Enacted by Congress on Nov. 28, 2016, the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act was hardly earth-breaking news to most of the world. However, it is especially meaningful to the U.S. Forest Service and trail maintenance volunteers throughout the country -- that's us, FOW!
The act was prompted by over 80 organizations representing trail user communities -- Wilderness Society, American Hiking Society Back Country Horsemen of America, etc. -- who pushed Congress based on a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report from 2013 that found only 1/4 of the 157,000 miles of trail (hiking, biking, horseback riding, water, motorized) within our National Forests are up to standard. The report also stated these below par trails are a threat to environmental damage and public safety in addition to access,
Thus, Congress challenged Forest Service officials to come up with a plan to utilize volunteers, outfitters/guides and other partners as a "Low-to-No New Cost to the Federal Treasury" (i.e., not add to federal deficit). There are a number of other to-dos such as within 6 months coming up with between 9 and 15 Priority Areas for increased trail maintenance accomplishments.
I personally have not walked every mile of trail in our 3 local Wilderness areas and doubt that anyone has. But I trust that the trails we hike and work on regularly are representative of everything out there -- they're in pretty good shape thanks to the excellent work of FOW volunteers and paid Forest Service crews. But imagine other areas that don't have a local volunteer organization -- trails would be impassible due to blowdowns, avalanches, washouts and the like!
So, feel proud of the work we do and the well-maintained trails we have in our area. But also know that we will likely be challenged in the next several years to tackle even more of the work on our local trails. I know I'm glad to help and have the feeling that you are as well!
Click the "Read the Act Here" button on the preceding page to read through the Trails Stewardship Act.