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for people who care about the West

Too many motors

 

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) was delighted to see Krista Langlois’ very informative article “Trail Blazing” (HCN, 6/26/17). It deals with a topic that is dear to our hearts — providing high-quality opportunities for human-powered recreation on Alaska’s public lands. We certainly agree that encouraging the development of more hiking, cross-country skiing and biking trails could create significant economic benefits for rural and other Alaskan communities. And the opportunities would seem to be boundless on Alaska’s public lands — 224 million acres of federal and 104 million acres of state-owned land.

But there’s an elephant in the room. The article never mentions one of Alaska’s most basic and unyielding recreational problems: The vast majority of reasonably accessible (as well as less accessible) public lands and trails, both federal and state, are managed for motorized recreation. There are very few refuges in the state for those who are seeking a quiet, natural, non-mechanized experience free of the immediate and/or lingering impacts and conflicts of motorized recreational vehicles like snowmobiles and ATVs. We’d be surprised if most HCN readers were aware, for example, that — due to what we firmly believe is a misinterpretation of a provision in the Alaska Lands Act — recreational snowmobiling is generally allowed, even in congressionally designated wildernesses, including those in national parks. Especially in winter, don’t count on a wilderness experience — or even a fully natural one — on Alaska’s public lands.

Motorized recreation in the 21st century certainly has its place — but not seemingly everywhere. The adverse effects of poorly regulated motorized recreation are many. Natural sounds and natural quiet are of course degraded, as are clean air and water, soils and vegetation, wildlife, and intangible values like wilderness character. Even Alaska’s spectacular scenery can be badly marred. Many otherwise beautiful snowscapes are a maze of snowmobile tracks as far as the eye can see, and in the non-snow seasons, innumerable landscapes are seriously scarred by ever-widening ATV trails — many, if not most, of those trails unplanned and virtually unregulated.

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition certainly supports efforts to provide more — in fact, many more — high-quality opportunities for human-powered recreation in Alaska. It’s our mission. But until Alaska’s state and federal public-land managers agree to allocate a more reasonable percentage of the public lands to non-motorized recreation, visitors seeking a quiet, natural experience hiking, skiing or biking in Alaska will be sorely disappointed.

Brian Okonek, president
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
Anchorage, Alaska