United States General Accounting Of’fice Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee GAO on National Parks and Public Lands, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives i i . r Fehuuy1990 NATIONAL FORESTS Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Established Objectives Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division R-238089 February 5,199O The Honorable Bruce F. Vento Chairman, Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs House of Representatives Dear Mr. Chairman: This report responds to your request that we review the Forest Service’s management of special recreation areas. The report assesses whether these areas have been developed, operated, and maintained as provided for in designating legislation, Forest Service policy, and the individual plans the Forest Service has developed for them. Copies of the report are also being sent to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Chief of the Forest Service. We will make copies available to others upon request. This work was performed under the direction of James Duffus III, Director, Natural Resources Management Issues, (202) 275-7756. Other major contributors are listed in appendix III. Sincerely yours, J. Dexter Peach Assistant Comptroller General Executive Summary have been either delayed or dropped, and visitor information services were inadequate and/or maintenance levels have been reduced at 15 of the 20 areas. Officials at the special recreation areas told GAO that funding shortfalls in the early to mid-1980s were often the cause of the problems in facility development, visitor information services, and maintenance levels. Over the last 3 years, funding for these areas has been increased, and the Forest Service has developed other initiatives-such as greater use of volunteers and encouragement of contributions from both public and private sources-to help offset funding shortfalls. However, officials at these areas t,old GAO that these increases and initiatives are not likely to bring the areas up 10 lhc standards called for in Forest Service policy. Information on progrrss made, deferments, and future resource needs to develop, operate, and maintain these areas up to the levels called for in Forest Service policy and plans is not readily available. Without this detailed information. n&her the Forest Service nor the Congress can make sound decisions on the appropriate levels of funding or the time frames for meeting t hc>ob,jrctives detailed in the areas’ plans. Principal Findings Many Special Recreation Many of the special recreation areas fell short of the expectations estab- lished for them in Fortbst Service policy or the individual area plans. Areas Not Meeting This has occurred both in the extent of facility development and the Planned Objectives level at which they haye been operated and maintained. Officials at 10 of thtb 20 areas reported to GAO that planned projects- such as campgrounds, road improvements, and information stations- have been delayed or dropped altogether. Eight of the 10 areas that reported delaying or dropping projects were designated before 1980. Plans for these older areas had generally envisioned relatively large- scale facility developnlent. In contrast, only 2 of the 12 areas designated since 1980 reported delaying or dropping projects. The plans for these more recently designat cadareas generally focused more on the preserva- tion of natural rcsour(‘(‘s and called for limited development. Page 3 GAO/RCED-W-27 National Recreation Areas Status of Special In managing most of its special recreation areas, the Forest Service has not adequately monitorrd and reported on the status of development Recreation Area Planned and oprarations. Area officials were often unable to provide GAO with Objectives Not Adequately documentation detailing planned, actual, and scheduled project comple- Monitored and Reported tions. GAOfound one alra-Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monu- ment-where officials tracked, updated, and reported progress and accomplishments annually against the objectives stat.ed in the area plan. Similar information for all the special recreation areas would assist the Forest Service and t,hc (Congress in making decisions on funding levels and time frames for mW ing the objectives established for these areas. (;r\o recommends that the Secretary of Agriculture direct, the Chief of Recommendation thr Forest Service to develop information on and periodically report the status of development. operations, and maintenance at each special rec- rrat,ion area to the Congress. Such information should, as a minimum, include (1) aspects of each area’s plan that, have been completed, (2) aspt’cts of the plan that have yet to be completed, (3) the proposed time frame and the estimated costs associated with completing the work nec- Wsary to fulfill t,he plan, and (4) an assessment of the resources needed to operate and main1 air1 1hose areas at shou-case I~~vt~ls. G.