Monday, February 19, 2018

USDA Secretary Announces Infrastructure Improvements for Forest System Trails

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the selection of 15 priority areas to help address the more than $300 million trail maintenance backlog on national forests and grasslands.

Focused trail work in these areas, bolstered by partners and volunteers, is expected to help address needed infrastructure work so that trails managed by USDA Forest Service can be accessed and safely enjoyed by a wide variety of trails enthusiasts. About 25 percent of agency trails fit those standards while the condition of other trails lag behind.

“Our nation’s trails are a vital part of the American landscape and rural economies, and these priority areas are a major first step in USDA’s on-the-ground responsibility to make trails better and safer,” Secretary Perdue said. “The trail maintenance backlog was years in the making with a combination of factors contributing to the problem, including an outdated funding mechanism that routinely borrows money from programs, such as trails, to combat ongoing wildfires.

“This borrowing from within the agency interferes with other vital work, including ensuring that our more than 158,000 miles of well-loved trails provide access to public lands, do not harm natural resources, and, most importantly, provide safe passage for our users.”

This year the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Systems Act which established America’s system of national scenic, historic, and recreation trails. A year focused on trails presents a pivotal opportunity for the Forest Service and partners to lead a shift toward a system of sustainable trails that are maintained through even broader shared stewardship.

The priority areas focus on trails that meet the requirements of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016, which calls for the designation of up to 15 high priority areas where a lack of maintenance has led to reduced access to public land; increased risk of harm to natural resources; public safety hazards; impassable trails; or increased future trail maintenance costs. The act also requires the Forest Service to “significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance” and to aim to double trail maintenance accomplished by volunteers and partners.

Shared stewardship to achieve on-the-ground results has long been core to Forest Service’s approach to trail maintenance, as demonstrated by partner groups such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Each year, more than 84 million people get outside to explore, exercise and play on trails across national forests and grasslands and visits to these places help to generate 143,000 jobs annually through the recreation economy and more than $9 million in visitor spending.

The 15 national trail maintenance priority areas encompass large areas of land and each have committed partners to help get the work accomplished. The areas are:

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and Adjacent Lands, Montana: The area includes the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness Areas and most of the Hungry Horse, Glacier View, and Swan Lake Ranger Districts on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana on both sides of the Continental Divide. There are more than 3,200 miles of trails within the area, including about 1,700 wilderness miles.

• Methow Valley Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington: Methow Valley is a rural recreation-based community surrounded by more than 1.3 million acres of managed by the Forest Service. The area includes trails through the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Areas and more than 130 miles of National Pacific Crest and Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trails.

• Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Eagle Cap Wilderness, Idaho and Oregon: This area includes more than 1,200 miles of trail and the deepest river canyon in North America as well as the remote alpine terrain of the Seven Devil’s mountain range. The area also has 350,000 acres in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the largest in Oregon.

• Central Idaho Wilderness Complex, Idaho and Montana: The area includes about 9,600 miles of trails through the Frank Church River of No Return; Gospel Hump; most of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas; portions of the Payette, Salmon-Challis, Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests; and most of the surrounding lands. The trails inside and outside of wilderness form a network of routes that give access into some of the most remote country in the Lower 48.

• Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico: The trail’s 3,100 continuous miles follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, including more than 1,900 miles of trails across 20 national forests. The trail runs a diverse route with some sections in designated wilderness areas and others running through towns, providing those communities with the opportunity to boost the local economy with tourism dollars.

• Wyoming Forest Gateway Communities: Nearly 1,000 miles of trail stretch across the almost 10 million acres of agency-managed lands in Wyoming, which include six national forests and one national grassland. The contribution to the state’s outdoor recreation economy is therefore extremely important in the state.

• Northern California Wilderness, Marble Mountain and Trinity Alps: There are more than 700 miles of trails through these wilderness areas, which are characterized by very steep mountain terrain in fire-dependent ecosystems that are subject to heavy winter rainfall and/or snow. As such, they are subject to threat from flooding, washout, landslide and other erosion type events which, combined with wildfires, wash out trails and obstruct passage.

