Editor’s Note: Today is the second anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act, which gave the Forest Service new opportunities to provide benefits to Americans through large investments in recreational infrastructure, access to public lands, and land and water conservation. These investments help improve outdoor recreation and contribute to economic growth and job creation in rural communities.
Each week, Americans relive or create memories as they travel to the national forests and grasslands with family and friends. They count on some amenities such as visitor centers, well maintained trails, roads, restrooms, campgrounds, bridges and other infrastructure.
For two years. The Forest Service used investments from the Great American Outdoor Act to expand our work to maintain 370,000 miles of roads, 13,400 bridges, 159,000 miles of trails, 1,700 dams and reservoirs, 1,500 communications sites, 27,000 recreation sites, and 40,000 other facilities. Over time, the increasing use of these resources combined with budget constraints strained the system and created a maintenance backlog as we made difficult decisions about what to tackle.
The Great American Outdoors Act, one of several new sources of funding, created the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which established dedicated funds for deferred maintenance in state lands management agencies. For fiscal years 2021-2025, the Forest Service will receive up to $285 million to address our backlog and help visitors feel safer and more easily enjoy their national forests and grasslands. The law also ensured that the Land and Water Conservation Fund, administered by the Departments of Agriculture and Home Affairs, would receive $900 million each year going forward.
As the LWCF program continued to build on its long-term success, the Legacy Restoration Fund program was rebuilt from the ground up. To date, the agency has launched more than 880 projects to meet more than $570 million in deferred maintenance needs. This includes more than 2,000 recreation areas such as Corral Canyon and Bobcat Meadow Off-Highway Vehicles Campgrounds in Cleveland National Forest in Southern California, Rock Creek Horse Camp in Bitterroot National Forest in Montana and parts of Idaho, and Doniphan and Poplar Bluff recreation areas in the United States Mark Twain National Forests in Missouri. The projects also address the delayed maintenance of nearly 2,000 trails, through projects such as the North Fork Trail in Montana’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest or Trio of Trails in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
The benefits of these types of projects go well beyond recreation. In many of the projects, Forest Service partners, such as the Youth Corps and Student Conservation Corps, provide critical skills and work experience to young people across the country.
For example, through their work on the Snow Mountain Wilderness Trails project Post-Ranch Fire Rehab Snow Mountain Wilderness Trails Project in California, young adults have honed their trail maintenance skills while also contributing to wilderness conservation. Students from the Youth Conservation Corps worked at the historic Tipi Labor Center in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest. These young people have developed new construction skills that will benefit their careers beyond just this one project.
From recovery to heritage preservation to economic developments, investments in delayed maintenance and land and water conservation projects are impacting rural communities across the continent. The Forest Service continues to leverage the opportunities offered by the Great America Outdoors Act to help make American forests and meadows more accessible and safe.