WASHINGTON, AUGUST 9, 2011 AT 2:15 PM EDT - Recreational activities on national forests and grasslands continue to make large economic impacts on America's rural communities, contributing $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
According to the National Visitor Use Monitoring report released today by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, national forests attracted 170.8 million recreational visitors and sustained approximately 223,000 jobs in rural communities this past year.
"This data shows once again just what a boon our forests are to local economies," said Tidwell. "Because of forest activities, thousands of jobs are supported in hundreds of rural communities. We are proud of helping to put a paycheck into the pockets of so many hardworking Americans."
National forests also provide economic relief for vacationers. Fewer than half of the U.S. Forest Service's 17,000 developed sites charge any fees for visitors. The report reveals that 94 percent of visitors were satisfied with their experience on the national forests.
"Our national forests are some of the most beautiful and adventure-filled places in the world," said Tidwell. "The national forests give Americans a chance to build life-long memories for the price of food and gas. You'd be hard pressed to find any vacation destinations that offer better value."
The findings of the report support the efforts of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiativethat seeks to connect people with conservation issues as well as the First Lady's Let's Move! Outside campaign that aims to get more kids and their families physically active by exploring the outdoors. Recreational activities such as hiking, camping, boating and skiing instill a healthier lifestyle and a deeper appreciation of nature.
Researchers interviewed 44,700 visitors to the forests in 2010, ranging from commuters to wilderness trekkers. Overall, some 72 percent of those interviewed were in the forest for recreation.
According to the report:
- Recreation activities on National Forests and Grasslands sustain 223,000 jobs in the rural communities within 50 miles of the national forests and grasslands, where visitors purchase goods and services for their recreational activity.
- Visitors spend $13 billion directly in those communities within 50 miles of the national forests and grasslands.
- Visitor satisfaction is very high, with an overall satisfaction rate of 94 percent.
- Approximately 83 percent of visitors are content with the value received for any fees paid.
- Nearly 95 million visitors (over 55 percent) come to a forest to primarily engage in physical activity.
"We can't rest with the release of this report. We need to work hard to maintain our infrastructure across the country," Tidwell said. "And we need to continue to work with our partners to protect and restore our natural landscapes in a time of development, pest infestation and a changing climate."