Parks and Recreation:

Maintenance and Reconstruction Backlog on National Forest Trails

RCED-89-182: Published: Sep 22, 1989. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's trail maintenance backlog, focusing on: (1) the extent, cause, and effects of the backlog; (2) Forest Service efforts to deal with the backlog; and (3) new trail construction needs.

GAO found that: (1) the Forest Service had a trail maintenance and reconstruction backlog of about $195 million, involving about 59,000 miles of trails; (2) 11 of the 121 forest units accounted for $91 million of the backlog costs; (3) funding fluctuations over the past decade resulted in a lack of Forest Service personnel and a declining pool of contractors and volunteers to keep the trails in good condition; (4) about 5,000 miles of trails were unusable because of deferred maintenance; (5) although the Forest Service annually reported the number of miles of trails maintained and constructed during the year, it neither routinely gathered data on maintenance and reconstruction needs or costs nor categorized needs by trail condition severity; (6) although the Forest Service would have a computerized trail inventory system in operation in 1990, it would not include recurring data on trail maintenance and reconstruction needs and costs; (7) the Forest Service used 926,000 volunteer hours in 1988 to maintain and reconstruct over 17,600 miles of forest trails and received about $2.5 million in funds from outside sources to compensate for limited funding; and (8) the Forest Service planned to construct about 8,400 miles of new trails over the next 5 years, at an estimated cost of about $60 million, but would receive only about one-third of those funds at current funding levels.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Forest Service recreation staff have met to discuss how to obtain consistent reporting of backlog data. The Forest Service plans to include backlog amounts and work to be done in its existing reporting systems and report this annually. Elements to measure backlog severity are under development.

    Recommendation: To enable the Service and Congress to monitor the trail maintenance and reconstruction backlog and to prioritize trail program funding decisions, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to gather and make available to Congress, on a periodic basis, nationwide data on: (1) the trail maintenance and reconstruction work that needs to be done; (2) the severity of conditions requiring the work; and (3) the associated costs. The Service's new computerized information system may serve as a useful vehicle for gathering and reporting these data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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