Tahoe trails ahead of the curve nationally
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Nationally, more than a third of U.S. Forest trails are due for maintenance and only a quarter are up to current standards. The backlog of trail maintenance is estimated to cost more than 310 million dollars. Much of that has to do with increasing federal budget cuts, and because many trails were not originally designed with recreation in mind, but rather activities like logging.
That national trend doesn't reflects what's going on in the Lake Tahoe Basin, though, which receives about 5.7 million visits a year. During those visits, many people find themselves somewhere on the 375 miles of trail maintained by the Forest Service.
All that foot traffic might seems like a bad thing for the trails, but Cheva Heck who's with the Tahoe Basin Management Unit says Tahoe's popularity puts pressure on them to keep the trails in shape.
"And we look at it [trails] in terms of environmental sustainability, but we also look at it in terms of the users. You need to make sure you're providing the right experience for users, or, in some cases, they'll go create something else."
That could mean, for example, creating their own trails that do, in fact, damage the habitat.
Heck says the key is building trails so they last, whenever you can.
"If we can start out with trails that are built sustainably, it actually results in less maintenance need, less deferred maintenance backlog, so that's a key thing we look at."
Maintenance of trails varies for each area. It can include clearing brush and hazardous trees, fixing drainage issues and doing more involved construction projects.
The focus on conservation plays a major role in keeping Tahoe's trail on schedule with maintenance, as well. While only 32,000 dollars are appropriated for that purpose in the Tahoe Basin, the Forest Service receives additional funding from legislation like the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which has provided them an extra 200,000 dollars for 2013 through 2015.
In the end, Heck says what keeps Tahoe's trails on schedule with maintenance are the many volunteer organizations that come do the work for free. Only about 15 miles are actually maintained by the Forest Service Crews, but that number balloons when you take into account all the volunteers.