USDA to Create Plan to Expand Recreation Economies and Help People Thrive Across Rural America

Press release — from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture:

I live in one of the “gateway communities.” IMHO, we don’t need a plan or a toolkit, we need the USFS to aggressively address the recreation facility and road maintenance backlog and expand/add rec facilities to meet demand that has increased dramatically in recent decades.


WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2023 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that it will create a plan to expand recreation economies to help people thrive across rural America.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding, Rural Development, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the US Forest Service will partner to develop an annual plan to expand economic opportunities related to recreation in communities surrounding America’s national forests.

The annual plan will outline the ways the agencies will partner to conduct program outreach, host informational sessions and workshops, and develop toolkits to help people access the resources they need to thrive in recreation economies. The agencies will also:

  • Provide technical and planning assistance to help local, state and Tribal leaders develop regional economic development plans that advance recreation economies.
  • Provide funding under Rural Development and National Institute of Food and Agriculture programs to help US Forest Service gateway communities expand resilient recreation infrastructure and business development projects that create jobs.
  • Develop and maintain strategic partnerships, and more.

Today’s announcement supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s interagency effort, known as the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation

, to create safe, affordable and equitable opportunities for Americans to get outdoors.

For more information, visit:

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11 thoughts on “USDA to Create Plan to Expand Recreation Economies and Help People Thrive Across Rural America”

  1. Yawn. Yet another government program to “promote recreation economies” by endlessly throwing around buzzwords and PowerPoint slides. And you can be sure the Forest Service will absolutely not do the one thing they actually could do to improve recreation, which is to build more trails and expand recreational opportunities. Given that OHV recreation is by far the largest contributor to recreation economies in terms of economic value, the biggest single way to promote recreation economies would be to initiate travel management for the purpose of designating new motorized routes and reopening existing routes that have been closed by misguided travel management processes in the past. But of course they won’t do that.

    Instead the Forest Service keeps closing roads and kicking recreationists out of the Forest at an ever increasing pace. In Colorado, the Pike San Isabel National Forest finally issued the final decision for its new travel management plan a few months ago, closing around 120 miles of heavily used roads that include some of the most popular 4×4 trails in the state, with several featured in published guidebooks and regarded as statewide destinations. They also included numerous popular dispersed camping areas, the sole access routes to lakes popular for fishing, and routes near gateway communities that were heavily used by local residents. And with so many roads closed dramatically restricting campsite availability, both the Pike San Isabel and other national forests in Colorado are quickly moving to limit all camping to designated campsites, of which they only designate a tiny a fraction of those that exist, typically closing 50 – 80% of existing campsites.

    Given the Forest Service’s ongoing crusade to shut down and eliminate recreation wherever possible, the latest propaganda about “promoting recreation economies” rings a bit hollow.

    • “Given the Forest Service’s ongoing crusade to shut down and eliminate recreation wherever possible”

      ^ resorting to inaccurate broad generalizations like this really reduce the efficacy of anything else you say

      • It’s not really inaccurate. Just read basically any environmental analysis by the Forest Service or BLM. Recreation is viewed entirely negatively, as simply a detrimental impact on the environment that needs to minimized rather than a positive good to be promoted. They clearly view recreation as a public nuisance that needs to be restricted as much as possible. Sure my language about a “crusade was hyperbolic, but it’s certainly accurate to say overall FS policy is anti-recreation.

    • There seems to be a tension between “places locals use” and “needing to grow a recreation economy” which causes crowding either by people moving to the area or via what is ultimately tourism.

      And tourism as an economic driver is good for some locals (more money from tourists) but not so good for local dwellers. And the pay of recreation workplaces is usually less than it takes to affordably live in a place. Communities are struggling with the negative impacts of tourism and the cost of living right now.

      Then there are the environmental impacts of increasing recreation, which seem to be overlooked. Imagine an EIS for increasing a tourism economy, including the social cost of carbon as described in Steve’s NEPA post. All these policies are confusing including 30 x 30, increasing strategic mineral production, massive renewable buildout and increasing the recreation economy, co-management with Tribes seem to me potentially in conflict as described. But I guess we’ll have our BLM and FS employees to sort it all out…

      • So true. Having grown up around GSMNP, Gatlinburg in the 60s was a sleepy tiny tourist town that completely closed in the winter. Pigeon Forge was orchards and cattle farms. It was virtually impossible to get to the NC side of the park without driving a whole day even though as the crow flies it was 50 miles. People used to work in the few factories around or farmed – if not they headed for Ohio or Michigan. Now there are condos right on the NPS and USFS boundaries, the sprawl from Knoxville to Gatlinburg on the TN side and from Asheville to Cherokee on the NC side is massive. No doubt somebody is making money, but abundant jobs are all low-paying service work, everybody is on meth, new residents are 60+ retirees that care not a hoot about schools or improvements – and they hate forestry/sawmills.

