Study shows more miles than money for U.S. Forest Service trails
A recently released federal study shows the U.S. Forest Service has more miles of trail than it is able to maintain. We dug into the study to get the facts.
In 2012, the agency reported it accomplished at least some maintenance on about 37 percent of its 158,000 miles of trails. However only about one-quarter of those miles met the agency's standards.
According to the study, it would have cost the Forest Service an additional $314 million to catch up on trail maintenance.
When we spoke to Patrick Lair with the U.S. Forest Service, he says part of the problem is a declining budget.
"We are in the position of having to prioritize work, and we cannot get to every trail every year," said Lair.
This includes more than 158,000 miles of recreational trails, with 2,800 miles of those located in the Gallatin.
We headed out to the Gallatin National Forest to speak with people and find out just how much the trails mean to them. We caught up with Lou and Ivano Ponti after they finished their hike for the day. They try to hit the trails at least once a week in Southwest Montana and tell us they can see a decline in trail maintenance.
"In some places you can easily get lost if you do not have a GPS. Even if you have a GPS the trails divide slowly," said Ponti.
Further up the road, we hiked along with Amethyst Hertsens and her sister as they made their way to Palisade Falls.
"Growing up and hiking on these trails with family, having family reunions," said Hertsens.
She told us she finds the recent study heartbreaking. She said trails are one of the reasons she keeps coming back.
"It is so great to escape the city life and get back to nature," said Hertsens.
As for the Forest Service, they tell us the fight to maintain the trails is not over yet.
"Our No. 1 plan of action is to continue working with our volunteer groups. Also to continue to apply for special grants and funding," said Lair.
For the many hikers we spoke to, they tell us they will continue to come back and enjoy one of their favorite parts of the last best place.