• Angeles National Forest, California: The area, which includes nearly 1,000 miles of trails, is immediately adjacent to the greater Los Angeles area where 15 million people live within 90 minutes and more than 3 million visit. Many of those visitors are young people from disadvantaged communities without local parks.

• Greater Prescott Trail System, Arizona: This 300-mile system of trails is a demonstration of work between the Forest Service and multiple partners. The system is integrated with all public lands at the federal, state and local level to generate a community-based trail system.

• Sedona Red Rock Ranger District Trail System, Coconino National Forest, Arizona: About 400 miles of trail provide a wide diversity of experiences with year-round trail opportunities, including world-class mountain biking in cooler months and streamside hiking in the heat of the summer.

Colorado Fourteeners: Each year, hundreds of thousands of hikers trek along over 200 miles of trail to access Colorado’s mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet. The Forest Service manages 48 of the 54 fourteeners, as they are commonly called.

• Superior National Forest, Minnesota: The more than 2,300 miles of trail on this forest have faced many catastrophic events, including large fires and a major wind storm downed millions of trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 1999. A similar storm in 2016 reached winds up to 85 mph and toppled trees on several thousand acres and made the western 13 miles of Kekekabic Trail impassible.

• White Mountain National Forest Partner Complex, Maine and New Hampshire: Approximately 600 miles of non-motorized trails are maintained by partners. Another 600 miles of motorized snowmobile trails are adopted and maintained by several clubs. Much of that work centers on providing safe public access to the mountain and valleys of New Hampshire and Maine.

• Southern Appalachians Capacity Enhancement Model, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia: The more than 6,300 miles of trails in this sub region include some of the most heavily used trails in the country yet only 28 percent meet or exceed agency standards. The work required to bring these trails to standard will require every tool available from partner and volunteer skills to contracts with professional trail builders.

• Iditarod National Historic Trail Southern Trek, Alaska: In southcentral Alaska, the Southern Trek is in close proximity to more than half the state’s population and connects with one of the most heavily traveled highways in the state. The Chugach National Forest and partners are restoring and developing more than 180 miles of the trail system, connecting the communities of Seward, Moose Pass, Whittier, and Girdwood.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikingintheSmokys.com

Monday, February 12, 2018

President Trump’s proposed $2.7 Billion Budget for NPS includes legislation to address $11.6 Billion in deferred maintenance

President Donald J. Trump has proposed a $2.7 billion budget for the National Park Service (NPS) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which includes legislation to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would help address the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The fund would take new revenue from federal energy leasing and development and provide up to $18 billion to help pay for repairs and improvements in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education funded schools.

"President Trump is absolutely right to call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks, refuges, and Indian schools, and I look forward to helping him deliver on that historic mission," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. "Our Parks and Refuges are being loved to death, but the real heart break is the condition of the schools in Indian Country. We can and must do better for these young scholars. This is not a republican or democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I are ready to work with absolutely anyone in Congress who is willing to get the work done."

"This budget reflects President Trump’s call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks and public lands to ensure they may be enjoyed by future generations of Americans,” said National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith. “Focusing on addressing the maintenance backlog now is critical to our core mission of preserving our parks and the world-class experience our visitors expect. The infrastructure proposals included in this budget offer innovative solutions to restoring our parks while fulfilling our duty to curb spending and in some cases make tough but necessary decisions to save tax dollars on other programs.”

Infrastructure – The National Park Service estimates that in FY 2017 there was more than $11.6 billion in backlogged maintenance and repair needs for the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that service national park visitors. In 2017 330 million people visited the 417 NPS sites across the country. The NPS retired over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in FY 2017, but aging facilities, increased visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

In addition to the proposed Public Lands Infrastructure Fund proposal, the President’s budget provides $241 million to fund construction projects, equipment replacement, project planning and management, and special projects. This includes $157 million for specific line-item construction projects like reconstructing an unsafe cave trail at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and replacing the roof of the Eielson Visitor Center at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

The budget provides $99 million for repair and rehabilitation projects to address the deferred maintenance backlog as well as $113 million for cyclical maintenance projects to ensure maintenance is done in a timely manner and does not become “deferred” in the first place.