\Oobl ained t,he vitws of officials directly responsible for the program Agency Comments and incorporated thtsir c.omments in the report whcrc appr0priat.e. At. tht‘ request of thtl S11b1ommittee Chairman, however, GAOdid not, obtain writ ten t*ommcnts on ttlis report. Forest Service officials said they gen- crally c,oncrlrred wilt1 (; IO‘S recommendation. GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Tables Table 1.1: Congressionally Designated Forest Service 9 Special Recreation Areas Table 2.1: Special Recreation Areas Reporting Dropped 16 Projects or Delays in Developing Planned Recreation Facilities Table 2.2: Area Officials’ Responses to Questions on the 19 Adequacy of Interpretive Services and Maintenance Levels Table 3.1: Forest Service Cost Share Projects Funded in 30 Fiscal Year 1988 at Special Recreation Areas Reviewed by GAO Figure Figure 3.1: Forest Service-Wide Trend for Recreation 26 Funding, Fiscal Years 1980-89 Abbreviations GAO General Accounting Office 131 National Monument NRA National Recreation Area WA National Scenic Area XMEA National Management Emphasis Area KS1i.A National Scenic Research Area PaI@ 7 GAO/RCED9027 National Recreation Areas listed in table 1.1 ,I In total, these 20 areas comprise about 6.3 million acres. Individually, they range in size from Misty Fiords National Monu- ment in Alaska, which contains more than 2 million acres, to Pine Ridge National Recreation Area in Nebraska, which contains less than 7,000 acres. Table 1.1: Congressionally Designated Forest Service Special Recreation Areas Date Approximate Name Designation” established State(s) acreage Spruce Knob NRA 1965 West Vlrglnla 100,000 Seneca Rocks” Shasta-Trlmti NRA 1965 California 212,000 Mount Raged NRA 1966 Vlrglnla 154,000 Flaming Gorge” NRA 1968 Utah, Wyoming 201,300 Orcaon Dines” NRA 1972 Oregon 34,000 Sawtooth” NRA 1972 Idaho 756,000 Hells Canyon’ NRA 1975 Oregon, Idaho 652,500 Arapaho NRA 1978 Colorado 35,700 Rattlesnake NRA 1980 Montana 61,000 Admlraltv Island NM 1980 Alaska 969,600 Misty Fiords NM 1980 Alaska 2,294,300 Mount St Helens” NM 1982 WashIngton 110,000 White Rocks’? NRA 1984 Vermont 36,400 Oregon Cascades NMEA 1984 Oregon 156,900 I~Iount Baker” NRA 1984 Washlnaton 8,600 lirotth Cascades NSA I 984 WashIngton 87,600 Mono Basin NSA 1984 Callfornla 115,600 Allegheny NRA 1984 PennsylvanIa 23,100 Pine Ridge NRA 1986 Nebraska 6,600 Columbia River NSA 1986 Oreaon. 285,100 Gorae Wasiinqton Total acres 6.300.300 ‘hRA. National Recreation Area NM, National Monument. NMEA National Management Emphasis Area, USA National Scenic Area Areas vIsIted by GAO ‘I‘hwr Ki;rtionalManagementI’.mphaslsAreasand onei%tional ScfmcResearchArea designatedby I lw (‘Congress wwe not mclrldt,dm UDTreview becauserecreatmnwas Either not mentionedin the Icy~siatwnor appearedsrcondary to the primary purposeof the act: LakeTahoeBasin in Nevadaand (‘;~hfwr~ia(19X0),Ire Metcalf KmagementArea in Montana(19831,Antone BenchArea in IJtah I!)841,,md(‘awadc llvad m Oregon(1974) The WindmgStair NatmnalRecreationArea in Oklahoma ( !$t&u IFIR81was alsonut ~r~~~ludrdhwauw it was drslgnatcd after the start of this review. Page 9 GAO/RCED-99.27National Recreation Areas Chapter I Introduction The Forest Service first established its policy for special recreation Forest Service areas in the late 1960s. The policy called for these areas to receive spe- Direction for Special cial emphasis and priority in protection and development and in the Recreation Areas administration of their use commensurate with their specific congres- sional recognition as national recreation resources. The Forest Service policy and objectives for special recreation areas call for providing a showcase for National Forest management standards for programs, services. and facilities; providing for public enjoyment of the area for outdoor recreation or other benefits; protecting the special values and attributes of the area (that is, scenic, cultural, historic, wilderness, wildlife, or other values) that contribute to public enjoyment; and . managing any other resources in the area in a manner that does not impair the public recreation values or the special attributes of the area. While the term “showcase” is not defined, Forest Service special recrea- tion area managers said that they interpret it to mean that they should manage these areas to a noticeably higher standard than other Forest Service units. Special Recreation Area For each special recreat.ion area, the Forest Service develops a manage- ment plan and incorporates management direction for the area in an Plans Contain overall plan for the t,ntire forest. The areas’ management plans are Development and based on the managcmcnt objectives in the implementing legislation and Management Objectives on the directives of thcl National Forest Management Act of 1976.’ The plans include a description of recreation experiences to be provided, a list of necessary recreation facilities, and management direction for other area resources, such as forest cover, forage, federally listed threatened and endangered flora and fauna, fish and wildlife, and minerals. As of *June 1988, 17 of the 20 areas either had final special recreation area plans or were covtlred by final overall forest plans. In addition, two area plans were includ(sd in draft forest plans. The remaining area, the Columbia River Gor$ National Scenic Area in Oregon and Washington, Page 11 GAO/RCED-9027 National Recreation Areas Chapter 1 Introduction because both areas were designated in 1984 and their area plans had not been completed. For the nine areas visited, we compared the area plans’ recreation objec- tives with their legislated purposes and the recreation facilities develop- ment that was called for with what had been accomplished. We discussed progress in meeting objectives with area and Forest Service headquarters, regional, and national forest officials and reviewed Forest Service funding trends We also discussed the degree to which planned development has occurred with representatives of local governments and environmental groups for some of the areas. To assess whether the areas were operated and maintained at showcase levels called for in Forest Service policy, we asked officials of the 20 areas for information on (1) the type and condition of current facilities, (2) the level of funding and staffing, and (3) the impact, if any, funding limitations have had on meeting showcase levels for services and facili- tics. In addition, at the nine areas we visited, we toured the facilities with Forest Service staff to observe and document service and mainte- nance levels and facility condition. We also reviewed Forest Service- wide recreation funding and maintenance backlog data, and discussed area conditions and funding levels with cognizant Forest Service officials. In April 1988, the Forest Service introduced a new National Recreation Strategy initiative int.ended to improve the quality of recreation oppor- tunities offered on Forest Service land. We discussed the strategy with Forest Service headquarters, regional, and forest recreation staff, and with area officials to obtain their opinion of the strategy’s strengths and limitations as they relate to special recreation areas. We also attended a jointly sponsored Forest Service and National Park Service National Rec- reation Symposium held in October 1988. We conducted our work between March 1988 and September 1989 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. We obtained the views of Forest Service officials responsible for special rec- reation areas and incorporated them where appropriate. As requested, however, we did not obtain official written agency comments on this report. Page 13 GAO/RCED90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives Table 2.1: Special Recreation Areas Reporting Dropped Projects or Delays in Area Examples of delayed projects Developing Planned Recreation Facilities spruce Knob:S;neca Rocks Campgrounds, p~cnrc areas, scenic drive Shasta-Tnnlty Campgrounds, InformatIon station, vIsItor center Mt Rogers Campgrounds Flamrng Gorge Boat ramp, informatlon slte Oregon Dunes VIewpoInt and InformatIon statlons, wsltor center, parklng imrxovements Sawtooth Campgrounds, trailheads Hells Canvon lnteroretive facilities. roads Arapaho Campgrounds, picnic area Admiraltv Island Foot trails Mount St. Helens Viewpoint, parkrng Improvements, picnic area Details describing three examples of delayed or dropped projects at sites we visited are discussed below. Hells Canyon National Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Oregon and Idaho contains the deepest canyon in the ITnited States-even deeper than the Grand Can- Recreation Area yon. As provided for in the area plan, the area was to include a wide range of recreation activities, including driving access to scenic over- looks of the canyon and boating on the Snake River below. When the area was designated in 1975, roads for reaching the canyon rim and the river were not in good condition. One of the key objectives of the area plan was to improve the roads to these areas. The plan specified projects to reconstruct several roads, including one to a viewpoint on the can- yon’s western rim and two to boat launch areas on the river. Projects to improve these three roads were identified in the area plan that was approved in 1981. Appeals by various interest groups delayed implementation of the plan until 1984, and according to a Forest Service official, funding limitations then delayed work on any of the three roads until 1988. During the 13-year period since the area’s designation, driv- ing access to these areas has been restricted to those visitors willing to risk travel on extremely rough roads. More specifically: l The road to the viewpoint at the canyon rim is a 24-mile dirt and gravel road that requires about a 3-hour trip each way because of its rough condition. The Forest Service does not recommend the road for automo- biles with low clearance or automobiles pulling trailers. In wet weather, the Forest Service requires vehicles using the road to have either tire chains or 4-wheel drive. In 1988. the Forest Service received about Page 15 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives the Sawtooth NRA [National Recreation Area] is causing resource and visual damage, especially along the Salmon River.” Pettit Lake is another example of an area where campsites are inade- quate at Sawtooth. This area was scheduled for a campground with 40 sites in 1975 to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors. An area official explained that because the campground has not been built, an area originally designated for day use only has been converted to an overnight