Forest Service Finalizes Summer Recreation Policy

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SAM Magazine—Washington, D.C., April 16, 2014—The U.S. Forest Service has finalized policy guidelines that will open opportunities for ski areas to develop and offer a variety of year-round recreation activities on the National Forests. The revised directives stem from the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011.

"The new directives will help usher in a wider spectrum of developed recreation opportunities that will encourage more people to enjoy the national forests," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "This change will allow ski areas to offer expanded recreation choices that will benefit local communities and recreationists."

The guidelines will be used by agency administrators to determine which summer recreation activities and associated facilities will be allowed on ski areas operating on national forests. There are 122 ski areas on nearly 180,000 acres of public land administered by the Forest Service. The agency projects the Act will increase by 600,000 the number of summer visits on national forests; ski areas now average 23 million visits annually on Forest Service land.

The 2011 act broadened the range of activities enumerated in the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986, which limited recreation to Nordic and alpine skiing. The 2011 act specifically includes such activities as ziplines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, disc golf courses and rope courses. The guidelines require that new activities are natural resource-based, encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature.

The guidelines also address the types of facilities that will be permitted, as well as management of other recreational uses within the operational boundary of ski areas by the non-paying public, such as snowshoeing and hiking.

"This is more than just a policy change," Tidwell said. "This opens up new opportunities to bring people onto national forests to enjoy the great outdoors, become more physically active and recreate in new ways."

Vail Resorts, which has been among the first to develop plans to put the Act into practice, applauded the new directives. “When Congress passed the Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act in 2011,” said CEO Rob Katz, “it represented an important new opportunity for the ski industry to provide additional recreational opportunities to a much more diverse set of guests year-round.” He added, “The Forest Service must balance sometimes competing viewpoints, and we are truly impressed with how the agency listened and made reasoned modifications based on public comment.”