The pandemic has brought some truths about Alaska’s outdoor recreation sector into high relief and makes the case for greater state investment in the state’s $2.2 billion outdoor recreation economy. As elected leaders consider how to kickstart the recovery, outdoor recreation provides a way forward.
Public lands are to the outdoor industry as roads and bridges are to the automotive or transportation industry. Alaska lawmakers have considered traditional infrastructure like highways, bridges, airports and ports to be essential to our state’s economic well-being. Public lands like national parks, state and local parks and trails, forests, rivers, mountains and historic sites carry the same level of essential economic importance to the outdoor industry.
Those of us in the outdoor industry have a lot to be thankful for. Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink supported the idea that the outdoors was a safe place to practice social distance guidelines and keep mentally and physically well, even at the height of pandemic health hunker-down mandates. Alaskans responded by flocking to local and state public lands. State Parks Director Ricky Gease commented, “In 2020, the 50th anniversary of Alaska State Parks, we saw record numbers at trailheads, campgrounds, public use cabins and boat launches. A wide range of Alaskans rediscovered the value of outdoor recreation, as well as many first-time users.”