Tuesday, November 18, 2008
National forests see fewer visitors National forests have long been prime recreation spots in the Pacific Northwest and around the nation, but new federal figures show far fewer people are visiting them since 2004 -- especially in this region. Now researchers are trying to determine why people are staying away from the prized public playgrounds, including the nearby Mount Hood, Gifford Pinchot and Deschutes national forests. Their ideas include high gas prices, rising visitor fees, youths glued to television and video games and a busy, urban society with little time for outdoor pursuits. The visitor decline turned up last month when the Forest Service released new figures from visitor monitoring in 2007. The numbers provided the first comparison against figures from 2004. The figures are estimates based on surveys and counts around each national forest. Total forest visits dropped from 204.8 million in 2004 to 178.6million in 2007, a 13 percent decline. Visitors to national forests do not seem unhappy: More than 80 percent said they were satisfied with facilities and services at developed sites. The most common activity for forest visitors was viewing natural features, with 51 percent saying that was one of their pursuits. Only 12 percent said they engaged in more traditional pursuits, such as fishing, and 9 percent hunted. Visits to undeveloped national forest wilderness areas also dropped, from 8.8 million in 2004 to 6.3 million in 2007. Wilderness visits typically involve longer hikes or backpacking. About two-thirds of wilderness visitors were men....The stats show the public is rejecting these wilderness areas, so why are the deep thinkers in Congress creating more?