American Hiking Society Cites the Effects of Government Shutdown on Hikers, the Outdoor Recreation Economy, and Trail Maintenance

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For Immediate Release

Contact:
Sheila Franklin
American Hiking Society
sfranklin@americanhiking.org
301-565-6704

SILVER SPRING, MD. October 8, 2013 - While more than 43 million Americans go hiking and backpacking each year, that number may drop if the government shutdown continues. Already, hikers armed with topped-off water bottles, hiking boots, and cameras ready to capture autumn’s splendor are finding themselves shut out of some of America’s most breathtaking and scenic lands. Vacation plans ruined, outings canceled, and families left wondering where to go and what to do; these are some of the impacts that the government shutdown is having on regular Americans who were looking forward to spending some time hiking and leaf-peeping this fall. 

“Autumn is peak season for hikers.” remarked Gregory Miller, President of American Hiking Society. “Closing our Federal public lands not only hampers vacation plans, it can create safety problems for hikers. Although we have asked the members of American Hiking Society not to venture onto trails that are closed by the shutdown, we are concerned that safety may be an issue for hikers who might inadvertently enter closed areas,” commented Miller. “We believe that it’s also possible that thru-hikers on long-distance trails such as the Appalachian Trail may be way out in the wilderness, out of touch with the news, and unaware of the shutdown.”

The fallout from the shutdown has reached a personal level for the family and friends of a missing hiker whose companion was found dead from exposure in Craters of the Moon National Monument in south-central Idaho on September 25. The search for 63-year-old Jo Elliott-Blakeslee was impeded on October 1 when park employees were furloughed, although many volunteers (including some park staff members) stepped in to continue the effort. The search resumed when the Craters of the Moon National Monument received an exemption that allowed some rangers to continue the search. Sadly, Elliott-Blakeslee is still missing.

Concerned about the shutdown’s effects not only on hikers but also on the recreation economy and upcoming trail maintenance projects, American Hiking Society urges Congress to resolve the political stalemate that has resulted in the closure of the Federal Government and accessibility restrictions on public lands, including National Parks, National Monuments, and National Refuges, among others.

Every year 6.1 million jobs are supported by an outdoor recreation economy that’s valued at $646 billion, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Closing federal public lands not only denies Americans and international tourists access to beautiful scenery and historic landmarks, it hurts businesses that depend on these visitors for income.

“Closure of public lands is also affecting the maintenance of hiking trails,” stated Miller. “Stewardship projects that repair and build trails are often conducted in the shoulder seasons, spring and fall, when the weather is relatively mild. Cancellation of upcoming trail projects that were already planned by rangers and volunteers is an unfortunate consequence of the shutdown.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report three months ago detailing the maintenance backlog in the United States Forest Service (USFS). The report stated that in fiscal year 2012, USFS accomplished at least some maintenance on only about 37 percent of its 158,000 trail miles and that only one-quarter of its trail miles met the agency's standards. The Forest Service estimated the value of its trail maintenance backlog to be $314 million in fiscal year 2012, with an additional $210 million for annual maintenance, capital improvement, and operations.undefined The “cost” of trails not maintained to quality standards are many, including such things as inhibiting trail use and harming natural resources, and deferring maintenance which can then add to maintenance costs. 

The Forest Service relies on a combination of internal and external resources to help maintain its trail system. External resources include volunteer labor, which the Forest Service valued at the not insignificant amount of $26 million in fiscal year 2012.

All volunteer projects on federal lands, including the forest service, have been suspended as a result of the shutdown. The impact of this work stoppage, combined with the federal employee furlough, will likely mean that we will greet the new fiscal year with an increase in the maintenance backlog instead of a reduction.

Last week, American Hiking Society signed a letter to President Obama, containing an appeal to open the National Parks, citing economic damages to the tourism industry, park resources, and the livelihoods of the 21,000 employees who are now furloughed without pay until further notice. The letter was also signed by 11 other organizations who are involved with outdoor recreation and stewardship.

undefinedFOREST SERVICE TRAILS:

Long- and Short-Term Improvements Could Reduce Maintenance Backlog and Enhance System Sustainability

GAO-13-618, Jun 27, 2013

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About American Hiking Society
Founded in 1976, American Hiking Society is the only national, recreation-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s hiking trails, their surrounding natural areas and the hiking experience. To learn more about American Hiking Society and its mission and programs, visit www.AmericanHiking.org or call (301) 565-6704.

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