  2. I agree w/ Steve that the maintenance backlog and crowded rec facilities need to be addressed.

    But some planning is needed to avoid creating new problems.

    Mt. Hood NF, where Steve is located, is being managed under an LRMP that was adopted in 1990! Written by people who were in college in the 1970’s – early ’80’s using science and ideas from the same era. Can you say OUTDATED?

    I lived and worked in the Columbia River Gorge from 1978 – 86 while I was a USFS recreation program manager on the Gifford Pinchot NF. I can tell you the communities in that area and all around MHNF are a far cry from what they were when the LRMP was adopted! Demographics, population size, income levels, predominant recreation activities, economic drivers and just about everything else have changed dramatically. A 32 year old plan is NOT a solid foundation for new investments in recreation!

    A couple of anecdotes: due to pressure from the tech industrry, nurses, school teachers and other essential workers can no longer afford housing in Hood River a town that’s essentially a Gateway to MHNF; in 1980, Carson WA was a small, resource dependent community for loggers who worked in the Gifford Pinchot NF — Now it’s a bedroom community for tech workers who commute to White Salmon WA to work at In Situ, a drone company; the waterfront in White Salmon used to be a large log yard and a mill (SDS Lumber as I recall) – Part of the mill is still operating but a lot of the riverfront real estate has been converted to buildings for In Situ the drone maker.

    Things have changed a lot and updated planning is needed before we make investments in new recreation facilities!

    • I agree that dated forest plans contribute to the problem, but I’ve always been kind of ambivalent about forest planning trying to do much with recreation management, mostly because a lot of it is budget-driven rather than landbase-driven. And I’ve always been underwhelmed by the efforts to do so. Here’s a desired condition for the recent Custer-Gallatin, which given its proximity to Yellowstone Park, should be taking recreation seriously:

      “Recreation special uses provide unique opportunities, services, and experiences for the recreating public on national forest lands and respond to a demonstrated demand for a specific recreation opportunity.”

      This could have been written for any national forest, and leaves to some other process figuring out the “demand for a specific recreation opportunity.” If it’s important, why wouldn’t the planning process identify the demand, and produce a strategy for meeting it (or not)? It wouldn’t make much sense to (as this MOU does) call for “creation of strategic partnerships among the Parties during revision of Forest Service land management plans” if those plans are not going to make any meaningful decisions.

      There is a section of the Planning Rule that says, “A plan reflects the unit’s expected distinctive roles and contributions to the local area, region, and Nation, and the roles for which the plan area is best suited …” It seems like that should generate some good discussion during the planning process that would fit well with this MOU for recreation, but it looks like the incentive is to put off the hard choices that need to be made.

      • Jon, I don’t want to be overly sensitive (aka “conspiracy theorist”) aboutthis.. but “rec special uses” means permits to third parties, doesn’t it? Is there a DC about providing rec opportunities directly to the public?

        • Not surprisingly, I’ve generally avoided getting much involved in the recreation part of forest planning. In general, the assignment of recreation opportunity spectrum classes to areas of the forest is the driving recreation decision in forest plans (because they come with a set of management requirements). But it’s the goals or desired conditions behind that allocation I think would be most helpful, and they aren’t easy to find. Since you made me look, I did find this reference in the Custer Gallatin plan to something outside of the plan that is kind of like what I think should be in the plan:

          “Recreation niches are useful in conveying the special, unique, or highly valued recreation opportunities across a landscape. The Custer Gallatin niche statements, developed separately before the two national forests joined, portray the role recreation plays across the combined national forest. The west side of the Custer Gallatin is described as “world class wildland adventures” with river corridors and high mountain trails, and visitors enjoying year-round, world-class, recreation opportunities. The eastern side of the national forest focuses on the theme of “uncommon landscapes,” where jagged peaks and striking buttes offer expansive views of geologic and cultural changes. The diverse landscape, from peaks and alpine plateaus to rolling pine forests and prairies, provide wilderness, remote travel and vistas, wildlife viewing, and hunting.” (I don’t know what kind of public process was associated with this conclusion.)

          There’s plenty of other “blah blah” language about recreational opportunities in the plan: “Recreation opportunities are adaptable to changing trends of desired recreation opportunities and increasing demands and use of the Custer Gallatin. Additional recreation facilities that accommodate growing demand provide quality recreation experiences and conserve forest resources.”

  3. Steve, given the size of the backlog, how should the agency go about prioritizing funding? It’s easy to become jaded about how effective government use of money isn’t, but why not try to have a plan? Or at least why not have the government agencies working together on planning, which is what this MOU is directly about?

    • On the forest near me, I’d hope they’d start working on the crumbling roads the lead to/from popular rec areas. I bet they know which ones are worst.


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