Federal Funding Crisis Hits White Mountain Trails

Spring is here, the time when AMC trail managers would normally hire seasonal trail crews and plan repairs to White Mountain trails. But this year the federal budget sequestration and ongoing uncertainty about the federal operating budget have severely cut or delayed the critical partnership grants that help AMC fund the crews to care for trails, leaving managers scrambling to figure out how much trail work to forego this year.

AMC cares for 385 miles of trail in the White Mountains and Mahoosucs. As public trails on public lands, work on these trails depends heavily on federal funding sources. The White Mountain National Forest typically provides challenge cost-share grants for trails most in need of repair. The National Park Service (NPS) funds Appalachian Trail maintenance and repair. And the federally-funded Recreational Trails Program provides grants for trails on state lands.

Funding for national forest trails was already at risk, even before this year. While trail visits have increased 250% nationally since 1980, the dollars spent per mile of trail have decreased by 34% during that period, and only a third of trails are now maintained to accepted standards. Ten years ago, the White Mountain National Forest would have about 36 trail crew members clearing and maintaining trails annually. This year they are able to hire only 12. With support from multiple sources over the years, AMC has been able to maintain our 18-22 person crew. As those multiple sources fade all at once this year, we will also need to cut our crew by 30% to 12 members, leaving the trails more at risk for unmanageable damage than ever in recent memory.

The federal budget sequestration means that even fewer funds are available for trails, and the National Forest cost share grants have vanished. The uncertainty around the current year’s federal budget has delayed partnership agreements and the release of funds from NPS and for the Recreational Trails Program, preventing much needed work from being done this year.

Many iconic White Mountain trails are deeply in need of repair. Crews had planned to be repairing and reconstructing the trails at greatest risk, including Falling Waters, Avalon, Valley Way, Lonesome Lake, and the Davis Path. The work to keep soil in place and to keep the trails usable includes hundreds of rock steps, replacing 1970’s vintage log water bars, installing 200 rock waterbars, and building scree walls.

AMC will count on its amazing and hard-working corps of volunteers more than ever this year. Your support of the Annual Trails Fund will help keep trails in the Whites open and maintained.

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