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Forest Service catches up on maintenance with federal money

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | November 4, 2022 12:00 AM

The Great American Outdoors Act of 2021 established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF,) and represents the single largest investment in public lands in U.S. history.

Backlogged maintenance will be addressed on public lands, including local areas such as the Kootenai National Forest, through 2025.

For the U.S. Forest Service this provides a way to improve critical infrastructure which is essential to use for the enjoyment of national forests and grasslands.

The Forest Service receives 15 percent of LRF funds, which translates to a maximum of $285 million per year. The fund is financed by 50 percent of energy development revenues from oil, gas, coal or alternative or renewable energy development on federal land and water. The cap is $1.9 billion per fiscal year.

“We have been behind on deferred maintenance for a long time,” said Laura Jungst, recreation program manager for the Kootenai National Forest.

The Great American Outdoors Act will help pay for maintenance from 2021-2025, and the highest priority areas are being addressed first. These include areas with long histories of deferred maintenance. Some maintenance includes replacement of picnic tables or fire rings at multiple locations

“As we see more visitation it’s really nice to have the funding,” Jungst said.

The Forest Service uses partnerships when possible – such as a long-standing partnership with Montana Conservation Corps – which allows the Forest Service to address things that full time employees may not be able to get to without being overburdened.

So far, 73 miles of trail, including the trail to Alvord Lake Classroom, has been maintained in the past two years that would not have been without the extra money.

Jungst said that the plan is to keep that same pace up through 2025. The list of projects with deferred maintenance needs “feels endless,” Jungst said.

The Forest Service is tasked with maintaining nearly 160,000 miles of trails nationally.

Some examples of local projects are as follows: Replacement and maintenance of boat docks at the Koocanusa Marina, Dorr Skeels Boat Launch, and the Bad Medicine Boat Launch. This project will use $418,540 in funding. This project has a planned completion date of 2024.

In the five-year period, more than $1 million will be spent on local trails. These trails need to be maintained to reduce solid erosion, stop the spread of noxious weeds and enhance visitor experience.

The project work will include cutting out blowdown, trimming brush, reestablishing tread and fixing drainage for trails.

Other ongoing projects that will occur during the bill's lifespan include $167,000 used to replace damaged or missing fire rings in local campgrounds.

Some have already been installed at Peck Gulch, Bad Medicine and the Yaak River Campground. These rings help prevent wild land fires.

The Forest Service will also allocate $125,600 to install new picnic tables at recreation sites, some of which have been installed at Peck Gulch and Bad Medicine campgrounds.

Rexford Bench, a developed recreation complex on Lake Koocanusa will have its 50-year-old wastewater system replaced. This will reduce maintenance needs and periodic wastewater system closures. This is one of the busiest recreation sights on the Kootenai National Forest.

The Forest Service has also been able to begin repairs and painting at the Webb Mountain, Big Creek Baldy and Gem Peak lookouts.

A roof was replaced on the South Flower Creek cross-country ski area shelter and the parking was expanded at Ross Creek Cedars.

“It’s just really nice to have the support to keep our infrastructure in good condition.” Jungst said.

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Ross Creek Cedars is one of the many beneficiaries of funding from the Great American Outdoors Act. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)