Forest Recreation Funding

woman and companions in Chattooga River in the Rock Gorge Roadless Area
Butch Clay
Over 50 million people recreate on national forest trails every year. Funding these trails is critical to keeping outdoor recreation economy booming.

People who recreate on our national trails run the gamut. From hikers and bikers to skiers and horseback riders, Americans from all walks of life depend on our forest trails for outdoor recreation.

More than ever before, we need to provide funding for our national forest trails. Growing public demand for trails coupled with an aging trail system and declining budgets are taking a toll.

Why Trails?

Trails are a key component to America’s outdoor recreation economy. In fact, studies have shown that trails and the businesses that support them, such as tourism and outfitting, contribute $94.1 billion dollars to the U.S. economy and support 716,000 jobs.

Trails also enhance our quality of life. They provide a place for people to experience nature and get exercise while doing so.

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Why trails?

As trails grow, funding shrinks

The millions of boots and tires moving along our aging trail system every year are taking a major toll. Trails need to be kept up in order to be usable and the trail maintenance backlog has far surpassed the annual trail budgets - today it stands around $296 million.

Not only is our maintenance backlogged, but we have also decreased the funding. In 1980, the budget gave $793 per mile of trail. Today, the budget only gives $540 per mile of trail - a 32% decrease in trail funding despite continued growth in the trail system and visitors. That just doesn’t add up.

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Conservation funding

What’s happening to our trails?

Due to lack of funding, our trails are suffering and the 50 million people who enjoy them are affected. Currently, only 21% of our trails are maintained. The consequences of this neglect cannot be understated:

  • Unsafe trails become closed
  • Ecological degradation leads to erosion that pollutes rivers, streams and watersheds
  • Access is lost due to abandoned trails, debris covering trails and floods.

From fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, the Forest Service trails budget was cut 4%. However modest this cut may appear, it belies the real and longstanding crisis the trails budget is facing. Last year’s cut was just one in a decades’ worth of stagnant trail budgets that have collectively resulted in “death by a thousand cuts” for our National Forest trail system. The Wilderness Society supports holding funding at a minimum in the fiscal year 2013 budget process.

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