Construction of the Alaska Highway has led to conjecture as to the extent to which this artery, built for military purposes, will serve the needs of tourist and recreational travel after the war.
Such an appraisal at this time must be more or less speculative. The volume of use will depend upon the degree to which the Highway is maintained and improved, as well as upon postwar trends of travel. This much is certain, howeverthat with the return of peace and the release of the pent-up desire to see and explore, many motorists will turn their thoughts toward Alaska. Hitherto access to this land of mystery has been only by water, or in recent years, by air. Here at last is a passable motor road to the Territory.
This new means of access to Alaska runs generally northwest from Dawson Creek, a railhead and highway terminus just inside the eastern boundary of the Canadian province of British Columbia. In crossing the southwest corner of the Yukon Territory, it throws southward a spur connection to the Alaskan port of Haines. After its passage from the Yukon Territory into Alaska, the through route divides; the northwest branch joins near Big Delta with the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks, while the branch to the southwest connects at Slana with other roads to Anchorage and to the seaport of Valdez. At the request of the Secretary of War, on July 20, 1942, the Secretary of the Interior withdrew from entry a strip of land 40 miles wide through which the Highway passes in Alaska, to facilitate location and construction of the Highway.
It became manifest early in this study that all the other units of the present network of roads in Alaska, as well as the newly-constructed Alaska Highway, are involved in the region's recreational future. The traveler who seeks to draw from his summer in Alaska the full measure of enjoyment and understanding will include in his itinerary trips by automobile over parts of the Alaska, Richardson, Glenn, Edgerton, and Steese Highways.
Alaska authorities have recognized that in the Territory's economic future a large part could, and should, be played by that industry, or group of industries, which is based upon travel and recreation. At the same time, experience in other wild and perishable regions has shown that important values in scenery, vegetation, wildlife, and other features could be unnecessarily destroyed or deteriorated if, without any guiding purpose, the lands bordering new highways were allowed to go the way of haphazard and unplanned development. Attention has been drawn to the fact that the United States portion of the Alaska Highway is almost entirely through lands still in the public domain and thus subject to government control. This is largely true of other highways in Alaska.
Recognizing these facts, the Secretary of the Interior requested the President's approval of the allocation of sufficient funds, from those provided for the Alaska Highway, to finance the study and preparation of a plan for necessary and proper development and use of these lands in question. Approval was given on January 8, 1943, the task was assigned to the National Park Service, arrangements with the War Department were consummated, and field study was begun in April, 1943.
This report records facts ascertained during the study and makes broad recommendations arising therefrom. Toward its preparation cheerful and invaluable assistance has been rendered by a host of officials and private citizens.
In anticipation of an influx of tourists and potential settlers three conditions are recognized; first, that suitable provisions for roadside accommodation must be provided in advance of public travel; second, that numerous applications will be received for lands along the highway network, to be used for homestead, homesite, and general business purposes, especially in the vicinity of road intersections; and third, that the scenic, wildlife, and historical values along the route will suffer irreparable damage unless the developments for public use and the disposal of public lands along the highways proceed in accordance with an orderly program that is in the public interest. Such damage should be kept to a minimum; for it would destroy an important factor in the service to the tourist which bids fair to become one of Alaska's most lucrative sources of revenue.
NEWTON B. DRURY,