The Long Trail Back: The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, Three Years On

A Core Track Presentation

In this presentation the panelists discuss how the U.S. Forest Service is mandated to increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance activities.

by Deborah Caffin, Trails Program Manager - SE Region, USDA Forest Service, Randy Rasmussen, Director of Public Lands and Recreation, Back Country Horsemen of America, Paul Sanford, National Director of Recreation Policy, The Wilderness Society, Randy Welsh, Executive Director, National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance


The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (PL 114-245), signed into law in late 2016, directed the U.S. Forest Service to improve national forest trail maintenance by increasing the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance activities. The Act carried strong bipartisan support and included the ambitious goal of doubling the amount of trail maintenance performed by volunteers and partners within five years.

This session will examine how the agency has responded to this mandate and challenge, review several innovative ideas that have been implemented, and evaluate the prospects for meeting the Act’s goals. Join a discussion led by experts on the Act and on efforts to ramp up volunteerism in the service of trails on the national and regional levels. You'll have an opportunity to offer your observations, recommendations on additional steps needed to ensure that our national forest trails remain safe, accessible and enjoyed by all.

Learning Objectives:
  • Participants will be able to recite a litany of negative effects that might be expected when trails are not properly maintained.
  • Participants will learn about programs and strategies that have been explored at the national and regional level to engage volunteers and partners.
  • Participants will be asked to discuss their ideas for methods to better engage volunteers and partners in trail maintenance, and offer an assessment of whether the goals of the Act will be realized.

About the Authors

Debbie Caffin received her Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Florida and her Master’s of Science in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management from Clemson University. A native Floridian, she began her career with the State of Florida as a Recreation Planner. In 1991 she joined the U.S. Forest Service as Trail Coordinator on the National Forests in Florida in Tallahassee working closely with the Florida Trail Association on the Florida National Scenic Trail. Debbie moved to Atlanta in 1998 and worked for the Southern Area Coordination Center (SACC) as an Intelligence Coordinator supporting response efforts to natural disasters. She moved back into recreation in 2001, working as the Regional Wilderness, Wild and Scenic River, Congressionally Designated Areas, non-motorized trails, and dispersed recreation program specialist for the Southern Region of the Forest Service. In 2011, she became the regional Trails Program Manager, working on both motorized and non-motorized trail issues.

Randy Rasmussen has been Director or Public Lands & Recreation for Back Country Horsemen of America since 2012. He holds a masters’ degree in Natural Resources, Recreation & Tourism (Colorado State Univ., 1997). Since 1999, Randy served as field representative and recreation policy specialist for national conservation groups including The Wilderness Society and American Hiking Society. He forged partnerships with diverse allies and coordinated the conservation community’s response to recreation and “travel management” plans undertaken by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. Randy has applied his knowledge of policy, grassroots organizing, science and economics in the protection of wildlands and quiet recreation. He was a Forest Service wilderness ranger and a volunteer river ranger for the BLM in Colorado. Randy is a founding board member of Trailkeepers of Oregon and was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to represents dispersed recreation for the Oregon Coast Range Provincial Advisory Committee.

Paul Sanford is the National Director of Recreation Policy at The Wilderness Society, where he manages TWS' recreation policy agenda and its programs to connect more people to the outdoors. A native of Cleveland, OH, Paul has a Law degree from the University of Toledo and a Bachelor's degree from Ohio University. Paul began his recreation career in 2004 as the Policy Director at the American Canoe Association. He came to The Wilderness Society in 2011 because he believes in the deep connection between people and place that is forged by recreation on public lands, and knows that people can enjoy wilderness while at the same time ensuring its protection. Paul has been recognized for his leadership by the Coalition for Outdoor Access and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. In his spare time, Paul hikes the trails and paddles the waters of the Eastern U.S. as often as possible.

Randy Welsh is the Executive Director of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA). He is recently retired from the US Forest Service after a 36 year career, having served in protected area management with emphasis on wilderness and rivers. Randy spent time in Washington DC as the National Program Leader for Wild and Scenic Rivers and as Assistant Director of Recreation, Heritage and Volunteer Resources. He was a Regional Wilderness Specialist in the Intermountain Region working on wilderness and rivers issues for over 16 years before moving to Washington. Married, with two grown daughters, Randy recently moved to Bend, Oregon, and enjoys river trips, wilderness hikes, and visits with friends and family.

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