WASHINGTON, APRIL 15, 2014 AT 3:00 PM EDT - The U.S. Forest Service finalized policy guidelines that will open opportunities for ski areas to promote year-round recreation activities that are natural resource-based and that will create additional jobs for communities with ski areas on the National Forests.
“The new directives will help usher in a wider spectrum of developed recreation opportunities that will encourage more people to enjoy the national forests,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This change will allow ski areas to offer expanded recreation choices that will benefit local communities and recreationists.”
The guidelines – referred to as directives – will be published in the Federal Register this week and take effect immediately. They will be used by agency administrators to determine which summer recreation activities and associated facilities will be allowed on ski areas operating on national forests. There are 122 ski areas on nearly 180,000 acres of public land administered by the Forest Service.
Early estimates by the agency indicate that expanding ski area recreation activities will increase by 600,000 the number of summer visits on national forests; ski areas now average 23 million visits annually. Also expected are an additional 600 full- or part-time jobs and almost $40 million infused in local mountain communities.
The revised directives were spurred by the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011, which amended the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 that limited recreation to Nordic and alpine skiing. The 2011 act specifically includes such activities as zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, disc golf courses and rope courses. These types of activities are natural resource-based and encourage further exploration of Forest Service lands in contrast to theme or amusement parks.
The agency received more than 300 comments to the proposed directive, which helped to formulate the final guidelines. The guidelines require that new activities are natural resource-based, encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature, and are consistent with the intent of the act. The guidelines also will address the types of facilities that will be permitted.
The guidelines also address management of other recreational uses within the operational boundary of ski areas by the non-paying public, such as snowshoeing and hiking.
“This is more than just a policy change,” Tidwell said. “This opens up new opportunities to bring people onto national forests to enjoy the great outdoors, become more physically active and recreate in new ways.”
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.