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Federal Interagency Council on Trails leadership panel discusses current issues, programs, and funding for trails and outdoor recreation on federal lands, June 11, 2009

 

Federal agency leaders discuss 2009-10 issues for trails and recreation

From Steve Elkinton, National Park Service

Leadership Panel

Panelists were invited to give their perspectives on the National Trails System and had been primed with questions about their agency’s current programs, new administration initiatives, incorporating the goals of A decade for the National Trails, and ways we can be even more success at interagency collaborations. The audience was invited to keep their questions to the end of the presentations.

USDA Forest Service (Jim Bedwell, Director, Recreation and Heritage)

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the Forest Service (FS) will be announcing this week the capital improvements projects under the $650 million apportioned to them. The roads portion has already been announced, trails and recreation projects are still to come. There should be a substantial amount for trails maintenance. There is $5 million for hazardous fuels reduction as well as funding for watershed and abandoned mines rehabilitation.

A big component is going to the use of youth corps, such as Student Conservation Association and Youth Conservation Corps. FS is working on getting youth outdoors. There is no central office for this in Agriculture like one the Department of the Interior is setting up. The FS is looking forward to more interagency interaction / working across lines. The FS Chief wants everyone in the Service to work on getting youth outdoors. With partnerships we don’t have to do it all by ourselves.

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (PL 111-11) assigned two new National Scenic Trails (Arizona and Pacific Northwest) to the FS. We are getting our organization in gear for them; there is some funding. The Pacific Northwest NST has been assigned to the Pacific Northwest Region (Portland) and the Arizona NST has been assigned to the Southwest Region (Albuquerque).

The 2010 budget is not final yet. Tight travel constraints mean that not as many FS employees can go the Missoula conference as we would like. (Gary Werner has brought this issue up on the Hill.) We are glad to have been able to help with youth scholarships for the conference. Deputy Chief Holstrup will attend the conference.

The FS is working on a new National Recreation Strategy. It will be the portal for understanding public lands and the agency’s mission. It includes designated special places, including trails. The strategy also includes fee authority.

National Park Service (Chris Jarvi, Associate Director for Partnerships and Visitor Experience)

National scenic and historic Trails touch or cross 90 units of the National Park System. Trails are linear laboratories for partnerships. In addition, NPS is very active in recognizing new national recreation trails each year. It’s a great public relations program and exemplify what trails mean to all Americans.

For the National Trails System, the NPS has 54 field staff, and 2 Washington Office staff. We administer 19 NHTs and 3 NSTs and co-administer 2 NHTs with the BLM. There are over 60,000 miles of trails in the full NTS. Also, the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program is masterful at connecting parks to communities (yet we are confounded by the weak support for the RTCA program on the Hill.) As with the FS, current travel restrictions hurt us all.

Steve is coming up on 20 years of leading this Council. Trails tie closely in to NPS cultural and natural programs. In addition, the National Trails Land Resource Program in Martinsburg, WV, will be busier that it’s been recently with the passage of willing seller authority for the trails and increased Land and Water Conservation Fund funding.

The new Connect Trails to Parks program has provided $1.8 million over two years for trail projects in or near NPS units and other Federal facilities. It is a permanent account for doing creative things and making connections with the National Trails.

We are working on Director’s Order 45, the first official NPS policy document for the National Trails. It will be offered for review to all the other Federal agencies involved in the trail.

For ARRA, NPS is involved in lots of projects. The Appalachian NST got a sizeable allocation ($7 million). Youth Programs received $1 million. There is also funding for mitigating mining hazards.

The Secretary of the Interior’s priorities are:
• Preserving Treasured Landscapes such as the National Wildlife Refuges, the Nation Park System, and habitats. These are places significant to the American public. Trails fit right in here.
• Energy Independence, including the use of trails as alternative transportation.
• Youth engagement
• A 21st century YCC – We need to put a call out to the field to find out what sites are already doing and what they need.
• Working on revising the Youth Act
• The Secretary’s office is looking for good photo opportunities.
• The NPS National Leadership Council has set priorities for 2010, and youth programs are way up on the list.
• Health and recreation connection

How can we work together to improve the National Trails?
• Trails transcend organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. We need to embrace Service First.
• Strengthen partnerships with national parks.
• Build on training and data (such as GIS).
• Spread the Appalachian Trail’s “A Trail to Every Classroom” to other trails.
• Find out what appeals to the public (the citizen-science Bio-Blitz is one example).
• Expand Web Rangers (for example, the Boy Scout stewardship program has just started).

“Trails are a means to an end,” better human engagement with the outdoors. The time is ripe for trails (including looking toward the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act)!

Federal Highway Administration (Gabe Rousseau, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager)

FHWA provides various funding sources that can be used for connectivity. One example is the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program providing $9 million to 4 cities. FHWA collaborates closely with AASHTO and with the Access Board. FHWA funding also supports outreach (for example, through conferences and Pathways Across America).

The Secretary of Transportation has a new livability initiative. It’s a perfect storm of opportunity for hiking, biking, health, recreation, and sustainability. His blogs (check it out on www.fastlane.gov) have included postings on biking and walking.

Current surface transportation, SAFETE-LU, expires on September 30, 2009. Congressman Oberstar intends to introduce a new surface transportation funding bill soon. There are those who want to cut funds for livability, but the Secretary of Transportation says, “No.”

We are looking internationally for best practices on biking and hiking. Take a look at www.switzerlandmobility.ch for an example.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (Sean Furniss, National Coordinator, refuge Roads Program)

Under ARRA, the DOI Inspector General has decided to get involved, looking into all DOI road programs. When the IG visited he pointed out that the FWS doesn’t have a roads program, it has a transportation program. He educated the IG about long range planning, including an all-agency planning effort in Alaska which is using a GIS database into which have been loaded data for all roads, trails, and boundaries (Federal and State). It is all interrelated. In fact, in a recent development, all data for FWS roads and trails have been given to GoogleEarth/Maps.

A study of National Wildlife Refuge System users found that 25% use trails and only 5% go to a refuge to hunt. The FWS hears from the vocal 5% whereas State trail agencies are virtually invisible and thus are not included as part of the Refuge System constituency. Trail users need to speak up. NPS’s RTCA program could be used to help deliver this message to the 25%, as it has a presence in all of the states.

For reauthorization of surface transportation funding, DOI noticed it about May 30, yet reports to USDOT were due June 1. In the report submitted by DOI there was not a word on the National Trails System despite our best efforts. Sean tried to push wording for the NTS but was told “No” by the Department because the other agencies (NPS, BLM) were not pushing for it, too. In other words, the agencies had to push it together. So, it’s too late now for the 2010 reauthorization; time to start working on the 2013 reauthorization.

Lynn Scarlet (former DOI Deputy Secretary and new American Hiking Society board member) would be a good trails spokesperson on the Hill.

A FWS National Transportation Conference is being planned for 2011. More agency representatives are needed.

x Read more about current funding for trails, parks, outdoor recreation, and federal land management on the American Trails website:

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