In 2019, I traveled to Washington D.C. with fellow Alaska landscape architects, Taylor Keegan and Michele Elfers, to participate in meetings with Senator Lisa Murkowski, Congressman Don Young, and the aids to Senator Dan Sullivan. The purpose of the meetings was to encourage our representatives to support several bills moving through the House and Senate at the time, including the bill that would eventually evolve into the Great American Outdoors Act. The Great American Outdoors Act included permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps directly fund park projects in our cities, boroughs, and state. About a year after our meetings in D.C., the bill finally passed, and I was momentarily thrilled about what a benefit it would be for our Alaska parks.
Then I found out that Alaska was the only state in the Union that was not taking advantage of the LWCF program, and that we had not been accepting LWCF grants for years.
As a landscape architect, I’ve seen first-hand how investing in our public lands benefits all Alaska residents. Allowing our park infrastructure to fall into disrepair will not only directly impact the daily lives of Alaska residents but could have an impact on tourism in our state as well.
Alaska has a unique advantage over other states in that we do not have to advertise our natural beauty and wild spaces. People just know. People automatically think of glaciers, mountains, whales, and bears when you say “Alaska” in the Lower 48. What they do not think of is overcrowded parking lots at trailheads, overflowing dumpsters, and trails and wayfinding signs in disrepair. Our state parks, and many of our local borough and city parks, are suffering due to lack of attention and funding. If we do not address the backlog in park maintenance and improvements, it will not only impact us as residents, but it will eventually start to impact our standing as the “last frontier.” People will not want to visit our wild spaces if the park infrastructure does not support all the things that come along with tourism, like providing proper waste disposal and well-maintained and signed trails and campsites.
The following op-ed was a result of several months of conversations with coworkers, colleagues, state representatives, and non-profit organizations about the issue. All of those conversations pointed to one inevitable fact. In today’s economy, funding is hard to come by, and if parks are important to us, then we need to talk to our state legislators about the issue now while they are setting fiscal priorities for the next few years.
How do you feel about our parks? And how do you feel that they should be funded? If you think this should be a priority for our state, please join me in talking to our representatives about the issue.
Author: Mélisa Babb