July 14, 2021

Alaska's Historic Portage Pass Trail Added To Chugach National Forest

WHITTIER, Alaska — Today, The Conservation Fund announced the protection of roughly 250 acres of recreational land in Whittier, Alaska using funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). An inholding within the Chugach National Forest—which contains a portion of the historic Portage Pass Trail, including the trailhead and parking area—was transferred from the environmental nonprofit, The Conservation Fund, to the USDA Forest Service to secure permanent public access of the trail.

Conserving the Portage Pass property was a high priority for the Forest Service to ensure recreational access for the area. Visitors of the land enjoy easy trail entrance for hiking and breathtaking views. Rising about 400 feet from sea level, the Portage Pass Trail is part of the Iditarod National Historic Trails system and offers views of Whittier, Prince William Sound, Portage Lake, several glaciers, and the Chugach Mountains. The property contains an anadromous stream, is frequented by bald eagles and migratory birds, and is an ecological corridor between Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. The trail is a well-known attraction that brings visitors to the town of Whittier, a small coastal community about 90 minutes south of Anchorage, accessed by a 2.5-mile-long vehicle tunnel through a mountain.

“Working with the community of Whittier and a partner like The Conservation Fund to secure public access to the Portage Pass Trail was a phenomenal effort,” said Alaska Regional Forester Dave Schmid. “This solidifies investment in trailhead development, which enhances recreational access, improves public safety and delivers long term economic and social benefits to the community.”

Dave Dickason, Mayor of Whittier said: “This is a huge gift for the City of Whittier. We have community members who use the Portage Pass Trail almost daily for exercise during the summer months. Some use it for berry picking and to access the beach at Portage Lake for picnics and recreation. It also brings more business in for our business owners. We greatly appreciate the efforts of The Conservation Fund and the Chugach National Forest to secure future access to the trail for our community.”

“This effort not only secures a visually stunning addition to the Chugach National Forest but protects a key attraction and economic asset for the area,” said John Wros, The Conservation Fund’s Alaska Program Associate. “On a sunny day the Portage Pass Trail brings dozens of visitors through the tunnel to the town of Whittier, supporting its recreational economy. We are grateful for the LWCF funding and the support of Alaska’s U.S. Congressional delegation.”

Protection of the historic Portage Pass Trail was made possible with LWCF funds specifically allocated for recreational access projects. With the signing of a historic bill in August 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, ensuring full and permanent funding for LWCF—supporting future projects like this one for generations to come. Alaska’s Congressional delegation, including U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Representative Don Young, played an instrumental role in securing LWCF’s ongoing success for Alaska residents, economy, environment, and cultural values.

Additional project support was provided to The Conservation Fund by ConocoPhillips Alaska and the Erin K. Johnson Memorial Fund.

While mostly used for recreation today, the Portage Pass Trail has a long history of use by Alaska Natives, Russian fur traders, and early settlers as an easy travel corridor. The 1890’s and the Alaska gold rush saw a new wave of prospectors, arriving by steam ship at the foot of Portage Pass and hauling their gear up and over to the Sunrise and Hope mining areas. During World War II, when the Whittier tunnel was built, travel over the pass was no longer necessary. Now a part of Chugach National Forest, Portage Pass will remain an important economic driver for decades to come.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land, including nearly 340,000 acres in Alaska.

Media Contact:

Val Keefer | The Conservation Fund | vkeefer@conservationfund.org | 703-908-5802