These discretionary fund sources are critical to help address the deferred maintenance backlog in the National Park System. Additionally, the recreation fee program allows the NPS to collect recreation fees at selected parks to improve visitor services and enhance the visitor experience. In 2017, NPS leveraged $107 million in recreation fees to address priority maintenance projects to improve the visitor experience. The budget includes a legislative proposal to permanently authorize the recreation fee program.

Park Operations – The FY 2019 NPS budget requests $2.4 billion for park operations, which includes $900,000 for NPS’s role in the Department of the Interior’s reorganization to common regional boundaries to improve service and efficiency.

State Assistance – The budget proposes a continued shift from discretionary funding to mandatory funding from oil and gas leases for state conservation grants. These grants provide funding to states to acquire open spaces and natural areas for outdoor recreation and access purposes, and develop outdoor recreation facilities. Permanent funding for these grants in 2019 is estimated to be $89 million.

NPS's FY 2019 Budget Justification is available here, and additional details on the President's FY 2019 Budget proposal are available on the Department of the Interior’s website.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Second Season For Avalanche Beacon Training Park At Rocky Mountain National Park

An avalanche beacon training park is located at Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. This avalanche beacon park opened last winter, and is designed for back country enthusiasts to practice simulated avalanche searches using their own beacons/transceivers and probes. The wireless beacon training park has eight transmitters/targets and can be setup for single or multiple scenarios.

The beacon park is intended to be available for use through the winter months. It is a self-serve system, with directions for different scenarios located at the main control station. Users are back country enthusiasts who are familiar with avalanche rescue gear and techniques and the use of an avalanche beacon and probe.

In order to use the training park, visitors will need to bring their own avalanche beacon and probe. A shovel is recommended for winter backcountry travel but is not needed in the training park.

For further park information please visit www.nps.gov/romo or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikingintheSmokys.com

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Seasonal restrictions in Boulder Canyon to protect nesting birds of prey

To protect nesting golden eagles, the U.S. Forest Service will be implementing annual area closures in Boulder Canyon beginning Feb. 1, 2018. The closures include popular rock climbing spots at Eagle Rock, Blob Rock, Bitty Buttress and Security Risk in Boulder Canyon.

These areas are located along Colorado Highway 119, approximately 1.5 miles east of Boulder Falls. Effective through July 31, 2018, the closures protect a long-established golden eagle nesting territory. Happy Hour, Bihedral and Riviera will remain open as long as visitors stay out of the closed areas.

“These closures allow the birds to choose a nest site without human disturbance,” said Boulder District Ranger Angela Gee. “The chosen site remains closed until the eagles fledge in late July, but we typically reopen other parts of the area earlier.”

The Boulder Ranger District partners with the Boulder Climbing Community and the Access Fund to monitor nesting progress and to inform climbers about the importance of giving the eagles space to raise their young.

Federal and state laws prohibit disturbing any nesting bird of prey. Visitors can help protect wildlife by respecting all closures. Signs will be posted at key access points into the closed areas. Closure information will be available online at local climbing websites and at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/eagles.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikingintheSmokys.com

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 Road Construction in Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument is partnering with the Federal Highway Administration for work in three areas along Rim Rock Drive between now and July 31, 2018. The project was awarded to Old Castle SW Group, Inc., a local Grand Junction company.

The closure of a section of Rim Rock Drive will be necessary, as the first part of the project involves completely replacing a small portion of the road between Highland View Overlook and Artist Point Overlook. The work will entail removing the road base in a section of road that continues to slump, creating challenging driving conditions for visitors. The closure will start January 29, 2018 and is expected to take a month. To allow the greatest use of the remainder of Rim Rock Drive and access to all hiking trails, bicyclists and passenger cars/trucks will be allowed to Artist Point and Highland View before being directed to turnaround. Oversize vehicles such as RVs, box trucks and vehicles towing trailers will be directed to turn around at 16 ½ Road and Independence Monument View Overlook.

