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US Forest Service Chief looks to the future

Jack Ward Thomas, Chief, United States Department of Agriculture -- Forest Service, spoke at the National Trails Symposium in March, 1996, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with AMERICAN TRAILS.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer my views on the importance of this memorandum and the importance of trails on National Forest System land.

The national forests are the single largest provider of outdoor recreation in the Nation. Recreationists have over 125,000 miles of trails to choose from on National Forest System land. Trail-based recreation allows for such diverse recreation opportunities as trail bike riding, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, four-wheeling, or simply taking a nature walk.

American Trails and their affiliated organizations represent the majority of the nation's trail using public and industry and is the recognized leader in fostering cooperative relationships among all trail users, providing information on trails to the public and sponsoring conferences, such as the one today.

Both the Forest Service and American Trails share the common interest in and responsibility for disseminating information to the public regarding conservation, recreation, and natural resources. You as members of American Trails and we as managers of your lands now formally accept that responsibility together.

Our emphasis on the national forests today is to redevelop and manage a system of trails that meet the needs of today's forest visitor. The system is designed to not only allow people to travel from place to place, but also to provide them a recreation experience on the trail. Let me give you some examples:

Of great concern to both the Forest Service and trail users is the climbing backlog of deferred maintenance. Funding for routine maintenance has not kept pace with needs, particularly where use is increasing. The result is a declining quality of experience for recreationists.

Although today's formal partnership with American Trails is not a cure-all for dealing with the challenges I have laid out, it is important for three reasons. First, it increases our productivity by extending federal efforts with private contributions. Secondly, it promotes the spirit of volunteerism and, very importantly, it contributes to a long-term relationship between American Trails and the Forest Service.

You as our partners acquire a better understanding of our goals and programs. And we likewise, gain a much better understanding of your concerns and perspectives.

As the 13th National Trails Symposium draws to a close, you will hopefully leave with a commitment to trails, a commitment to the environment, and a commitment to our partnership. Thank you for your attention, and I wish you much success in your trail advocacy.