A proposed roughly 12-mile bike trail connecting Government Peak Recreation Area (GPRA) with Skeetawk and the 16 Mile area of Hatcher Pass is slated to clear a major approval hurdle this fall, officials with the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) told the Frontiersman this week.
“DNR’s decision on the application is undergoing final review, and we anticipate issuing a decision in about a month,” Dan Snyder, a DNR spokesman said in a statement.
Next comes a 30-day public comment period, followed by a Borough surveying process and securing funding. If all goes well, trail construction could happen late next year, said Wes Hoskins, who heads the MatSu Parks and Trails Foundation, which has helped spearhead the effort.
“It still needs surveying and probably more design work, but at the very least it’s past the land manager approvals where they’re saying ‘yes this project is feasible and it can go ahead,’” he said.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials first submitted a trail easement request to DNR for the GPRA traverse in April of 2018. The traverse is a part of the so-called Alaska Long Trail plan, which early this year received funding support from both Governor Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska state legislature.
That 500-mile trail system, stretching from Seward to Fairbanks, was initially given $13.2 million in the state’s 2022 fiscal budget. But Dunleavy ultimately vetoed that money, including the $1.9 million earmarked for the GPRA section, as a result of the ongoing Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) battle. That means trail organizers will need to raise other funding to pay for it or wait to see if the state provides the money in 2023.
But paying for it is only part of the process for putting this trail construction in motion, said Chris Beck, a principal at the Agnew Beck consulting firm in Anchorage and program coordinator for the Anchorage-based nonprofit Alaska Trails. The other big hurdle is getting the state’s OK for the required trail easement, which gives the organizers the legal go-ahead to build it. It’s that issue that’s now close to resolution after a more than three-year wait.
“That has turned out to be a serious pain,” he said. “It’s costly, slow and that’s not just in the Matsu Borough, it’s all over the state. … The good news is that the state of Alaska recognizes that this is an issue, and it’s not that they’re just malevolent, but they’re understaffed.”
Snyder confirmed in a statement that staffing has joined with tight budgets to create a long process for approvals. Additionally, because the GPRA traverse is a part of the long term Long Trail project, other projects have been given priority, he said.
“Our staff works hard, but we can’t always get work done as fast as folks might want,” he said. “Also, knowing that the Long Trail project is on a long-term horizon has made it a little easier to hold off on this application from within our own department in favor of other more pressing applications directly from the public.”