State of the Beach/State Reports/AK/Beach Access

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Alaska Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access55
Water Quality23∗
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures3 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas28
Website1∗∗-
Special comments:

∗Since the water quality monitoring program in Alaska only exists on a limited basis, the recreational water quality is largely unknown. Only 117 samples were tested for the state in 2013.

∗∗The Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) is scheduled to sunset at 12:01 AM, Alaska Standard Time, on July 1, 2011 per AS 44.66.030. The Legislature adjourned the special legislative session May 14, 2011 without passing legislation required to extend the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP). This webpage will be viewable for reference purposes through June 30, 2012. It will then be archived within the Department of Natural Resources. Beginning on July 1, 2011 the website will remain static and there will be no further updates to the content of the former ACMP website. If you have any questions, please contact the DNR’s Commissioner’s Office at 907-269-8400.


Policies

Standards of the Alaska Coastal Management Program. Alaska Admin. Code tit. 6, §80.060(b) Recreation. Districts and state agencies shall give high priority to maintaining and where appropriate, increasing public access to coastal water.

The primary laws or regulations that guide public coastal access in Alaska are Title 38, ANILCA 17(b), and the Public Trust Doctrine, as administered by the State of Alaska.

The Alaska State Constitution provides for free access and common use of public and navigable waters by any citizen of the United States or resident of the State of Alaska. Article 8, Section 14, Access to Navigable Waters states:

"Free access to the navigable or public waters of the State, as defined by the legislature, shall not be denied any citizen of the United States or resident of the State, except that the legislature may by general law regulate and limit such access for other beneficial uses or public purposes."


Another important Statute is Title 38. Public Land, Chapter 4. Policy for Use and Classification of State Land Surface, especially


Section 38.04.200 protects traditional means of access for purposes including recreation.

While 17(b) easements (see below under Inventory) are important for access to public land and water, the State also has other means for addressing access to public water, such as 11 AAC 51.045, Easements to and Along Navigable and Public Water, which states:

a. As part of a preliminary or proposed written decision under AS 38.05.035 (e) before the sale, lease, grant, or other disposal of any interest in state land the department will:
1. list or map the access easements that the department proposes to reserve under this section for public access to and along water determined under 11 AAC 51.035 to be navigable or public water; or
2. state why reserving an access easement is not necessary to ensure free access to and along water determined under 11 AAC 51.035 to be navigable or public water or why regulating or limiting access is necessary for other beneficial uses or public purposes.

b. In its final written decision under AS 38.05.035 (e), the department will incorporate the list or map prepared under (a)(1) of this section or, in response to public comments or other information known to the department, will incorporate a modified version of that list or map. Unless the final decision under AS 38.05.035 (e) determines that reserving an access easement is not necessary to ensure free access to and along the water or that regulating or limiting access is necessary for other beneficial uses or public purposes, the department will reserve access easements as required by this section.
c. Before the department grants a lease of the land estate or conveyance of land adjacent to any water affected by tidal action, the department

1. will reserve along that water an access easement that
A. is continuous, unless topography or land status prevents a continuous easement; and
B. extends at least 50 feet from the mean high water line on the side to be leased or conveyed, and on both sides of the mean high water line if land on both sides is to be leased or conveyed; and
2. may reserve an alternative upland access route, if the department finds that access along an easement reserved under (1) of this subsection might be difficult because of topography or obstructions.

d. Before the department grants a lease of the land estate or conveyance of land adjacent to or containing any inland water determined under 11 AAC 51.035 to be navigable water, the department

1. will reserve along that water an access easement that
A. is continuous, unless topography or land status prevents a continuous easement; and
B. extends at least 50 feet upland from the ordinary high water mark;
2. will retain the bed of that water in state ownership; and
3. may reserve an alternative upland access route, if the department finds that access along an easement reserved under (1) of this subsection might be difficult because of topography or obstructions.

e. Before the department grants a lease of the land estate or conveyance of land adjacent to or containing any inland water determined under 11 AAC 51.035 to be public water, the department

1. will reserve, along and on the bed of that water, an access easement that
A. is continuous, unless topography or land status prevents a continuous easement; and
B. extends at least 50 feet upland from the ordinary high water mark; and
2. may reserve an alternative upland access route, if the department finds that access along an easement reserved under (1) of this subsection might be difficult because of topography or obstructions.

