National-Laws-88The United States Forest Service budget is available online here.  The Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Justification is a 547 page document that discusses the rationale for money spent on our National Forests. Below are selected excerpts that address the Capital Improvement and Maintenance of Trails.

This is good background information that explains the trails program goals on a national level. Notably, it discusses the importance of partners in achieving goals, and defines both “maintain” and “improve”
in relation to trails.

Program Description

Program Overview

Through the Trails program we manage an inventory of over 158,000 miles of trails, a portion of which are National Scenic and Historic Trails. We strive to ensure public safety and backcountry access through the operation, maintenance, rehabilitation, and improvement of NFS trails, serving a wide constituency of visitors at a relatively low cost per visitor. About 32,000 miles of trails are located within designated wilderness areas.

Trail use by the public both directly and indirectly supports local economies from funds spent by the Forest Service to maintain and improve trails to expenditures made by visitors in recreation gateway communities. Trails provide primary access to a wide variety of outdoor recreation on NFS lands. Outdoor recreation is by far the single greatest use, dwarfing every other use. Not surprisingly, it also supports the largest number of private sector jobs of any Forest Service program, and it provides the single greatest stimulus for local economies. Recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing together sustain more jobs than any other activity on NFS lands, supporting about 194,000 jobs and contributing nearly $13 billion to the communities surrounding national forests and grasslands.

The NFS trails accommodate roughly 50 million visits of non-motorized and motorized travel and activities including hiking, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and off-highway vehicle use each year. The NFS Trails program offers a vast range of recreation opportunities to the American public, directly supporting the America’s Great Outdoors and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” Initiatives.

Trails programs are delivered through the two following activities. The terms “Improvement” and “Maintenance” are used as defined by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board Accounting Standards No. 6 (GPO # 041-001-00462-9). The maintenance and improvement of system trails ensures trails are accessible, adequately designed, safe, and environmentally responsible as described below:

  • Maintain Trails (both annual and deferred maintenance): This activity includes the maintenance and operation of system trails and trail bridges. Maintenance activities include the actions necessary to preserve or restore a trail to its originally intended condition in order to provide acceptable service and achieve the expected trail lifespan. Work includes clearing encroaching vegetation and fallen trees and the repair, preventive maintenance, and replacement of trail signs, tread and surfacing, water drainage, trail bridges, and other trail structures. Trail maintenance also provides trail accessibility and promotes ecosystem health by protecting soil, vegetation, and water quality.
  • Improve Trails: Provides for the planning and design, new construction, alteration and expansion of system trails, trail bridges, and trail structures, such as barriers, culverts, fencing, and wildlife viewing platforms.

Allocation and Integration

Funding is allocated based on the existing miles of NFS trails, regional capability, and management of National Scenic and Historic Trails. In addition to maintaining a base-level ability to maintain trails in all of the national forests and grasslands, a portion of the trails funding creates jobs for youth and others in rural areas by leveraging resources. Projects that leverage the most non-Federal dollars and create the most jobs are high priorities. Trail maintenance and improvement is also funded by Capital Improvement and Maintenance, Deferred Maintenance and Infrastructure Improvement, Integrated Resource Restoration, and some permanent appropriations.


We rely upon healthy and effective partner organizations to help carry out a sustainable Recreation and Trails program. Sharing best practices of fundraising and management among Federal agencies, established partner groups and smaller, newer non-profit organizations will enable us all to expand recreation opportunities in support of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

The NFS Trails programs leverage thousands of hours of trail work from partner organizations, volunteers and youth organizations to operate, maintain, and improve thousands of miles of trail each year. Trail crews are one of the primary means for the Forest Service to employ young adults and to partner with local communities and interest groups.

The Trails programs leverage an enormous amount of skill, time, and tangible accomplishments from volunteers and partners. In FY 2013, partners and volunteers contributed approximately 1.2 million hours of trail maintenance work on NFS trails, valued at $26.7 million. At least 25 percent of the program’s accomplishments result directly from work completed under NFS public-private partnerships.


FY 2015 Program Changes

The FY 2015 President’s Budget proposes $77,530,000 for Trails, an increase of $2,530,000 from the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act. An additional $10,500,000 is requested through the new Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative to maintain Trails on National Forest System (NFS) lands.

The NFS inventory of approximately 158,000 miles of trails offers a vast range of recreation opportunities to the American public, directly supporting the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative. We continue to designate trails for motor-vehicle use consistent with the Travel Management Rule and to strengthen partnerships in trail stewardship, particularly those that help deliver youth development programs and foster citizen engagement. The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Program will provide additional opportunities to work with partners on trails maintenance.