The second part of the project will be to re-pave the east hill from the entrance near Grand Junction to the monument boundary on Glade Park Road/DS Road. This will start the beginning of March. During most of this work one driving lane will be open. Drivers will have delays of 15 – 30 minutes as pilot vehicles provide for safe access through the construction zones. Any complete closures of this section of Rim Rock Drive will be temporary and notification will be sent out two weeks in advance. Little Park Road is an alternate route for those traveling to and from Glade Park.

The final project covered by the contract will be to replace the guard rails throughout Rim Rock Drive. At this time the work will start late spring to early summer.

The goal of everyone associated with the projects is to accomplish the needed work in an efficient manner and provide for the safety of staff, community members and visitors.

Winter hours are now in effect at Colorado National Monument. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. For additional information please visit www.nps.gov/colm or call 970-858-3617, ext. 360.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Visitation At Rocky Mountain National Park In 2017

Rocky Mountain National Park received 4,437,214 visitors in 2017. This was down slightly, 1.8 percent, from the park’s highest annual visitation in 2016, which was 4,517,584 visitors. This continues to represent a 40 percent increase in visitation since 2012.

Determining visitation is a difficult and imprecise effort. Visitation statistics are reliably accurate estimates and help park managers see overall trends. Weather, especially during May and October, can change annual visitation significantly. The top ten busiest days in 2017 in order from first to tenth were: July 3, September 3, July 2, September 30, July 1, July 15, July 22, July 23, August 4 and September 2.

Rocky Mountain National Park celebrated its Centennial in 2015, followed by the National Park Service Centennial in 2016. Additional factors of the rise in visitation at Rocky include an increased population along the Front Range of Colorado.

Park managers will continue to address what effect this level of visitation is having on visitor and staff safety, resource protection, visitor experiences and operational capacity. This past summer and early fall, park staff continued to restrict vehicle access in three specific areas, the Bear Lake Road corridor, the Wild Basin area and the Alpine Visitor Center, when parking areas filled and heavy congestion warranted. This occurred from late June through September of 2017. These actions will again take place in 2018. Park staff are continuing to address day use for the long term and will be engaging stakeholders and the public on this planning effort later this year.

For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please visit www.nps.gov/romo or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206. For more information on hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, please click here.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikingintheSmokys.com

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Glacier National Park: A Day Hikers Overview

"Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

- John Muir on his visit to Glacier National Park in the early-1890s
Encompassing more than a million acres, Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is home to some of the most beautiful alpine meadows, lakes, pristine forests, rugged peaks and glacially-carved valleys in the world. Its diverse habitats support nearly 70 species of mammals, including grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, wolverines, gray wolves and mountain lions. With more than 740 miles of trails leading to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, Glacier is also a hiker's paradise.

Considering its massive size, most people divide the park into sections in order to focus on one or two areas at a time. The four most popular areas in the park are West Glacier and Lake McDonald, Two Medicine, Logan Pass, and Many Glacier. The following are a few suggestions for day hikes in each of these areas.

Two Medicine

Although not quite as popular as some of the other areas in Glacier, the Two Medicine Valley in the southeast corner of the park still offers some incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the best hikes in this area leads to Scenic Point. This rock outcropping, which sits above an alpine tundra meadow, offers panoramic views of much of the entire Two Medicine Valley. On a clear day you can even see the Sweet Grass Hills rising above the Great Plains roughly 90 miles away!

The most well-known backcountry hike in the Two Medicine area is Dawson Pass. Although this route usually gets most of the attention, I think the views from Pitamakan Pass are much more dramatic. From the knife-edge ridge you can see five cobalt-blue lakes on either side of you. Can’t decide on which one to hike? The two passes can be combined to create one epic day on the trail.