f. Before the department grants a lease of the land estate or conveyance of land adjacent to or containing water determined under 11 AAC 51.035 to be navigable or public water, and if

1. an existing trail, road, or other overland route provides access to the water but does not already have a reserved easement, the department will reserve an access easement, with a minimum width as required under 11 AAC 51.015(d)(1)(E);
2. a trail, road, or other overland access route to the water does not exist, but a public road or a public trail lies within two miles of the navigable or public water, and if overland access from the road or trail to the water is feasible, the department
A. will reserve, from the road or trail to the water, an access easement with a minimum width of 50 feet, or with a minimum width of 60 feet if the department also determines that the need for increased public access to navigable or public water may justify construction of a road along an easement; and
B. will reserve access easements under (A) of this paragraph, at intervals of approximately one mile, from the water to a public road or a public trail that lies parallel to the water; in reserving these easements, the department may designate
i. a section-line easement under AS 19.10.010 as an access easement, to the extent that the section-line easement runs on state land, and if the section-line easement provides a practical route to the shore; and
ii. an access easement along a tributary waterway for access to another water body or waterway, if the easement along the tributary waterway provides a practical and reasonably direct route from the road or trail to the other water body or waterway; or
3. a trail, road, or other overland access route to the water does not exist, but a public railroad crossing authorized by the railroad operator lies within two miles of the navigable or public water, and if overland access from the railroad crossing to the water is feasible, the department will reserve, from the railroad crossing to the water, an access easement with a minimum width of 50 feet, or with a minimum width 60 feet if the department also determines that the need for increased public access to navigable or public water may justify construction of a road along an easement.

g. If reserving access easements under (f) of this section, the department may reserve additional access easements to a water body or waterway to accommodate existing or anticipated heavy use, to protect portage routes, or to secure access between aircraft landing sites and nearby navigable or public water.

h. In determining the access easements to be reserved to and along navigable or public water, the department will solicit comments from the Department of Fish and Game and from a municipality or other person entitled under AS 38.05.945 to notice of the preliminary or proposed written decision under AS 38.05.035 (e).


There are vast regional differences (coastline physical characteristics, seasonal changes in water ice coverage, and general climate differences) throughout Alaska that influence access needs.

The 2001 Assessment indicates:

Although most of Alaska's 44,000 miles of shoreline is undeveloped and publicly owned, problems with access have been identified in particularly "urban" areas and subsistence areas. Although legal access to the shoreline is not a major issue on a statewide basis, facilities and infrastructure to allow the public to use the shoreline is very limited. Additional concerns with public access arise from concentrated use of few access points and the resultant effects. Access from the shore to upland areas historically utilized for subsistence and recreation uses are a growing concern as well.


In some regions, trespassing on private lands is a serious concern. The boundaries of many Native Corporation lands are not marked, so that trespass for recreational purposes is generally unintentional. This issue could be avoided through the use of public informational and educational materials, such as maps, brochures, and land ownership status overviews.

The highest demand for public access is in urban areas, along recreational rivers near urban areas, and in productive subsistence areas near villages. Generally inadequate access during times of peak usage results in overuse and misuse of the few areas that do provide access, in turn resulting in property owners requesting vacations of easements and rights-of-way. A few communities are becoming concerned about lack of public access to their waterfronts. Villagers whose lands are being developed for logging, mining, residences or tourism are also concerned about loss of access to subsistence and cultural sites.

An impediment to providing public access is the fear of liability. The argument is sometimes raised that if an owner is required to allow public use over his/her property, he/she will be held liable if someone becomes injured or otherwise harmed. Another impediment is the issue of takings. Local governments are sometimes reluctant to condition permits for public access because they might have to compensate the owners for a reduction in the value of their land.


