When U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowksi came to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce this week, she was excited to talk about legislation she said has flown under the radar in this busy year.
“We passed what is probably the most consequential measure when it comes to how we deal with the deferred maintenance on our public lands," she said. "This is the Great American Outdoors Act.”
Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020. Among other things, it set aside revenue from energy development to fund maintenance projects on federal lands.
Almost $285 million was set aside in March for the U.S. Forest Service. The Alaska Region is now starting to see those funds — a $12.5 million slice of the pie for fiscal year 2021. About a quarter of that is headed to the Chugach National Forest.
Tyler Glenn is recreation program manager for the Chugach. He said the main objective of the funds is to address deferred maintenance.
“It’s kind of a growing beast, if you will, for the Forest Service," he said.
Several projects up for funding this fiscal year fall on the Kenai Peninsula, including two at the Russian River Campground.
“It’s the highest used campground on our forest, on the Chugach Forest," he said. "So being able to put some good use to that area — I mean, it’s like if you don’t have your reservations now, you’re not getting in for the summer."
The service plans to replace a retaining wall there along with several campground kiosks. Over at Devil’s Creek, they’ll do some trail brushing and open up clearings and sight lines.
The service also identified projects to complete later down the road, like the replacement of a viewing platform at Tern Lake and upgrades to the Iditarod National Historic Trail.
“We had a lot of projects that were kind of in our back pocket, just as funding hasn't been available through the years to address," Glenn said. "But now we have the opportunity. And it did also kind of spark some, ‘Aha! Because we can do this now, we can also do this.’”
The act saw support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Murkowski, when it passed last year.
Some conservationists questioned the sustainability of using oil and gas revenue as a funding source. But Murkowski said it's a chance to recognize what the industry brings in for the federal government.
“It’s legislation that you might not have heard a lot about because people are focused on a lot of other things," she said Wednesday. "But you’re going to be seeing the benefits of that going forward.”
The Forest Service has submitted a list of projects for fiscal year 2022 and expects to announce which projects were approved for that round this summer. You can see a map of all the projects it has in the works on the Alaska Region website.