Many Glacier

One of the most popular destinations in the park is Many Glacier. Classic hikes such as Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier get most of the attention; however, there are two other destinations that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you’re seeking a degree of solitude in this stunning valley.

One of these is Ptarmigan Tunnel. The highlight of this hike is passing through a 240-foot tunnel that was cut through Ptarmigan Wall. The tunnel was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's so that visitors on horseback could pass over into the remote Belly River area. After hiking all day in the Many Glacier Valley, walking to the other side of the tunnel is like walking into another world. The views from the other side are simply stunning.

The other destination, Cracker Lake, has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It has the most beautiful turquoise color you could ever imagine. If it were possible to ignore the magnificent scenery of the surrounding mountains, it would still be well worth the 12.6-mile roundtrip hike, just to see the amazing color of this lake. Cracker Lake’s deep shade of turquoise is the result of light refraction through its suspended load of glacial silt.

West Glacier / Lake McDonald

For more than a century one of the things that has made hiking in Glacier unique are its two Swiss-style backcountry chalets: Granite Park and Sperry. The Granite Park Chalet can be reached by taking the epic Highline Trail from Logan Pass, or by taking the 4.2-mile climb from The Loop area on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Unfortunately the historic Sperry Chalet dormitory building was severely burned during the summer of 2017. Fortunately the outer stone structure survived, and as of right now, the park is moving forward with the possibility of rebuilding the lodge. Moreover, the historic dining room survived, although it’s not clear as to whether that will reopen for lunch to day hikers in 2018, nor is it clear as to how far hikers will be able to travel along the Sperry Trail. If open, the 6.1-mile hike from the Lake McDonald Lodge passes through Glacier Basin where hikers will enjoy views of several waterfalls flowing hundreds of feet down the cliff walls that surround the alpine meadow.

From the same trailhead is the hike that leads to the historic Mt. Brown Fire Lookout. The trail climbs 4250 feet in only 5 miles, making it one of the toughest day hikes in the park. The elevation gain is similar to the amount gained on many of the trails leading to the summits of 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. However, at a much lower elevation, hikers will have far more oxygen to breathe. From the lookout the views into the heart of Glacier are simply amazing.

For a much easier hike, but one that still includes stunning scenery that Glacier is famous for, be sure to check out Avalanche Lake.

Logan Pass

To see the best of what Glacier National Park has to offer you have to go deep into the high country. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Highline Trail. In fact, this world famous hike should be on the bucket list of every self-respecting hiker! The views, the wildlife and the wildflowers, all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. From Logan Pass, high adventure awaits from the start. Just beyond the trailhead hikers are forced to pass
over a six-foot wide ledge for roughly one-quarter of a mile. One false move and your next stop will be on the pavement of the Going-To-The-Sun Road - more than one hundred feet below. Fortunately the park has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail. My advice is to not let this deter you, as this is one of the most scenic trails in America. Almost 99% of the Highline passes through open country, so there's never any dull scenery on this hike. The trail is also famous for wildlife, especially bighorn sheep and mountain goats, which are frequently seen just off the side of the trail. Hikers will have the choice of taking the moderate hike to Haystack Pass, or the extremely strenuous hike up to an overlook along the crest of the Continental Divide which offers stunning views of Grinnell Glacier some one thousand feet below. This just might be the best view in the park.

Just a notch below the Highline Trail on the “awesome meter”, but far less crowded, is Piegan Pass. The trail offers mind-blowing views of mountains, glaciers, alpine meadows and an up-close view of the Garden Wall, a glacially-carved arĂȘte that marks the Continental Divide. Near Piegan Pass, and one of my absolute favorite areas in Glacier, is Preston Park. In the early summer, after the snow finally melts, this incredibly beautiful alpine meadow becomes a carpet of wildflowers.

For more information on all these hikes, and many others throughout the park, please visit HikinginGlacier.com.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
HikingintheSmokys.com