Through the Trails program, we continue to focus on management and protection of the National Scenic and Historic Trails. We will also be responding to the GAO Report: “Forest Service Trails: Long- Short Term Improvements Could Reduce Maintenance Backlog and Enhance System Sustainability” (GAO-13-618). The Secretary of Agriculture has developed a Statement of Action that details actions the Forest Service will take over the next several years to improve maintenance of NFS trails.

In response to GAO-13-618, we will conduct an analysis of the Trails Program in FY 2014 and FY 2015 to evaluate program needs and available resources. We will identify ways to increase capacity for conducting trails maintenance with partners and volunteers. We will also develop criteria for defining a sustainable trail and trails program that will help the agency strategically focus priorities and resources across the National Forest trail system. By calendar year 2016, we will develop a national strategy for a sustainable trails program.

In the FY 2015 President’s Budget, we are including a target of 25 percent for “Percent of System Trails Meeting Standard,” a performance measure previously included in the 2007-2012 Forest Service Strategic Plan. This measure reflects the percentage of National Forest trails that meet National Quality Standards, consistent with the maintenance cycle identified for each trail.

These standards address health and cleanliness, resource setting, safety and security, responsiveness to trail users, and condition of facilities. A trail that “meets standard” complies with all of the critical national standards, and the majority of the remaining standards, and has little or no deferred maintenance. This performance measure is a key indicator of the condition of each trail and overall condition of the trail system.

Through the combination of trail maintenance and improvement work, Forest Service units, in collaboration with partners and volunteers, we will focus on priority trail work to address key health and safety issues, improve trail conditions and recreation opportunities, and maximize the miles of trails meeting National Quality Standards.

Specific priorities within each activity include:

  • Maintain Trails: The FY 2015 President’s Budget includes funding to maintain and repair trails, including repair and reconstruction of trails and trail bridges damaged by flooding and major storm events, wildfire, tree-kill from insects and disease, and other natural disasters. At least 20 percent of this work will be accomplished through the use of volunteers and partners. We will continue to validate and improve a basic NFS trail inventory, as well as collect trail assessment and condition survey data, to ensure that we have sound, accurate information on trails. We will also continue to increase and deliver training for consistent reporting of trail accomplishments. Trail maintenance reduces resource damage and improves safety conditions to provide a safe and quality experience for trail users.
  • Improve Trails: The FY 2015 President’s Budget includes funding to improve trails in the NFS, investing funds to provide increased connectivity and enhanced trail-related access and recreation opportunities. Funds will also be used to improve access to recreational rivers, directly addressing an AGO goal. Trail improvement helps ensure safe and quality experiences for trail users; protects valuable wildlife, fish, and plant habitat; and protects water quality by preventing sedimentation of streams.

Supportive Information: the USFS budget does include funding to build new trails that increase connectivity and provides a safe user experience. This supports legal system trails that leave directly from a local neighborhood, link to other trails, and avoids roads that can cause dangerous user conflicts.


Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative – Trails

In December 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA) was enacted which replaced reductions in FY 2013 from sequestration with longer-term reforms. The President’s Budget Capital Improvement and Maintenance 6-22FY 2015 Budget Justification USDA Forest Service adheres to the BBA’s discretionary funding levels for 2015. In addition, the President’s FY 2015 Budget Request includes a separate $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative
(OGS Initiative) that is offset with spending reductions and tax reforms. In FY 2015, the OGS Initiative is designed to spur economic progress, promote opportunity, and strengthen national security through additional discretionary investments.

Under this initiative $10,500,000 is requested to perform maintenance on approximately 9,000 miles of trails in the NFS. This new fund will complement the Department of the Interior’s Centennial Initiative and provide essential infrastructure maintenance and repair to sustain the benefits of existing infrastructure.

Investments in NFS trails improve public safety and backcountry access for wildland fire and natural resource management, support physical fitness, and support a range of recreational opportunities, including those in wilderness areas. Communities adjacent to public lands and individuals whose livelihoods are tied to public lands also benefit from investments in trails.

With 50 million visitor days of non-motorized and motorized use each year, NFS trails contribute substantially to the nearly $13.6 billion that recreational visits to national forests contribute annually to the U.S. economy. The vast majority of outfitters and guides (approximately 5,000) who work on the NFS depend on trails that are safe, well-maintained and available to the public. Trail investments will also create opportunities to employ youth, to develop skills among temporary and seasonal employees, and to expand contract work. With increasing demand for low-cost recreation opportunities, additional investments are needed to sustain and expand the economic return to the Nation from NFS trails.


PLEASE NOTE: Much of the above has been directly copied from referenced sources publicly available on the internet. Subjective opinion and interpretation can be found in color-hilited text boxes.