Hikers, bikers, campers and others who enjoy U.S. Forest Service lands in the Rocky Mountain region may lose some of their favorite sites to budget cuts during the next three years, according to a report in the Rocky Mountain News.
Cuts of 45% in facility maintenance and operations are expected in forests nationwide, going from a budget of $214 million this year to $117 million by 2006.
“Absolutely, we are looking at the possibility of closing some campgrounds and trails in Colorado and other forests in our region,” said Steve Sherwood, Rocky Mountain regional recreation, heritage and wilderness director.
The region, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, already has a $7.9 million maintenance and operations backlog, Sherwood said.
Jim Moe, budget coordinator in the Rocky Mountain regional headquarters in Lakewood, said such funds are expected to drop from $22 million in 2004 to around $11 million in 2006 in the five-state region.
Sherwood said the region is starting a Recreation Facilities Master Planning effort, as is being done nationwide, to determine what the federal “niche” is in outdoor recreation.
“Perhaps campsites would better be provided by state parks, and we should concentrate on backcountry experiences,” Sherwood said.
He said they are looking at things such as occupancy rates at individual campgrounds, the cost to operate them, trailhead maintenance, and trails themselves.
Tight budgets are already restricting recreation in national forests.
Last year several smaller, less-often-used campgrounds weren’t opened in Colorado because it was too costly to pick up trash or provide potable water, Sherwood said.
Under the coming budget cuts, he said, the Forest Service might leave a campground open but without some of those services.
Some users, such as the Colorado Mountain Club, fear that the forest management is moving toward an “industrial recreational complex” mentality.
“Most people take for granted that you can drive up to a trailhead, jump out and start down a trail,” said Mountain Club conservation director Vera Smith. “But there is talk of turning more campgrounds and trailheads over to private concessionaires, sort of the ski industry model, and someday you may have to pay to park at a trailhead and take a number or make a reservation to use the trail.”