Public access projects in Alaska include the following:

  • The City of Haines received enhancement grants funding to identify highest valued public use areas within the district, consider all appropriate uses, and develop an access management plan. The access management plan will become a part of the district coastal management program.
  • ADFG received Enhancement Grants Program funding to inventory off-road-vehicle trail stream crossings on the lower Kenai Peninsula in 2001 and 2002. The impacts of sediments and other pollutants into water bodies will be assessed. This study will guide ongoing watershed planning efforts initiated by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Trails Commission. The Kenai Peninsula Borough and the KPB Trails Commission support the project and envision improved implementation of the Kenai Peninsula Borough coastal management program.
  • The Kenai Peninsula Borough has received funding to continue a project initiated in state FY99 to develop accurate information regarding the condition, alternatives, and importance of public access points along the Kenai River. This project will formulate a management plan that will recommend development or closure of public access along the river. The access management plan will become a part of the district coastal management program.
  • OPMP initiated a project in July 2000 to revise the Standards of the ACMP at 6 AAC 80. The current Standards consider public access primarily in the Recreation Standard and in the Subsistence Standard. Preliminary analysis of how the Standards address public access has identified the need to clarify that public access includes navigation through water; clarify whether and how public access may be created on private land as part of a project; and to clarify the meaning of giving high priority to maintaining and increasing public access to coastal water. Unfortunately, due to workloads and agency resistance, this project was dropped in 2002.


Major gaps in addressing public access needs are: 1) insufficient funding for the Department of Natural Resources to research and document existing public use that qualifies for protection under Section 17(b) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act; 2) lack of comprehensive access planning in communities; and 3) lack of access planning during site planning, where public access elements are incorporated into plans for an otherwise private development. Public access facilities can more easily be designed to be harmonious with the private portions of the development during site planning. Preferably, the access plan should be part of the city's comprehensive land use plan, which addresses transportation, parking, recreation, and subsistence or personal use.

In early 2007 legislation was introduced (HB 40 and SB 71) that would provide a way to make shorelines along certain rivers that are currently off limits to anglers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts available to the public, provided that private property owners are willing. The bills would require the Department of Fish and Game to submit to the Department of Natural Resources each year a list of land along specific waterways where access is impeded by private land ownership. The Fish and Game commissioner would solicit and review public comment and include on the annual list only land for which an owner was willing to negotiate public access.

NOAA's Section 312 Evaluation in 2008 found:

Nearly all of Alaska’s 44,500 miles of shorelines are undeveloped, owned by the State, and managed by DNR’s Division of Mining, Land and Water. Legal access to the shoreline is thus not a major issue on a statewide basis. However, infrastructure to allow the public to use the shoreline is very limited. While legal access is provided via Alaska Statute 38.05.127, DNR does not construct roads or trails. Typically, issues with accessibility have been identified in particularly "urban" areas and subsistence areas. The new statewide standard addressing coastal access (11 AAC 112.220) states that districts and state agencies shall ensure that projects maintain and, where appropriate, increase public access to, from, and along coastal water.


Public access was ranked as medium priority in Alaska’s 2001 Section 309 Assessment and Strategy, so no strategy to address the issue was described. However, given the rapid growth occurring in Alaska’s urban areas since then, public access has become a more important issue. Therefore, when DNR revised their Section 309 Assessment in 2006, public access was identified as a high priority. The ACMP identified a number of strategies to address the issue, which include: provide training on development and implementation of public access enforceable policies for coastal districts and state agencies; fund projects to create an inventory and identifying areas of current public access, potential public access and areas in high demand of public access; evaluate all state owned property bordering coastal and tidal waters; and examine impacts from use and overuse on existing sites. Because of the changing prioritization in 2006, the ACMP’s progress in addressing public access issues will be examined more closely in the next program evaluation.


Site Inventory

Approximately 87% of Alaska's shoreline is publicly owned, according to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237. Alaska DNR staff believes that this estimate may be low. Below the mean high tide line, the state probably owns more than 98%. Above the mean high tide line, federal, state and local governments combined probably own 90-95% of the shoreline.[1]

This document identifies 335 public access sites in Alaska. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 12 miles of shoreline.

The 2011 Assessment states: "A cursory review of the 1995 RS 2477 Historic Trails Database & Map Atlas indicates the potential for over 787 rights-of-way within Alaska’s coastal boundaries. The legal status of most of these rights-of way have yet to be resolved."

The 2011 Assessment also notes:

"401 trails | 2558.15 miles are recorded in the Alaska SCORP. Coastal and noncoastal are not differentiated. Includes state and federal trails, not local. Several smaller communities use boardwalks in lieu of city streets, but this was not included in the data."