campground, with barriers installed to keep campers from camping too close to the lake. However, we observed that the barriers had been removed. As a result, recreation vehicles were occupying the shoreline, limiting day-use access and damaging shoreline vegetation. Oregon Dunes National The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, established in 1972, is located on a scenic U.S. highway along the Oregon coast. The recreation Recreation Area area is 41 miles long and contains sand dunes ranging from small dunes with crests of 6 to 8 feet to large dunes with heights to 300 feet and lengths to 5,000 feet. The area had about 1.4 million recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest data available). The Forest Service esti- mated that nearly one-third of the visitors were off-road vehicle users. The area plan, approved in 1979, called for construction of a broad range of information and interpretive facilities to inform the visiting public about the Dunes environment and the recreation opportunities there. The plan called for construction of a visitor center, information stations at the north and south ends of the area, and two dune over- looks, but did not include cost estimates for these facilities. During our visit, we found that many of these projects had not been implemented. The Forest Service Area headquarters office, located approximately at the midpoint of the 41.mile length of the area, was the only place where information brochures and maps were available. As a result, visitors entering the area from the north or the south must travel about 20 miles to obtain information about the dunes. Although a few key roadside locations had informative pictorial signs (the result of a 3-year, $1.15 million sign project completed in 1988), we found other significant fea- tures and access points unmarked. As of March 1989, area officials said that only one of the information and interpretive facility projects, an overlook costing about $350,000, was completed. The second overlook, which was originally scheduled for completion in 1983. is currently planned for construction in 1994. The plan for the area no longer calls for the visitor center or information Page 17 GAO/RCED9027 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives We found that visitor programs and services (such as educational pro- Most Areas Not grams and visitor information services) at most special recreation Receiving Showcase areas-regardless of when the areas were established-generally fell Management short of the showcase level directed by Forest Service policy. Forest Ser- vice internal reviews at some areas have noted that developed site facili- ties were generally not managed at expected showcase levels and that interpretive services were below the level anticipated in the area plan. We asked the managers of the 20 special recreation areas to describe the adequacy of the condition of facilities and level of service for programs. As table 2.2 shows, managers of 15 areas reported that they believed their interpretive services were inadequate to meet the needs of the visi- tors or that they had lowered maintenance or cleanup levels between fiscal years 1984 and 1988. Table 2.2: Area Officials’ Responses to Questions on the Adequacy of Inadequate interpretive Lowered maintenance or or Interpretive Services and Maintenance Area services (yes/no) cleanup levels (yes/no) Levels Pre61980 areas AraDaho Yes Yes Flaming Gorge Yes Yes Hells Canyon Yes Yes Mt. Rogers Yes Yes Oregon Dunes Yes Y&S Sawtooth Yes Yes $r%e Knob-Seneca Rocks No No Shasta~Tnnlty Yes Yes __ ~~ - Post-1980 areas Admiralty Island Yes Yes Allegheny No Yes Columbia River Gorge No response No response Misty Fiords Yes NO Mono Basin Yes No Mount Baker Yes Yes Mount St Helens No Yes North Cascade Yes No Oregon Cascade No No Pine Rldqe ~- No No Rattlesnake No Yes White Rocks No No Officials at 12 of the 20 areas indicated that inadequate funding or staffing was the c’ausr for areas’ having lower maintenance or cleanup Page 19 GAO/RCED-99-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives . Shasta-Trinity had an interpretation services program that included campfire theatre programs and guided nature hikes prior to 1979. An area official said that three full-time and five seasonal staff were availa- ble for this function then. He added that since 1980, staffing for this function has been reduced to the point where only one of his staff has some interpretation duties. As a result, according to the official, these services have been virtually nonexistent for the past 10 years. The Forest Service has ackn.owledged that except in a few select loca- tions, interpretation has been all but eliminated because of funding pri- orities. According to one official, the first casualty of reduced budgets is interpretive services, which are eliminated in favor of maintaining facil- ities. Officials at five of the nine areas we visited indicated that increas- ing funding levels for interpretive service would be essential to achieve the showcase management objectives established for these areas in For- est Service policy. Maintenance Levels Officials of 12 of the 20 areas reported to us that maintenance or Reduced cleanup levels