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Forest Service trails are where adventures begin

Office of Communication
July 20, 2018 at 11:45am

A picture of Bell Creek Trail, with a sign on the left side with the trail name on it.

Bell Creek Trail on the Coconino National Forest. (Forest Service photo by Deborah Lee Soltesz)

Journeys can lead us to destinations of breathtaking beauty, test our courage, and challenge the limits of our endurance. It all starts with your first step on a wilderness trail. The USDA Forest Service offers lots of opportunities for this type of adventure.

In fact, the Forest Service manages the largest network of trails in the country—nearly 160,000 miles of them. More than 84 million people use these trails every year and spend approximately $9 billion as they hike, run, bike, or ride horseback. That money is a critical component of the recreation and tourism economy of many rural communities across America.  

The benefits of trails on national forests and grasslands go far beyond the obvious utility of providing access to the great outdoors and supporting rural economies. Health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes affect millions of Americans now more than ever. One remedy for this issue is a more active lifestyle—a lifestyle made possible, in part, by the opportunities trails provide.

For all the benefits this trail network brings, it is also an incredible responsibility. Any system so extensive has huge maintenance needs. Heavy use on these trails creates increased need for maintenance and repair. While not all the maintenance and repair needs can be attributed to the trails being “well-loved,” it certainly indicates that the American people continue to use them to connect to the places they love, and to each other.

A picture of Mendenhall Glacier’s Nugget Falls trail project, with several people working to construct a new walking bridge of a large creek area.

Mendenhall Glacier’s Nugget Falls trail project, Tongass National Forest, Alaska. (Forest Service photo by Teresa Haugh)

At times, the Forest Service has to make tough decisions when balancing its many missions and priorities. Wildfire, insects, disease, and other critical restoration needs often push staffing and resources to the limit. That is why state, local, and other partners are a critical component of maintaining and repairing national forest trails.

This is where partners like the National Forest Foundation (NFF) come in. In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act, NFF is holding its Summer of Trails fundraising campaign. This campaign has the potential to raise as much as $1 million for critical trail projects across National Forest System trails.

And this is work that is unlikely to end. As the trails improve, it is likely their use will increase as well. This leads to a cycle of use, wear, and repair. Therein lies the beauty. Because the point of a journey is not simply to get to the destination, but to enjoy the trip.

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