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US Forest Service Seeks Comments on Year-Round Recreation Activities at Ski Areas

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2013 – The U.S. Forest Service recently published a Federal Register notice seeking public comment on proposed criteria to evaluate activities and facilities allowed at ski areas on Forest Service lands under the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011.

"This is another step forward in how the agency efficiently manages developed recreation areas, such as ski areas, to accommodate the increasing demand for outdoor recreation experiences from the public," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "It also opens the door for the prospect of a larger economic boost to forest-dependent communities and the nation."

Most of the 122 ski areas operating on Forest Service lands are authorized by the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 for Nordic and alpine skiing. The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 expanded the Ski Area Permit Act to allow approval of additional seasonal or year-round recreation activities, including summer recreational activities where the ski area's developed infrastructure could accommodate an increasing demand for year-round recreation.

The revised law includes such activities as zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, disc golf courses, and ropes courses, which are generally natural resource based and encourage outdoor recreation and the enjoyment of nature. These types of activities fit well with the agency's mission in support of outdoor natural resource-based recreation settings and experiences, in contrast to theme or amusement parks where different customer expectations are accommodated.

This proposed rule change would establish criteria to guide the agency when evaluating proposals. New activities should be natural-resource based, encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature, and be consistent with the intent of the act. The rule also would address the types of facilities that would be permitted.

The agency also is proposing guidance on the management of other recreational uses within the operational boundary of ski areas by the non-paying public, such as snowshoeing and hiking. The proposed changes also include guidelines for development of aerial adventure courses at facilities other than ski areas.

The public has 60 days to comment from Oct. 2, 2013, the date the notice was published in the Federal Register. Instructions on how to comment are included in the notice.

The allocation of federal land for ski areas covers some 180,000 acres out of 193 million acres. The agency averages 23 million visits annually to ski areas, which has contributed $3 billion every winter to the economy and created approximately 65,000 full and part-time and seasonal jobs in rural communities. Under the new proposal, the Forest Service estimates roughly 600,000 more summertime visits would occur; that may create and sustain up to 600 more full or part-time and seasonal jobs with expanded recreation opportunities on ski areas. The addition of summer recreation is expected to infuse almost $40 million into local mountain communities near ski areas.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the U.S. Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

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