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Volunteers Could Dig Forest Service out of Trails "Crisis"

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014   

MISSOULA, Mont. - The Forest Service could dig out of its backlog of trail maintenance by tapping into Montanans' love of the outdoors.

Recreation groups have sent a letter to Congress requesting that it make it easier to form partnerships to tackle trail cleanup and repairs - repairs that are needed on nearly 75 percent of trails, according to a federal Government Accountability Office report.

Paul Spitler, a senior director at The Wilderness Society, said access disappears when trails have eroded or are blocked by fallen trees or overgrown vegetation.

"Groups and individuals all across the West are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and help out maintaining our trails," he said, "but the Forest Service needs some direction from Congress."

Nationwide, the GAO estimates the trail maintenance backlog tops $300 million, and Spitler said it's been made clear that funding for the projects will not be coming. The letter outlines how legislation could set up volunteer programs that include training.

Volunteers need to be certified to lead crews and use equipment for safety reasons, said Jim McGarvey, chairman of Back Country Horsemen of America, a group that already leads volunteer trail repair crews.

"It gives a level of confidence with the forest rangers and Forest Service people that volunteers are skilled and trained in safety," he said.

McGarvey said they're also requesting a study of how off-season forest-fire crews might be utilized to maintain trails. The Forest Service already depends heavily on volunteer crews in some areas of the nation - and together, those individuals donate a total of about 2 million hours a year.

The GAO report is online at gao.gov.


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