Policy Blog: Exploring a Path To a Healthier Alaska 

If last June's Confluence Alaska summit was any indication, the state's economy has a new North Star. Here are five ways stakeholders are putting outdoor recreation front and center. 

By Cailin O'Brien-Feeney August 24, 2016

Updated August 24, 2016. Originally published June 7, 2016

Last June, about 75 business leaders, public officials, athletes, nonprofit representatives and other stakeholders convened in Anchorage and spent a precious eight of their 20 daylight hours inside, discussing Alaska’s great outdoors. The goal: To chart a healthier, more diverse economic future for the state.  

Here are five takeaways from the day: 

1. Alaska is facing tough financial realities, largely a result of low oil prices, and everyone is looking for solutions. 

Like Alaska, states across the country are tapping into the business of outdoor recreation, and with good reason. They recognize that outdoor recreation and open spaces are key ingredients to healthy economies and healthy communities, contributing to a high quality of life and, most important, attracting and sustaining business and families.  

 2. The outdoors is already an integral part of Alaska and Alaskans. 

Governor Bill Walker referred to early backcountry ski explorations on Thompson Pass as striking a “vein of gold,” then cited outdoor recreation’s 91,000 jobs and $700 million state and local tax contribution to the state.  

Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins (D-District 35), explained how he’s watched his hometown of Sitka transition from a timber economy to something more resilient. He shared his vision for the Trans-Alaska Trailan 800mile route for hiking, biking or skiing from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay, the Pacific to the Arctic, all along the trans-Alaska pipeline.   

We heard from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz about the vision to make Anchorage the nation’s number one city to “Live, Work and Play by 2025. Climber Ben Erdman and smallbusiness founders Heather Kelly of Heather’s Choice and Greg Matyas of Speedway Cycles/Fatback shared stories of the opportunities and challenges of growing businesses in Alaska. 

Brad Petersen delivered a keynote address on his time as the first Office of Outdoor Recreation director in Utah, and in particular, efforts to grow rural economies by fostering better outdoor recreation opportunities. 

3. Opportunities abound. It’s time to seize them.

 Although outdoor recreation is already an economic driver in the state, it is not recognized as such. Some attendees raised concerns about park safety, as well as flat or falling funding levels. These challenges present opportunity, and the group spent the afternoon discussing them. 

 4. Travel and tourism infrastructure improvements are key.

A large number of visitors to Alaska visit a few national parks, or do short trips while their cruise ships are in port. Another segment of visitors go big—hiking, skiing, biking and paddling the state’s “big lines. In between those extremes is a gap of visitors who desire both adventure and comfort. Much of the day’s discussion focused on opportunities to reach these adventure-seekers through investment in hut-to-hut infrastructure, for example, and improved outfitting and guide permitting processes to facilitate access. 

 5. Alaska’s outdoor businesses must step up to inspire action.

With 20 hours of daylight, you can play in the great outdoors and still have time to help form a coalition too. Attendees agreed to formalize some of the recommendations from the day and present them back to the governor’s office and legislature and to share them at the Adventure Travel and Tourism Summit in Alaska later this year 


 

Organized by Levitation 49, Confluence: Summit on the Outdoors, was sponsored by and had representation from Outdoor Industry Association members REI, The North Face, and Adidas Outdoor as well as OIA, Agnew Beck Consulting, and Denali Brewing. 

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