USDA Forest Service Welcomes Boon to Local Economies in Ski Communities
President Barack Obama today signed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011, which permits year-long recreation opportunities on U.S. Forest Service ski areas, boosting rural economies while continuing to maintain stringent environmental safeguards.
The year-long recreation season is estimated to annually sustain up to 600 extra jobs and is expected to bring in an additional $40 million to local communities in direct spending.
“The Forest Service is taking steps to promote job growth every day,” said USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman. “We look forward to welcoming hundreds of thousands more visitors throughout the entire year to their national forests.”
The new legislation amends the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986, which allowed only Nordic and alpine skiing. Under the new legislation, other snow sports may be permitted on National Forest System lands, as well as year-round activities. Potential permitted activities may include zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, Frisbee golf courses, and ropes courses.
Currently, the Forest Service averages 27 million visits annually to ski areas. This has contributed $4 billion every winter and created approximately 80,000 full-, part-time and seasonal jobs in hard-hit rural communities. Under the new legislation, the Forest Service anticipates roughly 600,000 more summertime visits that may create and sustain up to 600 more full-, part-time and seasonal jobs. The addition of summer recreation is expected to infuse almost $40 million of direct funding into local mountain communities.
Protecting natural resources will remain a priority and year-long facilities will be subject to the same review and approval processes as those for ski facilities such as the construction of ski lifts and ski trails.
Not all recreation activities will be permitted. Those considered to be destructive to the natural environment will be excluded, including tennis courts, water slides and water parks, swimming pools, golf courses, and amusement parks.
“The national forests have always been some of America’s greatest playgrounds,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “It is exciting that our ski areas will now be able to offer more recreational opportunities and economic benefits.”