U.S. Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced a bill Wednesday to address the backlog of trail maintenance in the National Forest Trail system.
One year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released the results of a study showing that just one-fourth of Forest Service trails were maintained to the agency’s standards, and that the trail maintenance backlog exceeded $314 million—plus $210 million in annual maintenance.
The proposed legislation calls for a strategy to increase partnerships and volunteer programs for trail maintenance. It recommends using fire crews to maintain trails in the off-season and launches a pilot program which would permit outfitters and guides to offset their federal fees through trail work.
Dan Smitherman is The Wilderness Society’s Wyoming representative and a former outfitter. He says the Lummis bill is exactly what he and a coalition of hikers, horsemen, climbers, hunters, cyclists, conservationists, and others were looking for.
“I think that access to the National Forest system is extremely important,” Smitherman said. “It’s a high return investment for the public and, I’m really ecstatic that [Lummis] is doing this. I know firsthand how bad the trails have become and how difficult it is to navigate the public lands.”
The U.S. National Forest System contains the largest network of trails in the world, brings in 165 million visitors every year, and helps fuel a recreation industry in the hundreds of billions.
Smitherman hopes the legislation will succeed in diminish threats to that industry’s growth—and make trails in Wyoming and elsewhere more accessible.
“Support for public lands is based on access to public lands,” said Smitherman. “If people can’t use their public lands, then they’re not going to support them.”