The US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service recently announced more than $37 million in investments to improve vital recreational infrastructure in the national forests and grasslands, according to a release. These investments are made possible by President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which provides unprecedented resources to improve rural infrastructure, including repairs on national forest lands.
The funding, which includes $19 million for recreational areas and $18 million for cabins and historic buildings, aims to improve the nation’s recreational infrastructure critical to the health, well-being and prosperity of the American people meaning is.
“Public areas have seen a notable increase in visitor numbers over the past two years as people sought outdoor experiences during the pandemic. It’s an important reminder that our recreational facilities play a critical role for so many people,” said Randy Moore, Forest Service director. “Investments from President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill will help ensure Forest Service facilities continue to meet the needs of present and future generations.”
Over the past two years, outdoor recreation on Forest Service lands and sites has grown in popularity, with visitation to the national forests and grasslands peaking at 168 million visits nationwide in 2020. This increase has created challenges and opportunities as the agency seeks to meet new requirements while ensuring the safety of visitors and the health of the environment. Recreation can serve as an engine to support healthy communities, strong businesses, thriving outdoor spaces, and equitable outdoor recreation. Providing a superior visitor experience will also strengthen the ability to conserve and preserve public lands for future generations.
The Forest Service is prioritizing investments that address these challenges and improve recreational areas to accommodate this increased visitor volume and to better protect the natural resources near these areas. The Forest Service is currently finalizing a list of approved projects that will be available later this calendar year. After approval, the projects are to be implemented within five years.
The agency also gives due consideration to contributions from tribes. As part of the project selection process, the agency prioritizes investments that address the needs of tribal communities and recognize the positive social and economic impact of improved recreational infrastructure to enable heritage and cultural tourism.
The investments come in line with recent guidance from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and President Biden’s mandate to take action to restore forests, improve resilience and address the climate crisis. Funding will help ensure recreation areas and cabins are resilient to changing conditions and address risks from flooding and wildfires.
Investments in recreation areas fund maintenance, repairs, the construction of toilet facilities, the improvement and expansion of individual campgrounds, the installation and upgrading of power lines, and other infrastructure improvements.
Investments in recreation huts and historic buildings fund maintenance, repairs, and the construction of new huts. The agency will invest $14.4 million of the $18 million available for cabin recreation and historic buildings in Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach National Forests. These complement other investments that the USDA is making as part of its Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy to support various local economies.
Forest Service managed cabins are key to Alaska’s recreational infrastructure. Huts in remote locations house thousands of vacationers every year and offer protection from demanding conditions. The agency plans a collaborative process involving Alaska Natives, local Alaskan communities and other partners to determine where and how funds can best be used to improve cabins and cabin-related infrastructure.
To learn more about how the bipartisan Infrastructure Act invests in critical landscape projects on and around national forests and grasslands, visit the Forest Service website.