Visits to national forests across the United States continue to decline.
A U.S. Forest Service report showed a steady decline of visitors to national forests. The National Visitor Use Monitoring Results report supplies information on numbers of visitors, activities visitors pursued and the satisfaction of visitor experiences while in national forests.
Numbers showed total recreational visits across the United States are down 14% since 2004 and 18% since 2001. This was a slight increase from last year’s results, which showed a decline of 16% since 2001, according to The Durango (Colo.) Herald.
The Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, had a 5% decline in visitation since 2001. There were 32.6 million visitors in 2001 and 30.8 million visitors in 2008.
The region had the second lowest percentage change in the nation.
In the northeastern United States, visits to national forests fell the most at a 42% decrease since 2001, followed by Oregon and Washington at 37%.
No official reason has been given for the steady decline in visits to national forests.
Results for visits to Colorado forests yielded mostly positive findings. Dave Baker, recreational wilderness program leader for the San Juan National Forest, said this year has seen typical numbers in forest visits, with a slight increase in camping visitation.
The San Juan National Forest does surveys on visitation every five years, with the most recent results released last year. Results from 2009 are based loosely on what forest officials have heard and seen throughout the year.
“June was cold and wet, so numbers were down, but it picked back up in July and August,” Baker said. “Campgrounds did a little better than last year.
“As for the trails and the general wilderness, it seemed like a fairly normal year.”
The weakened economy might have helped keep visitors at local sites. Visits to the local forest consist of two-thirds local residents and one-third out-of-state residents.
“That trends with how recreation is during a recession,” Baker said. “Camping is really cheap and you can make your decision last minute, so people tend to do that.”
But with nationwide numbers continuing to fall, Kitty Benzar, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, said in a statement that she believes the decrease in visits relates to fees users pay to access certain sites. Access fees typically go toward upkeep for forest facilities, such as campgrounds or bathrooms.
“As household budgets are cut to the bare bones, visiting a national forest will be just another luxury item that can be done without,” Benzar said.