If you're reading BACKPACKER, you're probably a true-blue national forests fan. I'll bet most of you know the difference between your Gifford Pinchots and your Umatillas, or your Hoosiers and your San Isabels. But casual users are getting less acquainted with our national forests: The U.S. Forest Service reports that national forest visits are down 13 percent from 2004 through 2007.
204.8 million people visited national forests in 2004, while only 178 million visited in 2007. Visits to undeveloped wilderness areas, which typically play host to more backpackers, saw visitation drop from 8.8 million in 2004 to 6.3 million in 2007.
The Forest Service blames a number of factors for the drop in visitation, including higher gas prices, our slowing economy, and (of course) the kids and their damned video games.
But the U.S.F.S. survey revealed some good news: Most of the people who do go to national forests have an overwhelmingly positive experience. More than 80 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with national forest facilities.
While it might be nice in the short term to camp and backpack through less-crowded forests, the decrease in revenue means grim prospects for maintaining our wildernesses. So as much as you might like the increased solitude, make sure you bring someone with you the next time you visit a national forest, OK?
To find hundreds of trips in U.S. national forests, visit BACKPACKER.com's Destinations page.