The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has a website that provides information on State Park facilities.

The 2011 Coastal Assessment and Strategy notes:

"There are a variety of public access related websites. The Division of Mining, Land & Water (DMLW) provides a trails & public access index with links to easement databases, trails access data related to RS2477, navigability program information, and regulations related to easements (varying update dates ranging from 2008 to 2010). There is an electronic fact sheet, Legal Access Public and Landowners’ Rights, by DMLW (updated in 2007). The division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has links to details about state parks and state recreation including park unit features and locations, ADA facilities, and regulation links. (most links have 2010 updates). Department of Fish & Game, Division of Sportfish has a homepage related to legal access. There are also paper versions of the “Accessing Alaska’s Public Lands & Waters” publication by the 1999 Interagency Navigability Team with a large map on one side and guidance information on the reverse."


The DNR Website also includes "Public Access Atlases" published by the Division of Mining, Land and Water. These atlases were put together by the state beginning in 1987 after it became clear that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was not going to move beyond having a casefile-centric system for tracking what are known as 17(b) easements. Following is a description from the DMR Website regarding the atlases:

Extensive changes in land ownership and land management have occurred in Alaska over the past 20 years. Many areas, previously open to general public use, are now included in a federal conservation unit, state legislatively designated unit, or have been conveyed to a Native corporation or other private party. Public use of these areas may now be restricted or no longer available.


These recent changes in land ownership and management have resulted in a growing problem: the unauthorized use of land and resources. The purpose of this atlas is to aid the public and the landowners in dealing with this problem. Most unauthorized use has been inadvertent, resulting from a lack of readily available and easily understood land status information. This atlas provides current land ownership and public use information, including use restrictions on the date of publication.


The atlases are accessible at: http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/mlw/planning/easmtatlas/index.htm The available public access atlases are:

  • Kodiak Island Borough Public Access Atlas, published in March, 1997
  • Prince William Sound Public Access Atlas, published in March, 1997
  • Kenai Penisula Public Easement Atlas, published in December, 1993
  • Bristol Bay Easement Atlas, published in May, 1990
  • Northwest Alaska Easement Atlas - Nome Area, published in June, 1989
  • Northwest Alaska Easement Atlas - Kotzebue Area, published in May, 1988
  • Copper River Basin Easement Atlas, published in June, 1987


A further discussion of the BLM easement process and problems the state has encountered working with BLM are contained in a "State Briefing Paper" which can be accessed from the DNR Website:

For 30 years Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been reserving easements across lands being conveyed into private ownership under the provisions of ANCSA to provide and facilitate access to public land and water. These easements are held by BLM, are for public use and are to protect the public right to access public lands isolated by conveyances. Unfortunately, it is rare when the public knows of these easements. Over the years the state has repeatedly urged BLM to systematically inventory (identify and locate), catalog and publish the locations of the 17(b) easements. They have never done so. In spite of the state's request, BLM is developing a process to vacate 17(b) easements based upon non-use. The process is linked to regulations that were promulgated in 1978 that state the Director of BLM shall terminate a public easement if it is not used for the purpose for which it was reserved unless it provides access to isolated parcels. The regulations set a date of December 18, 2001 as a beginning date to terminate for non-use. This date is 30 years after the passage of ANCSA and the assumption was that all ANCSA land would be conveyed by this date. This has not yet occurred and therefore this date is premature.


We recommend that BLM do five things: First, the Secretary of the Interior should waive the federal regulation that references December 18, 2001 as the appropriate date to start vacating 17(b) easements based on non-use, until such time as all land entitlements under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) have been completed. Second, develop inventories and atlases. Third, survey trails that have conflicts. Fourth, distribute the information broadly. Fifth, develop and implement a method to assess usage. These things need to occur before BLM develops a formal process for vacation of 17(b) easements based upon non-use.


