Your next trip into the forest could be a very important one |

Your next trip into the forest could be a very important one

The U.S. Forest Service aims to take its most detailed look ever this summer into recreation habits of people visiting the White River National Forest.

Uniformed Forest Service personnel will be placed at randomly selected campgrounds, trailheads, roads and popular attractions like Maroon Lake to survey forest visitors. The process starts in earnest in May, said Rick Maddalena, assistant recreation officer for the White River National Forest.

Responding will be voluntary, but the Forest Service hopes people will understand the need for the 10-minute interview. Respondents can remain anonymous.

They will be asked where they went and what type of activity they undertook. Demographic information will be collected from a quarter of the respondents. Another quarter will be grilled about the quality of their experience. Others will be asked, confidentially, about recreation spending.

“It will help us understand if we need to reinvest in some recreation facilities that are getting a little rough around the edges,” Maddalena said.

The willingness of respondents to pay to visit or use national forest features will also be gauged. The results could be used in the growing battle over “fee demonstration projects,” where a special charge is assessed to visit places such as Maroon Lake.

Proponents claim that is a good way to assist the cash-strapped agency.

Foes contend the government is double dipping because taxpayers already pay for use of public lands. They claim fees just allow Congress to get away with a policy of underfunding the Forest Service.

Forest Service officials hope survey results translate into more federal dollars. Upper management of the agency has contended that recreation use in national forests is as high as in national parks, so they sought greater funding.

A skeptical Congress told them to prove it.

The National Recreation Use Survey is being conducted in every forest over a four-year period. This is year three.

White River officials expect survey results to show that this 2.3 million-acre forest – which stretches from Summit County to Parachute and from south of Aspen to north of Meeker – is among the busiest in Colorado and one of the busiest in the country.

“I would anticipate the numbers in the White River are going to be very close to the top,” said Steve Sherwood, assistant forest supervisor. “Hopefully, it will help us in the budget wars.”

Maddalena said the survey will allow the Forest Service to make projections for everything from pleasure drivers to wilderness backpackers, and all activities in between.

Limited sampling was conducted throughout the winter. Interviewers visited places such as the downhill ski areas, Ashcroft Ski Touring and the gate at Independence Pass, the departure point for numerous skiers, hikers and snowmobilers.

Sampling will be conducted every day in June, when forest use skyrockets.

The survey results could be affected by factors such as the dip in tourism after September 11 or simply the weather.

“You can have a real damp year and see a dip in the numbers,” Maddalena noted.

All results will be available to the public. The Forest Service will issue a report with data six to eight months after the surveying concludes Sept. 30.

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