MISSOULA – The Fourth of July holiday means many Montanans will head for the hills. Those hitting the trails for biking, hiking, horseback riding or motorized recreation in the National Forests may notice some repair work that needs to be done. In fact, the cost to get trails across the country up to basic standards will run to more than $500 million, according to a new GAO report.
Paul Spitler, Montana-based director of wilderness campaigns for The Wilderness Society, said it may be difficult in these difficult budget times to seek more funding, so creative solutions are needed to maintain public access.
“We know that use is increasing on our trails,” he said. “This is really something that touches Americans of all stripes. Virtually everyone loves the great outdoors and trails are the conduit to the great outdoors.”
Spitler said collaborations and volunteer programs can help leverage repair funding. Trail maintenance projects include clearing trees and brush, improving stream crossings, and preventing erosion. He adds that about $80 million is dedicated to trail maintenance each year, and it’s estimated that that those trails contribute more than $80 billion a year to the recreation industry.
Acording to Mark Himmel, chairman of Back Country Horsemen of Montana, his group’s chapters are among the largest volunteer-based trail organizations in the country. He said volunteer time is a great resource to help get trails on track, but relying only on volunteers isn’t realistic because of money and time.
“With diesel at $3.81 a gallon, it’s always a $40 to $50 day, you know, when you volunteer, and we only get about eight weekends to volunteer,” he said.
The GAO report also found that only about one-quarter of all trails are kept up to standard. The Wilderness Society and Back Country Horsemen requested the report.
The GAO report is at GAO.gov.