USDA secretary announces improvements for forest system trails


WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the selection of 15 priority areas to help address the more than $300 million trail maintenance backlog on national forests and grasslands. Two of the priority areas are in Colorado.

Focused trail work in these areas, bolstered by partners and volunteers, is expected to help address needed infrastructure work so that trails managed by USDA Forest Service can be accessed and safely enjoyed by a wide variety of trails enthusiasts.  About 25 percent of agency trails fit those standards while the condition of other trails lag behind.

“Our nation’s trails are a vital part of the American landscape and rural economies, and these priority areas are a major first step in USDA’s on-the-ground responsibility to make trails better and safer,” Secretary Perdue said. “The trail maintenance backlog was years in the making with a combination of factors contributing to the problem, including an outdated funding mechanism that routinely borrows money from programs, such as trails, to combat ongoing wildfires.

“This borrowing from within the agency interferes with other vital work, including ensuring that our more than 158,000 miles of well-loved trails provide access to public lands, do not harm natural resources, and, most importantly, provide safe passage for our users.”

This year the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Systems Act which established America’s system of national scenic, historic, and recreation trails. A year focused on trails presents a pivotal opportunity for the Forest Service and partners to lead a shift toward a system of sustainable trails that are maintained through even broader shared stewardship.

The priority areas focus on trails that meet the requirements of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016 (PDF, 224KB), which calls for the designation of up to 15 high priority areas where a lack of maintenance has led to reduced access to public land; increased risk of harm to natural resources; public safety hazards; impassable trails; or increased future trail maintenance costs. The act also requires the Forest Service to “significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance” and to aim to double trail maintenance accomplished by volunteers and partners.

Shared stewardship to achieve on-the-ground results has long been core to Forest Service’s approach to trail maintenance.

“Our communities, volunteers and partners know that trails play an important role in the health of local economies and of millions of people nationwide, which means the enormity of our trail maintenance backlog must be adequately addressed now,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke. “The agency has a commitment to be a good neighbor, recognizing that people and communities rely on these trails to connect with each other and with nature.”

Each year, more than 84 million people get outside to explore, exercise and play on trails across national forests and grasslands and visits to these places help to generate 143,000 jobs annually through the recreation economy and more than $9 million in visitor spending.

The 15 national trail maintenance priority areas encompass large areas of land and each have committed partners to help get the work accomplished. The areas include two in Colorado:

• Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico: The trail’s 3,100 continuous miles follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, including more than 1,900 miles of trails across 20 national forests. The trail runs a diverse route with some sections in designated wilderness areas and others running through towns, providing those communities with the opportunity to boost the local economy with tourism dollars.

• Colorado Fourteeners: Each year, hundreds of thousands of hikers trek along over 200 miles of trail to access Colorado’s mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet. The Forest Service manages 48 of the 54 fourteeners, as they are commonly called.

For more information about the USDA Forest Service, visit www.fs.fed.us.

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