings for the Recreational Trails Program and the Snowmobile Trails Program for many years has moved on as of March 29.
While the empty existing positions will be filled and the cut positions may end up being funded, the loss of experience will surely be felt. It’s hard to say exactly what the effect will be, but the loss of that much experience all at once can’t be good. The earlier concern that Recreational Trails Program grants may end up being available only to the state seems even more likely.
Under Gov. Dunleavy’s budget the Snowmobile Trails Program is to be completely cut, state administration of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund appeared to have been cut, essentially rejecting more than $1 million in federal funding this coming year, and state administration of the Recreational Trails Program is to be severely cut back, possibly making the funding available only to the state. Currently about half the funding goes to local governments and nonprofit groups.
There are other possible effects, hinted at by Harris in a goodbye email.
She wrote, “As far as the other events that I have worked on with many of you, such as First Day Hikes, National Trails Day, and National Public Lands Day, keep up the good work! I do not know how Alaska State Parks will engage with these in the future.”
Trail advocates from around the state will likely have differing opinions about Gov. Dunleavy’s budget, but if you would like to see any or all of these programs continue, please speak up.
Trails Association Information is available at www.alaska-trails.org