A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that the U. S. Forest Service was only able to maintain about 25% of the approximately 158,000 miles of trails to the “agency standard,” and that the trail maintenance backlog totaled more than $314,000,000. Federal budgetary limitations require others solutions to address the trail maintenance backlog.

Rep, Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) has made this issue a priority. Her view is that the lack of maintenance threatens access to public lands and may cause increased environmental damage and even threaten public safety. In an effort to deal with the trail maintenance issue, Rep. Lummis recently introduced legislation, H.R. 4886, the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2014, which would direct the Forest Service to significantly increase the role of volunteers and develop partnerships with other entities who would then maintain specific trail projects. The partnerships could range from recreation groups to outfitter companies to interested parties.

The legislation would require the agency to develop specific goals in terms of engaging with volunteers and outdoor recreation stakeholder groups. One would think this would be a no-brainer, but supervising and structuring a system of volunteers is not always an easy task and therefore, many land managers avoid such interaction. The Lummis legislation would elevate this need to a new priority within the agency. We think this is but one means to address the trail maintenance backlog, but a very important first step. In the end, Congress and the Administration also need to devote more resources to trail maintenance, but until that can become a reality, individuals and groups may well be the only hope that the Forest Service has in raising above 25% those trails that meet the “agency standard.”

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