There is a discussion in the 2011 Coastal Assessment and Strategy regarding a proposed comprehensive Alaska Coastal Atlas:

"The goal of the Alaska Coastal Atlas project is to produce a coastal atlas that will be designed as a common basemap for all lands within the coastal zone, and drawn from three primary mapping products: ortho-rectified imagery, an updated digital elevation model, and overlays of current permits, land authorizations, hazards, ShoreZone oblique photography, and other mapped themes. The coastal atlas will operate as an interactive mapping web browser designed for multiple end-users, such as project/permit review coordinators, coastal managers and planners, decision-makers and the public. The mapping interface will be designed so users can easily explore map layers and vector layers to obtain the required information, and will serve as a primary source of information for the Project Review Coordinators when reviewing a proposed project."


An Anchorage Coastal Resource Atlas also exists. The Anchorage Coastal Resource Atlas was originally published in December 1980, and produced for the Municipal Planning Department, financed by the Coastal Zone Management Program. It was the vision of a collection of individuals including the late Dr. Lidia Selkregg and others. The original goal of the Atlas was to provide an inventory of coastal resource data and "significantly aid Federal, State, and Municipal decision-makers in making more informed judgments regarding coastal zone activities." The 1980 Atlas maps and data inventory are in need of updating and in some cases complete replacement.

ACMP/OPMP previously launched a project to produce new, or completely updated resource maps to be based entirely on current GIS data derived from the Municipality of Anchorage, State of Alaska, and federal sources. This Atlas was to become the definitive updated Coastal Resource Atlas. The updated Atlas within this project scope will be digital and available on CD-ROM and on the Web. ACMP/OPMP originally anticipated publication of the new Atlas by June 2004. There were to be a total of 16 layers or maps in the new Atlas. Layers that will receive the most focus are: Slope, Streams/Waterbodies/Tide boundaries, Seismic, Soils, Floodplains and Wetlands, Wildlife/Habitats, Land Cover, and Land Use. In 2007 a Resource Atlas for the North Slope Borough was produced, which includes 31 draft maps.

The Atlas target audience consists of government agencies who manage coastal resources; the general public; and libraries. The Atlas will follow the original Coastal Resource Atlas format as faithfully as possible, but modifications will be made using improved data. The Atlas will serve as a reference and as a benchmark documenting Anchorage's environmental and urban condition.

ACMP/OPMP formed a Stakeholder Group to advise on the design and content of the new Atlas, as well as provide in some cases data for the new Atlas. This group consists of a variety of agencies including EPA, USFWS, USGS, NPS, DFG, municipal agencies, and Alaska Pacific University.

The original Atlas thematic data was from Municipal GIS coverages, but in the 1980s these GIS coverages were lost. Since that time the municipality has developed about 15 different layers of information representing the original Atlas maps, for example seismic, wetlands, and land use.

In 1998, several of the original habitat maps were recreated using ArcInfo (7.1), and these coverages may be useful for providing the frame extent and some thematic source data.

The Alaska ShoreZone Coastal Inventory and Mapping Project, a unique partnership between government agencies, NGOs, and private industry, has been flying helicopters along the entire Alaska shoreline each summer since 2001, collecting high-resolution imagery and detailed classifications of the coast's geologic features and intertidal biological communities. ShoreZone has surveyed Alaskan coasts at extreme low tide, collecting aerial imagery and environmental data for roughly 80% of Alaska's coastal habitats and continues to move towards full coverage each year. This is a great accomplishment, but ShoreZone, with help from NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, has done an equally impressive job at making their entire inventory accessible to the public. With the project's online resources, you can fly the coastline, download spatial data and view photos to evaluate beach access and coastal features.

Coast Guard and South Point Higgins Beaches

Ketchikan Beaches Association (KBA) is working to secure long-term public access to the Coast Guard and South Point Higgins beaches located north of Ketchikan. The group’s vision is "the acquisition and maintenance of our community beaches." The group also works to provide opportunities for residents to participate in the land use and planning process in order to protect natural areas for permanent access and recreation.

The Ketchikan Beaches Association's most immediate concern is planning for a formal solution to provide long-term public access to the Coast Guard and South Point Higgins Beaches. Located north of town close to North Point Higgins Elementary School, these beaches have been popular spots for public education and recreation and many Ketchikan residents have become very attached to this bit of publicly accessible undeveloped coastal land. Both beaches are used for beachcombing, walking dogs, family camping, hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, collecting edible and medicinal plants, clam digging, and kayaking. In addition, the area is site to numerous outdoor programs and campouts for the Elementary students and Boy Scouts.

