TRAILS -- The Forest Service is letting the public suggest trail systems that should receive priority for maintenance in an era of bare-bones trail budgets.
"No new money is coming in, but we're looking to do more teaming with partners and volunteers," said Kent Wellner, Northern Region trail program manager in Missoula.
As part of a new national strategy, the Forest Service will select up to 15 priority areas among its nine regions across the country where a backlog in trail maintenance has contributed to reduced access and potential harm to natural resources or trail users.
So far, the most interest in the Northern Region has been for trails in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the contiguous Central Idaho wilderness areas that include the Selway, Frank Church River of No Return and Gospel Hump wilderness areas, Wellner said.
However, the selected areas across the country will be a mix of motorized and nonmotorized trails, Forest Service officials say.
The Northern Region alone manages 28,000 miles of trails over 25 million acres in Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas for motorized and non-motorized recreation. Partner groups contributed 112,000 hours of service maintaining trails in 2016.
The Pacific Northwest Region, which includes Oregon and Washington, manages 24,000 miles of trails over 24.7 million acres. About 5,000 volunteers contributed more than 230,000 hours of service to national forest trails in the two states last year. Volunteer contributions helped the Forest Service accomplish nearly half of the region’s trail projects in 2016, officials said.
The regions have until April 15 to submit at least three regional proposals to National Headquarters. Those proposals will be weighed against proposals submitted by other Forest Service regions.
The trail maintenance effort is outlined in the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016 and includes a national goal of a twofold increase in trail maintenance by volunteers and partners by the end of 2021.
Overall, the Forest Service manages more than 158,000 miles of trail – the largest trail system in the nation – in 154 national forests and grasslands. They attract more than 84 million trail visits a year by motorized and nonmotorized users.
In 2015, volunteers and partners nationwide contributed nearly 1.4 million hours – a value of about $31.6 million – in maintenance and repair of nearly 30,000 miles of trails, the agency said last week in a media release.
Even that effort must be increased to help the cash-strapped agency get trail maintenance backlogs under control, officials say.
"Limited funding compounded by the rising cost of wildfire operations, has resulted in less than 25 percent of Forest Service trails meeting all of the agency’s standards for safety, quality recreation and economic and environmental sustainability," the agency release said.
The public has until April 5 to offer their trail work priorities for Idaho and Montana. Contact Wellner by email, email@example.com.
Suggestions for Oregon and Washington can be forwarded by March 31 to trail program manager Dennis Benson, email firstname.lastname@example.org.