In 2013 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study of U.S. Forest Service trails that revealed a $314 million backlog in trail maintenance and that only one fourth of all Forest Service trails met the agency’s standards for trail maintenance. Clearly this is an area where the U.S. Forest Service could use more resources to help them bring their trails up to standards to benefit public use and enjoyment of the trails.
In an effort to encourage increased use of volunteer resources as well as other innovative programs, the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (NFSTSA) was introduced in Congress in 2015. Senators Enzi (R-WY) and Bennet (D-CO) introduced S.1110 in the Senate and Representatives Lummis (R-WY) and Walz (D-MN) introduced H.R.845 in the House of Representatives.
A key facet of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act involves the increased use of volunteers. If enacted, NFSTSA would direct the U.S. Forest Service to develop a strategy that would increase the role of partners and volunteers in trail maintenance. Such a strategy would build on the already successful volunteer efforts that are on-going in National Forests and would likely increase Americans’ connection to these spectacular natural resources. While the Forest Service does currently use volunteers to help maintain their trails, such a program as envisioned by this bill would involve a more strategic and methodical approach to increasing and enhancing this valued resource. (And to all you volunteers – a big “hats off” and “thank you!” We at AHS love all those who spend their free time giving trails a little TLC!)
Additionally, NFSTSA would require the U.S. Forest Service to identify 9-15 priority landscapes for increased trail maintenance using volunteers where appropriate. This effort would ensure that those areas most in need would receive additional attention to address those needs. Finally, the Act would also create a pilot program where outfitter and trail guide fees would be offset by trail maintenance work completed.
American Hiking Society strongly supports this legislation and is working with partners to ensure this bill passes in 2016.