Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined Congress this week to send a bill to President Obama that would improve access to America's National Forests through better trail maintenance and preservation.
The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act would make better use of existing resources within the Forest Service to significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in maintaining the usability and sustainability of the National Forest's trail system.
Senators Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. were the prime sponsors in the Senate and Representatives Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., in the House. Legislators in both houses passed the bipartisan bill unanimously.
"Millions of people every year come to Colorado for some of the best hiking, scenery, and wildlife viewing that the country has to offer," Bennet said. "Our tourism and outdoor recreation industries depend on a well-maintained trail system throughout our national forests. This bill will help the Forest Service do more with less by increasing the use of volunteers to ensure our trails are accessible and safe for all of us to use."
"We are thrilled that Senators Bennet and Enzi joined in a bipartisan fashion to move this important bill through Congress," said Tif Rodriguez, chairman of the Back Country Horsemen of Colorado. "At a time of shrinking federal budgets, volunteers and partners will be able to contribute more toward improving access and the public's enjoyment of trails on our national forests."
"It's through trails that our members experience our national forests, but it's also how they give back, by volunteering to maintain trails," said Aaron Clark, conservation manager for the International Mountain Bicycling Association based in Boulder. "At times, due to bureaucratic red tape, volunteers get turned away which adds to the trail maintenance backlog and leads to resource damage. IMBA supports this bi-partisan bill because it streamlines the volunteer process, prioritizes maintenance hotspots, and alleviates barriers to volunteer stewardship. Ultimately this bill will improve the experience of all visitors to our national forests."
"Wyoming is home to some stunning forests and they should be easily accessible," Enzi said. "With our country in tough fiscal times, it is important that we maintain access to our public land in a fiscally sound manner. This bill would make the most of our resources, maximize the use of volunteers and improve access to our National Forests for generations to come."
The Forest Service currently maintains only one-quarter of the 158,000 miles of National Forest trails that offer hiking, horseback riding, hunting, mountain bicycling, motorized vehicles, and other outdoor activities. The act would expand the number of trails that could be maintained by requiring a national strategy to maximize the use of volunteers and partners while addressing liability concerns that restrict outside groups and individuals working on the trails.
The bill also directs a study on utilizing fire crews for maintenance work during off-seasons and a study on permits for outfitters and guides to offset some fees through work on trail maintenance.
"This is really a motherhood and apple pie kind of bill," Lummis said. "This legislation empowers volunteers in their desire and effort to restore our national trails system. It also explores utilizing fire crews during the off season and letting outfitters work off some of their fees in trail maintenance. By refocusing on volunteers and stretching existing resources, we will make real progress on the trail maintenance backlog, despite these tight fiscal times. It is very exciting to see this legislation, which will restore public access to beautiful trails, head to the White House for the President's signature."
"From hikers to bikers, outdoor enthusiasts across the country utilize 157,000 miles of National Forest System trails every day for exercise, relaxation, and exploration. Though public use remains high, close to two-thirds of these trails don't receive any maintenance whatsoever because our Forest Service simply lacks the resources to keep up," Walz said. "I am proud the legislation Representative Lummis, Senator Enzi, Senator Bennet and I have worked on passed the Senate today and I look forward to it being signed into law. Protecting our public lands for future generations while increasing access to the great outdoors is our responsibility, and this bill is a step in the right direction."
Click here for a copy of the bill.