In 1986 a lease was granted for the construction of trails accessing the beaches. The first half of the trail begins at Point Higgins Elementary and crosses over Borough Land to the Coast Guard Beach. A grant is pending for the completion of the second half of the trail project.

The only problem is that the Coast Guard and South Point Higgins beaches are not public lands. They are both owned by the Alaska Mental Health Land Trust (MHLT) and are part of the holdings used to generate revenue for the Mental Health Authority. The lands held by MHLT were conveyed according to the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act. The Trust Land Office (TLO), an office within the Department of Natural Resources, manages the lands and is charged with "maximizing long-term revenue from Trust Land," per TLO mission statement. According to Doug Campbell of the Trust Land Office, the Coast Guard Beach Tract (uplands) was "part of the original Mental Health Trust selection and conveyed in 1963 as part of a larger selection that included what is now the South Point Higgins School site and Point Higgins subdivision property."

According to Leslie Real of the Ketchikan Borough Planning and Community Development Department, the Trust Land Office has not submitted a formal rezone application. The Trust Land Office has stated its intent, however. In a letter to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough dated November 15, 2006, the Trust Land Office requested that the "Borough enter into a Memorandum of Agreement to design a master plan for the tract that would incorporate a residential subdivision and an easement for the Coast Guard Beach Trail." It is possible that the overall plan could change the location of the trail.

Not counting Coast Guard or South Point Higgins beaches, an estimated 7,000 linear feet of coastline are open to the public and accessible by foot in Ketchikan.

Beach Attendance Records

No information was found on beach attendance records for Alaska.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

No specific information was found on the economic evaluation of beaches in Alaska.

The recreation and tourism industry in Alaska, including sport fishing and hunting as well as wildlife viewing and other non-consumptive forms of recreation, supports over 50,000 Alaska jobs generating over $1.5 billion in annual income. About 1.5 million people visited Alaska from October 2000 — September 2001. In summer of 2007, 1.7 million visitors brought in $1.8 billion to the state, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Below is an excerpt from the 2009 Alaska Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) that describes public access values from a recreation and tourism standpoint.

WILDLANDS RECREATION
"Love of the outdoors is a major part of the fabled “Alaskan lifestyle.” Alaskans participate in wildland recreation at twice the rate of the rest of the country. Wildland recreation in Alaska includes a wide spectrum of popular activities, from fishing, hunting, hiking, skiing, birdwatching, snowmobiling, ORV riding, wildlife viewing, recreational mining, to mountaineering, whitewater rafting, spelunking, dog mushing, ocean kayaking, and powerboating. In addition to recreation values, wildlands play an increasingly important role in the economy of Alaska. As the demand for outdoor-related recreation and tourism expands, the value of accessible public wildlands (and surrounding private land) grows. Wildlands also play an important role in environmental education programs for all ages (from elementary schools to Elderhostel), therapeutic programs for the physically challenged, and self-esteem and wilderness skills workshops for troubled youths. Opportunities are found on large private land holdings, on open space, and public access to lands in public ownership. Alaska contains a generous supply of public land, but access can be difficult or limited by land ownership, geography, and distance."


The Prince William Sound region generates a significant portion of that total because it is close to the population center and tourism hub of Anchorage, and because it harbors the emblematic sights travelers and recreators seek in this far north state: calving glaciers, whales, bears, seals, salmon and birds. Due to its spectacular attributes, visitation is now the fastest-growing and most widespread human impact on the Sound. Before 1989, the Forest Service cabins along the shoreline were often empty; now, there is an 800 number on the east coast to call for reservations, and most cabins fill up six months in advance.

