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U.S. Forest Service Reports Visitors, Local Communities Receive Health, Economic Benefits from Visiting National Forests and Grasslands

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2013 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released findings of a visitor survey that shows U.S. Forest Service lands are great recreation destinations that provide health benefits to tourists and $11 billion in tourist spending to businesses and communities that serve the more than 160 million forest visitors.

"When Americans spend time enjoying the great outdoors in our National Forests, everyone benefits," Secretary Vilsack said. "Visitors reap the health and stress-reduction benefits that outdoor recreation activities provide, and tourism helps to strengthen the economic well-being of rural communities across the nation."

The U.S. Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring Survey provides a glimpse into how people share the national forests and grasslands, as well as the value of that use beyond the agency's 193 million acres. The survey helps Forest Service land managers more clearly understand why people visit, what they do during their visits and their overall satisfaction with their recreation experience on a forest.

Forest Service lands provide the opportunity to de-stress: about 37 percent of visitors say they spent time simply relaxing. When visitors were asked about their primary recreation activities, the three most common responses were hiking/walking (19 percent), downhill skiing (14 percent) and viewing natural features (13 percent).

Economically, national forests provide an important contribution to the vitality of nearby rural communities and the nation at large. Recreation visitor spending amounted to nearly $11 billion in 2012, and visitors who lived more than 50 miles from a national forest accounted for nearly half that amount. As visitor spending ripples through the U.S. economy, the monetary value of all the goods and services adds a little more than $13 billion to the gross domestic product, and sustains about 190,000 full- and part-time jobs.

Highlights of the 2012 report also include:

  • Most people – 86 percent – described the forest as their primary recreation destination for their trip away from home.
  • About half of all forest visits lasted 4.5 hours or less; about two-thirds lasted six hours or less.
  • As in past years, more than 70 million say they enjoyed day-use developed sites while about 17 million used overnight facilities. The great majority of the visits occur in undeveloped areas of the National Forest System.
  • More than 8 million visits were made to wilderness areas, which mean people chose to leave behind motorized vehicles as required and hike or camp in more primitive settings.
  • In addition to the actual visits on agency lands, Americans travel on scenic byways or similar routes near or through forests to view the scenery about 300 million times a year.

The survey results also highlight the contribution of forest-based recreation in connecting the American people to their natural and cultural heritage, an important element of the Forest Service strategy on recreation and of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative. Such connections to the land are critical to the cultivation of a conservation ethic and sense of resource stewardship among Americans.

With more than 240 million Americans living within 100 miles of a national forest or grassland, it is important for even more people to connect with national forests and grasslands and the benefits they provide. In addition, with only 16 percent of visitors age 16 or younger, Americans of all ages are encouraged to explore the great outdoors.

"Today, more than ever, our public lands should serve as the nation's preferred playgrounds for high-quality outdoor fun," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "The work of providing recreation opportunities for all Americans is among the most important tasks we face."

The health benefits visitors receive are found when exploring the more than 150,000 miles of trails, which includes hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites. Visitors also have a wide choice of recreational activities with 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.

Most places on national forests do not have fees associated with recreation use. When fees were required, the vast majority of those visitors reported being satisfied, 81 percent were satisfied with the day-use developed site fee and 87 percent were satisfied with the overnight site fee.

To find a national forest or grassland near you, visit

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 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 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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