Outdoor Recreation and Local Government Groups Urge Congress to Keep Trails Open in National Forests; Bipartisan bill would reduce maintenance backlog

Apr 28, 2015

Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon

Loren Kerns, flickr
Eleven diverse national recreation and local government organizations are urging Congress to pass the National Forest Trails System Stewardship Act, a bipartisan bill to improve public access to America’s national forests.

The legislation was introduced today in the United States Senate by Senators Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and is identical to a House version introduced earlier this year by Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN).

In a letter to Congress released today, the 11 organizations state, “Failing to address the trail maintenance crisis will result in diminished public access to the great outdoors, increased potential for harm to natural resources, and greater future maintenance costs.”

The National Forest Trails System Stewardship Act would keep more trails open and accessible by expanding the use of volunteer and partner organizations and providing increased focus on a handful of priority areas around the country.

The United States National Forest System contains the largest network of trails in the world and receives roughly 165 million visitors a year. While more people than ever are heading into national forests in pursuit of exercise, relaxation, and adventure, only one quarter of all trails are maintained to standard. The trails backlog prevents public access, poses dangers to public safety, and degrades clean water.

More than 50 diverse recreation and conservation groups requested this legislation after a 2013 Government Accountability Office study found the Forest Service trail system is being squeezed between the demands of growing public use and shrinking budgets. According to that report, the maintenance backlog for forest trails exceeds a half billion dollars and threatens to limit public access, harm natural resources, and increase future maintenance costs.

Organizations that signed onto the letter include:

• Access Fund

• American Council of Snowmobile Associations

• American Hiking Society

• American Horse Council

• American Motorcyclist Association

• Back Country Horsemen of America

• International Mountain Bicycling Association

• National Association of Counties

• Partnership for the National Trails System

• Trout Unlimited

• The Wilderness Society

“The alliance of national recreational organizations in support of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act is unprecedented,” said Don Saner, Chairman of Back Country Horsemen of America. “From hikers to mountain bikers, climbers to motorcyclists, everyone who uses trails on our national forests has thrown their support behind the bill.”

“Protecting and improving access to our national forests is important for the millions of Americans who enjoy these lands,” said Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Campaigns at The Wilderness Society. “The diversity of support for this bill shows how important our national forest trails are for all Americans. We urge Congress to move this important legislation to keep our forests accessible while supporting America’s growing outdoor economy.”

“Access to first-rate recreational opportunities on public lands is a key economic driver for many counties,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties. “By giving the Forest Service additional tools to address pressing maintenance needs, this legislation would enhance opportunities for millions of public lands visitors, forest counties and their residents.”

“The Forest Service trail maintenance backlog is a serious concern for all recreational users,” said Ben Pendergrass, Vice President of Government Relations at the American Horse Council. “This bill is a practical and cost effective measure to help address the problem and ensure equestrians and all trail users continue to have access to, and are able to enjoy, trails on our National Forests.”

“The efforts of volunteers and partners are critical to the upkeep and maintenance of America’s National Scenic Trails and the world-class experiences they provide the public,” said Gary Werner, Executive Director of the Partnership for the National Trails System. “These trails, which include the Appalachian, Continental Divide, Florida, North Country and the Pacific Crest National Scenic trails, would benefit from the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act and its objective to remove barriers that prevent qualified volunteers from conducting trail maintenance.”

“The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act gives the Forest Service a clear structure to develop partnerships with locally based trail volunteers,” said Jeremy Fancher, Interim Policy Director with the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “IMBA and our network of nearly 200 U.S. chapters support this bill because we are eager to help the Forest Service care for some of America’s greatest trail systems.”

In addition to expanding the use of volunteers, the legislation also requires the Secretary of Agriculture to identify nine to fifteen priority areas throughout the country for increased trail maintenance.

Contacts:

Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society, (202) 360-1912

Randy Rasmussen, Back Country Horsemen of America, (541) 602-0713

Ben Pendergrass, American Horse Council, (202) 296-4031