by Meckenzie Helmandollar-Powell, US Forest Service
The Forest Service is inviting agency employees, partners, and volunteers alike to share in the leadership of achieving sustainable National Forest System trails through implementation of the 10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge (1).
The Trail Challenge was officially launched in February last year by Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. It implements portions of the agency’s National Strategy for a Sustainable Trail System and the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016 (2). The Trail Challenge focuses the energy of employees, partners, and volunteers—collectively referred to as the trails community—over the next decade to achieve a more sustainable trail system that is socially valued and economically viable, and that supports ecological resiliency.
Main outcomes of the Trail Challenge include better trails that are easier to access, an adequate trail workforce, and good trail information to inform decisions and communicate about trails. A big part of that work will be engaging and sharing leadership with local communities and stakeholders in trail priorities and institutionalizing equity, diversity, and inclusion principles in all aspects of the collective work. The effort is also being supported by development of online toolboxes with trail success stories, best practices, reference documents, an online, progress-tracking dashboard, and by improving Forest Service trail data and reporting systems.
The Trail Challenge is based on a collective impact learning model (3), consisting of three implementation phases and ten elements or focus areas, each element having corresponding outcomes and metrics to track progress and demonstrate accountability. Starting this year in phase one, national forests and grasslands are encouraged to use the Trail Challenge as a tool to collaborate with communities to focus planning and implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) of 2020 (4). Additionally, a national coalition of trail partners is also forming. Organizations and individuals representing trail user and interest groups are encouraged to contact the Trails Move People Coalition (5) to understand how they can support raising awareness about the value of trails.
In recent months, we are all seeing how important National Forest System recreation and trail opportunities are to individuals and communities. People are seeking out respite on trails in record numbers during the ongoing pandemic and many land management agencies are greeting more new and non-traditional trail users than ever before. Trail managers are adapting by working with communities to understand shared priorities for local trail access and to strategize long-term solutions that help all trail visitors to feel welcome on their public lands.
The agency is inviting partners and volunteers to offer their assistance both on and off the trail. A good first step to becoming a partner or volunteer with the Forest Service is by visiting their online Partnership Resource Center (6) or by contacting your local national forest or grassland office (7). Each Forest Service region is also anticipating inviting employees, partners, and volunteers to initiate wide-spread implementation of the Trail Challenge this spring and summer.
Visit the Forest Service’s Trail Challenge web
page (8) for more information about the Trail
Challenge or contact the national trail
program manager at