In 2000, the state completed a road and tunnel connecting Whittier to the Anchorage area road system, placing two-thirds of the state's population and its largest tourism hub within a two-hour drive of the Sound. The $80 million project is projected to increase access to the Sound via Whittier to 1.4 million people annually by 2015, and has already fueled increases in recreational boating, fishing and hunting. The road has also led to new cruise ship dockings, fuel stations, hotels, roads, harbor expansions, and other recreational facilities in the western Sound. Visitation jumped 250% the first year, accompanied by a spate of other proposed projects, from floating gas stations and convenience stores to lodges, recreational sub-divisions, mariculture operations, communications towers, and even a floating liquor store. Additional cabins, campsites, trails, interpretive sites, and other amenities to accommodate visitors are expected. As boaters and campers multiply, air, water and noise pollution increase, and problems arise with managing impacts like garbage, human waste, overcrowding, user conflicts, wildlife disturbance, and reduced opportunities to experience the Sound's wild character. The initial flurry of activity since the opening of the Whittier road has leveled off but visitation is expected to spike again as visitor amenities and infrastructure are added, and after cruise ships return to Whittier in 2004.

Kayaking the Sound's long and convoluted shoreline has skyrocketed in popularity in the last fifteen years. In 1999, the U.S. Forest Service, unable to track the effects of this exponential growth, instituted a moratorium on outfitter permits. Between 1987 and 1998, recreational kayak visitor use in northwestern Prince William Sound alone increased by at least 90 percent.

Unfortunately, there is no accurate estimate of the total number of visitors to the Sound, which reflects the absence of a coordinated management effort. Piecing together available information from harbor use, tunnel traffic, cruise ship numbers, state marine parks, and the state transportation plan, it is estimated that visitation has at least tripled since the mid-1990s.[2]


NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).
The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.


A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

Alaska DNR staff indicates that coastal access is generally sufficient to meet existing and projected future demand, except perhaps in popular fishing areas along the Kenai Peninsula, such as the mouth of the Kenai River. Providing additional access at these locations could prove problematic due to habitat impacts. Similarly, parking is judged to be sufficient for present and future demand, but public transportation to and along the coast in insufficient to meet existing demand.[3]

Public Education Program

The state has a Coastal Program Public Information Center that serves as the "one stop shopping" location for customer services. The public can get applications, reserve state park public use cabins, and get general and technical information on department programs concerning land, mining, parks,geology, forestry, and oil & gas.

Kenai Peninsula Borough had a SFY2010 project to delineate legal access points on the west side of their borough. The Parks and Outdoor Recreation Boater Safety Program, a major outreach program in Alaska, has made major expansion into electronic formats including outreach through facebook, twitter, and increasing its web content. The Boater Safety Program has seen significant rises in interest and course participation.

There are multiple efforts to update website offerings. Department of Fish & Game is doing major revision to its Legal Access for Sport Fishing website in SFY11. It is expanding the site to encompass both fishermen and hunter audiences. It is enhancing discussion of ANSCA and ANILCA federal acts and their ties to access. There is also effort on user friendliness of the website. Mining, Land & Water is developing a public factsheet about access along waters with the assistance of multiple divisions and agencies.

A mapped inventory of legal access points on western Kenai Peninsula will be made available on the public borough website and to land managers. This legal access information will improve public awareness of proper legitimate access points, provide clarity and resolution to access conflicts, prevent erosion from illegal access, and will allow land use policy development to direct appropriate entry and use. The increased marketing and interest in the Boating Safety Program will increase the number of people who can safely enjoy the public access offered in Alaska (Since 1998 over 75,000 children in Alaska's Schools have benefited from the 1 hour Kids Don't Float programs, over 1,000 Alaskans have participated in a intensive seven hour Waterwise course.)

Contact Info

Kathy Sheehan-Dugan

Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Email: kathy.dugan@alaska.gov

Stephanie Clusiau
Natural Resource Mgr I
Natural Resources
MLW-LAND ANCHORAGE
550 W 7th Ave Ste 1070
Anchorage, AK 99501-3579
(907)269-4755
Email: stephanie.clusiau@alaska.gov

David Schade
Natural Resource Mgr I
Natural Resources
MLW-LAND ANCHORAGE
550 W 7th Ave Ste 1070
Anchorage, AK 99501-3579
(907)269-6008
Email: david.w.schade@alaska.gov


Footnotes

  1. Chas Dense, Coastal Resource Specialist, Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, January 2004
  2. "State of the Sound", National Wildlife Federation, July 2003. http://www.nwf.org/princewilliamsound/programHomepage.cfm?cpId=65&CFID=1687449&CFTOKEN=55336664
  3. Chas Dense, Coastal Resource Specialist, Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, January 2004.



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