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USDA Forest Service announces challenge to increase focus on problems facing nation’s largest public trail system

The US Forest Service recently issued the 10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge which is billed as “…a call to action to increase our collective capacity to care for trails and increase on-the-ground results.” To read a brochure about the Trail Challenge click here.

The Trail Challenge consists of three phases. The Forest Service describes phase one, “the Launch and Learn” phase:

During the Launch and Learn phase, we are focusing on adaptive “learning lab” approaches that invite and encourage innovation and sharing. Success is driven by Forest Service regions and units working in collaboration with trail community stakeholders at local and broader levels to implement Trail Challenge elements (or portions of elements) when and where it makes the most sense. Successes and lessons learned during the Launch and Learn phase will help in refining, standardizing, and setting requirements of the two remaining phases of the Trail Challenge.

The Forest Service answers the question of who will participate:

Everyone. The Trail Challenge emphasizes working together at local and broader scales—learning from each other and adapting to different needs and opportunities. For example, Forest Service regions, forests, and grasslands work together with traditional volunteers and partners as well as diverse stakeholders, such as local chambers of commerce, businesses, schools, universities, and the outdoor recreation industry. Contact your local national forest and grassland unit to get started.

To visit the Trail Challenge website click here.

Below is a press release issued by Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen:

USDA Forest Service announces challenge to increase focus on problems facing nation’s largest public trail system

USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen today emphasized the need to find innovative ideas to tackle the nearly $300 million maintenance backlog on the nation’s largest public trail system. Christiansen called on individuals and organizations to work with the agency to address trail maintenance and sustainability to improve access, keep people safe, and support local economies.

“In 2019, organizations and individuals contributed more than 1.5 million hours on the maintenance and repair of more than 28,000 miles of trail, and we are extremely grateful for their continued support and hard work,” Christiansen told trail advocates during a meeting at Forest Service Headquarters. “However, we must find more ways to erase the backlog. We still have much more work to do, and this is our call to organizations and individuals to share with us innovative ideas and boots-on-the-ground help.”

The agency hopes to expand its employee, grassroots, nonprofit and corporate support as part of a 10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge. Roughly 120,000 miles of the 159,000 miles of trails are in need of some form of maintenance or repair. Working within current appropriations, the agency has strategically focused its approach to trail maintenance, increasing trail miles improved from 48,800 miles in 2013 to 58,300 miles in 2019.

Christiansen shared the multi-layered challenge with agency partners visiting Washington, D.C., to attend the weeklong 23rd annual Hike the Hill, a joint effort between the Partnership for the National Trail System and the American Hiking Society. Hike the Hill helps to increase awareness and highlight other needs of the National Trails System. The National Trails System consists of 30 national scenic and historic trails, such as the Appalachian National Trail and the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, both of which pass through lands managed by the Forest Service.

The agency manages about 10,000 miles of national scenic and historic trails that cross forests and grasslands. More than 32,000 miles of trail are in wilderness areas. The remainder range from simple footpaths to those that allow horses, off-highway vehicles, cross-country skiing and other types of recreation.

The trail maintenance backlog limits access to public lands, causes environmental damage, and affects public safety in some places. Deferred maintenance also increases the costs of trail repair. When members of the public stop using trails, there could be a residual effect on the economics of nearby communities. Recreation activities on national forests and grasslands support 148,000 jobs annually and contribute more than $11 billion in annual visitor spending.

In addition to trails, the agency is working to address more than $5.2 billion in infrastructure repairs and maintenance on such things as forest roads, bridges, and other structures that are critical to the management of agency lands and that benefit visitors and communities. The backlog on forest roads and bridges alone is $3.4 billion.

To get involved with the Trail Challenge you may:

  • Contact the nearest forest or grassland office to get more information on what they are doing locally.
  • Join or organize a coalition of citizens and work with the agency to address the issues.
  • Be mindful of how you use the trails by using Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly outdoor ethics standards.

For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. National organizations or corporations can get more information about becoming a Forest Service partner by contacting Marlee Ostheimer, National Forest Foundation Conservation Partnership Manager, at 406-542-2805 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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