Most Folks Don't Realize The Spectacular Recreational Benefits Of America's National Forests
If you’re like most Americans, you may not realize it, but it’s very likely you live within 100 miles of one of America’s National Forests or grasslands…just an hour or two away. Some 240 million of us do! You also may not realize the incredible benefits available to you.
Indeed, the term “national forest” could be misconstrued and interpreted as “a protected area to which one is denied access.” Au contraire!
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its U.S. Forest Service, maintains 193 million acres of forests and grasslands throughout the country. Their stated mission is “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”
And just what “needs” do present and future generations want met?
The answer lies in the features that the national forests provide, and the impressive numbers they represent. The trails alone offer a variety of recreational opportunities. There are more than 150,000 miles of them upon which you can hike, ride your bike, ride your horse, or do some off-roading in motorized vehicles.
Our national forests offer more than 10,000 developed recreation sites that make up an absolute wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts. For the snow bunnies, the U.S. Forest Service maintains 122 alpine ski areas where you can downhill ski at world class resorts and challenge yourself on primitive cross-country ski and snowmobile routes.
If fishing is your angle, 57,000 miles of streams provide plenty of opportunity for challenging fresh water fishing. You can also enjoy boating in your choice of motorized and non-motorized craft, and there's still plenty of room for swimming, waterskiing and windsurfing.
These areas are also popular with the folks who like to paint or photograph the breathtaking scenery or simply enjoy observing the assortment of waterfowl and other fauna and flora that thrive in these habitats.
Broadly defined as those resources that describe the past, there are some 338,000 heritage sites which, according to the literature, "ensure that future generations will have an opportunity to discover the human story etched on the landscapes of our national forests and grasslands."
The U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Highway Administration are responsible for 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, so designated because of their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities.
You can further picnic, camp, hunt, fish, navigate waterways, view wildlife and scenery, and explore historic places in America's 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.
That should keep you busy for the weekend.
We Hate To Bother You, But We've Got A Few Questions
The U.S. Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring Survey of 2012 was conducted to help Forest Service land managers more clearly understand why people visit, what they do during their visits and their overall satisfaction with their recreation experience in a forest. However it also provided a lot of data considered interesting by many non-land managers such as me.
We also learned that more than 8 million visits were made to wilderness areas. That means that people chose to leave behind motorized vehicles (as required) and hike or camp in more primitive settings. In addition to the actual visits on agency lands, Americans travel on scenic byways or similar routes near or through forests to view the scenery about 300 million times a year, give or take a few.
I should explain, at this point, that I’m a huge wilderness camping enthusiast…as long as my tent has bear-proof walls and doors, hot and cold running water, electricity, and Internet access. A nearby mall, concert venue, major league baseball stadium, and miniature golf course would further enhance my wilderness camping experience.
But back to the survey, which found that most people (86 percent) described the forest as their primary recreation destination for their trip away from home, about half of all forest visits lasted 4.5 hours or less; about two-thirds lasted six hours or less, and as in past years, more than 70 million say they enjoyed day-use developed sites while about 17 million used overnight facilities. The great majority of the visits occur in undeveloped areas of the National Forest System.
And There's A Buck To Be Made, Too
From a USDA press release I also learned that our national forests enriched nearby communities, most of which are rural, to the tune of about 11 billion dollars in 2012. Visitor spending ultimately enriches the national economy as well, adding just over 13 billion dollars to our GDP (gross domestic product) and supporting around 190,000 jobs (full and part-time).
And while we’re talking money, most national forests do not charge fees for recreation use. But, some do and when fees were charged, the survey said that 81 percent of the visitors were satisfied with the day-use developed site fee and 87 percent were satisfied with the overnight site fee.
Man, woman, boy or girl (which includes almost everyone), whether you enjoy biking, hiking, horseback riding, using motorized trails, sleeping under the stars, watching birds, painting or taking pictures, there’s a national forest or grassland near you. To find it, click on this link: http://www.fs.fed.us/locatormap/. Our National Forests: something else to love about America!