Federal officials have allocated millions of dollars to improve roads and trails across Wyoming’s national forests — which have been under increasing strain as user numbers grow.
The U.S Forest Service early this fall announced $65 million in investments nationwide to help the agency improve “water quality, roads, trails and fish habitat.” That included nearly $2.2 million in Legacy Road and Trails Remediation Program dollars for projects in the Bighorn, Bridger-Teton, Medicine Bow-Routt and Shoshone national forests for fiscal year 2022. The LRTR Program is expected to be funded annually at similar amounts through FY 2026.
In addition, the Great American Outdoors Act, which authorized nearly $3 billion annually through fiscal year 2025 for an array of public lands projects across the U.S., has funded a flurry of infrastructure projects on forests in Wyoming.
The GAOA funding could help land managers address a backlog of maintenance projects to protect the natural resources and better handle growing crowds.
“The Forest Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of approximately $6 billion,” Donna Nemeth, regional press officer for the USFS Rocky Mountain Region, wrote in an email. “These [GAOA] projects will help address this backlog, bring our infrastructure up to standards, and improve the public experience.”
Without entrance gates or crowd counters, it’s difficult to pin down exact visitation numbers on Wyoming’s 9 million acres of national forest, but managers agree the volume of visitors has been trending upward, putting strain on roads, trailheads, campgrounds and dispersed camping areas.
District rangers and other groups are responding with measures meant to meet demand while protecting the resource — such as educational campaigns and proposals to update camping rules. But threadbare budgets and limited staff overseeing vast landscapes have made the task challenging.
Infusions such as LRTR Program dollars “will address much needed critical road, trail, and stream improvements benefitting (sic) local communities and forest visitors in the Rocky Mountain Region,” Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum said in a release. “This critical work also creates jobs in communities around the region, providing an opportunity to improve conditions in National Forests.”
Projects on tap
Wyoming projects funded by the LRTR Program run the gamut from trail bridge improvements to road decommissioning. Most LRTR projects aren’t intended to increase user capacity, Nemeth wrote, but will “generally reduce impacts and increase resiliency related to increased use.” Examples include:
- Cedar Creek and Driveway Trail bridge construction, $450,000, Bighorn National Forest. Reconstruction of two trail bridges above the high-water mark to improve stream functioning and protect the bridges and adjacent trails from erosion.
- Afton Star Trail in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, $62,000. Rerouting the trail to reduce erosion, improve trail resilience and maintain future access
- Whiskey Creek-Little Snake Watershed restoration in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, $375,000. Constructing aquatic passes, decommissioning roads, obliterating unauthorized roads and performing road reroutes and road-trail conversions.
The USFS awarded projects based on factors such as restoration work in priority watersheds, value of the road or trail for public access and increasing aquatic habitat connectivity, Nemeth wrote.
The GAOA, meanwhile, enabled the USFS to invest in recreation infrastructure, public lands access and land conservation.
Wyoming projects include:
- Vault toilet replacements, Bighorn National Forest, $200,000. A multi-year project to entail removing and replacing toilets at various picnic grounds, campgrounds and trailheads forest-wide.
- Lower Middle Fork Trail reroute, Shoshone National Forest, $66,000. Improving a severely eroded section of the popular trail with numerous drainage structures plus rerouting roughly 4 miles of trail.
- Buckboard waterline replacement, Ashley National Forest, $55,000. Replacing distribution lines and valves of the water system serving the Buckboard boat ramp, campground and marina at Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
- Campground rehabilitation, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, $252,000. Survey, design and construction work to update several outdated campgrounds and parking lots to meet current needs.
The agency, Nemeth wrote, “is looking forward to addressing numerous deferred maintenance projects and delayed repairs through the Great American Outdoors Act.”