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USDA Forest Service
Recreation, Heritage & Wilderness Resources
Mail Stop 1125
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C.

(202) 205-1706

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Repairing Recreation Sites

You are here: Home > Recreational Activities > Special Programs > Repairing Recreation Sites

[GRAPHIC TEXT: Keeping Up To Date - Repairing Recreation Sites]

It’s a big job and someone has to do it. The Forest Service manages thousands of recreation sites and facilities including 133,000 miles of hiking, biking, and riding trails, 4,300 campgrounds 11,000 picnic sites, and hundreds of cabin and lookout rentals. But, each year things go wrong. Sometimes they are big things, sometimes they are small things.

  • Snow loads crush roofs
  • Storms wash out trails
  • Water systems plug
  • Toilets become, well, you know, nasty

Every year, the Forest Service does what is known as operations and maintenance. Some may consider it drudgery: cleaning out toilets, painting buildings, hauling trees off of trails. Most, however, appreciate the need for the work.

What happens when the work isn’t done? Perhaps a national forest experienced an usually short season, or a large windstorm created more work than forest workers would handle, or funding to do the work simply didn’t exist. The Forest Service calls this 'deferred maintenance' – things that should have been done, but were not. The problem is that the longer the work isn’t done, the worse it gets. What could have been a minor repair, becomes a need for an entire replacement, and the costs begin to rise.

In 2005, the Forest Service determined that the cost of deferred maintenance, just for recreation facilities (not including trails, bridges, roads and other high cost items), was $342 million.

The Forest Service has many means to address this problem of deferred maintenance. The agency receives money from Congress, applies for grants, uses partnerships, uses money collected from recreation sites, and has a great volunteer force. Still, even with all these resources, the deferred maintenance cost has a tendency to push ever higher.

Help on the Way

Thankfully, in 2007, the Forest Service received funding that will help to reduce the deferred maintenance problem by a large margin.

Over the past 30 or more years, the Forest Service collected money, mostly from campgrounds, under an authority known as the "Land and Water Conservation Act." All the money collected went to the national treasury and grew to around $93 million.

Then in 2004, the Congress passed the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. This Act (called REA for simplicity sake), allowed the agency to keep the money collected at recreation sites. REA also enabled the money that was sitting in the national treasury to be moved so that the Forest Service could start using it.

Also around that time, the Forest Service started a process now known as "Recreation Facility Analysis". While this may sound imposing, the idea behind it is quite simple. The agency decided to get a better handle on what people actually want and do on national forest lands. They looked at how people use each and every national forest. They looked at which sites received a lot of use and which sites didn’t. They looked at what it costs to operate and maintain those sites and they looked at everything they had to do the operations and maintenance.

This analysis helps the Forest Service know how to better focus investments. Why build a new campground if most people are not camping, but hiking? The Office of Management and Budget agreed. They are the agency that helps ensure that other agencies are being responsible with the money they are given. They allowed the Forest Service to start using these funds as long as they were spent on deferred maintenance on those sites that people really wanted and used.

Obviously this money is not going to take care of all the deferred maintenance, but it is helping quite a bit. And the Forest Service will continue to use all other ways available to reduce deferred maintenance and make sure that facilities are clean and safe.

[GRAPHIC and LINK: Front page of list of fiscal year 2008 projects and link to complete list in PDF.]See For Yourself

The Forest Service has identified 153 deferred maintenance projects to begin addressing this problem. Remember that this just reflects the work that will use some of the $93 million. The Forest Service is involved in many more projects, but you’ll have to contact your local forest to find out more….. and if you want to volunteer to help, we’ll that’s always appreciated!

List of fiscal year 2008 projects (2,850 KB PDF)


US Forest Service
Last modified March 28, 2013

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