ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Tucked into a $19 billion bill the Senate Appropriations Committee passed Thursday, is a half-million dollars to build a network of wilderness huts in Alaska.
The money is good news for a group of outdoors enthusiasts who have been toiling for years to bring about a string of public-use huts linked by hiking trails. The Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Huts Association had won a seed-money grant, but had raised just $6,000 in donations.
An aide in Sen. Ted Stevens' Washington office read a story about the effort in the Anchorage Daily News' Outdoors section and she thought it was a good idea. Without contacting the group, she suggested Stevens add the project to a federal spending bill. And the senator did.
The money is for a backcountry hut network at Snow River, north of Seward, the area the group has identified as its best prospect.
''That's crazy!'' said Gar Carothers, a vice president of the hut group, when told about the bill Friday. ''If something like this actually comes through, it would give us a real opportunity to make this happen.''
Members have put in many hours building their base of supporters, scouting locations and drafting their proposal, he said. Some of their efforts met dead ends. They had no clue that anyone in Washington was on their side.
The project is just one of dozens of Alaska spending items Stevens added to the Interior Appropriations bill. His additions total $115 million, an aide said.
''We don't have as many big-ticket items'' compared with in past years, Stevens said. ''We have a lot of little items.''
The bill must still go before the full Senate and then get reconciled with its House counterpart. But Stevens, the top Republican on the appropriations panel, usually gets what he wants.
The bigger items added to the bill at his request include $11 million to build an Indian Health Service clinic and housing on St. Paul, $6 million to prevent wildfires in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and $4 million for Alaska's telemedicine program.
As with last year's bill, this one also includes $15 million for alcohol control.
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