In an effort to encourage the development of sustainable tourism in Alaska, one of our partners, Discovery Voyages, has been working with the Alaska State Parks, Chugach National Forest, National Wildlife Federation, and others to develop the Prince William Sound Marine Trail as a world-class water trail along the coast of Prince William Sound. I had the opportunity to pose some questions to Captain Dean Rand concerning the catalyst for developing the Marine Trail and the state of Alaska ecotourism.
What environmental issues are you hoping to stem with the development of the Prince William Sound Marine Trail?
As it is right now, Prince William Sound is wide open to almost any kind of use. Unfortunately, there is little or no guidance about where to travel or what you can do in this 20,000 sq. mile coastal paradise, which has over 3,000 miles of wilderness shoreline. Although most of the western half of the Sound (representing 1.7 million acres of land) is protected from land development under a federal wilderness designation, it is not immune from poorly thought out development ideas. The State of Alaska controls large tracts of land and water resources within this wilderness area. However, the State of Alaska is also heavily influenced by money and short term economic opportunities. The project seeks to help a broad and diverse audience conserve, enjoy, and understand the wonders of the Sound.
Can you provide some examples of the short-term economic opportunities you feel are not in line with sustainable tourism?
Over the years we’ve had to spend tremendous amounts of time fighting some bad State permitted ideas including a plan to place a floating 7 Eleven store in the middle of this wilderness paradise, and just this past winter, a Jet Ski race with thousands of participants! In addition to the development of the Marine Trail, we want to build a constituency of wilderness supporters whom we could readily turn to when we need a group to write letters to our legislators, attend public meetings, or lobby with the State against these type of bad ideas that impact this entire pristine wilderness.
Where are the actual marine trails located?
The actual Marine Trail is a suggested series of routes across the water with recommended camping spots chosen for their low impact Leave no Trace ethics and camping qualities. The trail would extend from Whittier to Valdez to Cordova with a spur trail leading to the southwestern Sound. We plan to connect a series of island and mainland sites for use by small groups and independent travelers in kayaks, sailboats, motorboats, and other small watercraft. Trail facilities would be located on municipal, state, federal, and private lands and would include campsites, resting areas and safe havens.
What other information would you be providing about the Marine Trail?
Along with the support of a local Alaska Native organization and local economic development organizations, we plan to build information resources, such as a website and informational billboards for local port communities, that would spotlight Prince William Sound as a wilderness destination for kayakers, boaters, campers, photographers, and others who would be seeking a low impact outdoor vacation experience. Also, we plan to provide specific tips and educational information about how not to impact other people’s wilderness experience or cultural sights as well as wildlife habitats.
For more information about the Prince William Sound Marine Trail, please click on the concept paper written by Tony Turini from The National Wildlife Federation.