Cover: Shrine Pass on the Arapaho National Forest. Image: Kayla Davis
158,600. It’s a big number that represents one of America’s most beloved resources—the miles of trails on America’s National Forests. Take a moment and think about that distance. If you hiked every one of these trails, all day, every day, it would take you about 7.2 years to hike them all. Not a bad way to spend your time, though you’ll probably need a few pairs of boots.
Of course, you’d be hiking some of the most famous trails in the world, including the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Yes, some of these cross other public lands like state and National Parks, but America’s National Forests make up the majority of the lands these trails cross.
Less famous trails still draw millions of hikers a year as well. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages this vast trail network, estimates that some 84 million people use national forest trails every year, pumping $9 billion in the US economy and supporting more than 143,000 jobs.
But not all is perfect on national forest trails.
A Forest Service report from 2016 indicated that roughly 75% of these trails fail to meet agency standards for access, safety, and ecological concerns. Lack of funding is a primary reason the agency can’t manage all of its trails. Wildfires complicate the agency’s trail management efforts, in part because they siphon money from recreation and other programs and in part because they damage trails when they burn across our forests. Other issues like storms and hurricanes, overuse, and historic trail placements also frustrate management efforts.
That’s why our national forest trails need your help! The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, passed in 2016, instructs the U.S. Forest Service to engage more partners and volunteers to help maintain its trails.
Will you step up and connect with a local trail group to help out?
The nonprofit National Forest Foundation, where I work as the communications director, has a number of ways you can help out. Until the end of the September, the NFF’s Summer of Trails campaign is raising funds for National Forest trail restoration, all of which are matched by the Forest Service. Our goal is $500,000, and every bit helps.
Go to www.CrowdRise.com/SummerOfTrails to donate today! Or check out our Treasured Landscapes program and give back to your local forest. All of these sites have trail components, from ensuring sustainable trails on the Mt. Hood National Forest to improving the trails that climb Colorado’s iconic Fourteeners to restoring some of the oldest trails in the country on New Hampshire’s White Mountains National Forest.
There are hundreds of groups out there, and when you hike a trail that you’ve worked on, the experience will be that much richer. You can also help out on your own…the next time you hit the trail, bring a small garbage bag and pull invasive weeds (it’s good to pack them out so seeds don’t spread inadvertently), pick up trash or bring a hand saw and cut deadfall out of the trail.
Just as there’s no wrong way to hike a trail, there’s no wrong way to pitch in and help. From small acts to large donations, it all adds up to better, more sustainable, more accessible trails for all Americans. We’ll see you on the trail!
Greg M. Peters is the communications director at the National Forest Foundation. Learn more about the NFF at nationalforests.org.