had been lowered between 1983 and 1988. At some areas, this meant postponing needed facility repairs until they become critical. Officials at two of the older areas stated that more money and staff had been available for maintenance a decade ago, and several officials said their areas had declined in terms of overall condition since being estab- lished as special recreation areas.:! Thus, many areas we visited were not being maintained at showcase levels. The following are examples of con- ditions reported: . At Arapaho, the staff reported that all maintenance except for health and safety items had been postponed or eliminated since the early 1980s. As a result, nearly two-thirds of the area’s 345 developed over- night camping sites have not been adequately maintained. According to an area official, because of this insufficient maintenance, many of these sites are substandard and visitors must put up with eroded and uneven camping pads, broken or missing fire rings, unpainted structures, and old, leaking toilets. l i\t Flaming Gorge, the staff reported that necessary preventive mainte- nance work on complex sewage and water systems had not been done. According to an area official, five full-time people would be required to %~!ausc information on oyxalions and maintenancefunding at the arealevel had beendiscardedor sent to storagefor the years bc>fow1986,WC’were not able to determinethe historical pattern of funding for operationsand mamtenancr Page 21 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives An effective monitoring and information-reporting system on the status Status of Planned of the special recreation areas does not exist. As a result, information on Objectives Not progress made, deferments, and future resource needs for the special Adequately Monitored recreation areas has generally not been developed and reported. and Reported To determine the progress made at special recreation areas compared with planned objectives, we reviewed Forest Service budget submissions to the Congress and found that such information was not included in the submissions. We also asked officials at Forest Service headquarters for these data and found that they did not have this information. Conse- quently, we queried officials at the individual special recreation areas for this information. We found that the monitoring and evaluation of recreation development and progress varied greatly among the areas. For example, while offi- cials at 10 of the 20 areas provided us a list showing delays in complet- ing projects contained in the area plans, some of these lists did not include all the project.s proposed in the area plan or did not include the current status of all pro,jcc’ts. As a result, we were unable to directly quantify the exact nurnb(~r of projects delayed or the average length of the delays. In addition officials at most of the arcas we visited were unable to provide us with documentation detailing planned, actual, and scheduled project complct ion. For example, at one of the areas, we were told that there was n(~ written documentation reporting the status of past construction a11drcronstruction projects included in the area plan. With regard to visitor st‘r\ ices and facility maintenance, Forest Service internal evaluations 01 some areas have noted problems accompanying lower-than-planned I~~\~lsof’ visitor services and facilities maintenance. For example, a 1984 allalysis of special recreation areas in the Pacific Northwest stated, “lOr~r] credibility with the public get,s stretched fur- ther each year as w(b fail to meet our publicly-proclaimed commitments.” A 1987 management r(bviw focusing on Mount St. Helens stated that “the Forest, Service inragc could be tarnished if facilities are allowed to deteriorate and publit sclrvices arc‘ significantly reduced.” Also in 1987, a report on Flaming Gorgtl and Sawtooth concluded that “capital invest- ments are deteriorating and many improvements will soon reach a point where public healf I ( imd safety will be compromised. This could result in the need to close swtx~ fac4ities.” However. these internal evaluations are not prepared on 21rc,glllar basis and do not always include an exami- nation of all plannctd gO>IIsand objectives. Page 28 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Development, Operations, and Maintenance Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations According to special recreation area officials, funding and staffing shortfalls were often the cause of the delays in facility development, the inadequacy of visitor information services, and lower maintenance and cleanup levels discussed in the previous chapter. Funding decreases (expressed in constant 1989 dollars) for special recreation areas mir- rored general decreases in Forest Service recreation funding between 1980 and 1986. Funding for Forest Service-wide recreation during fiscal years 1987-89 has been increased, but as of fiscal year 1989 had not been restored to the fiscal year 1980 level. Officials at six of the nine special recreation areas we visited told us that they believed the current increased funding levels would allow them t,o complete planned develop- ment projects within 10 years, but officials at all nine areas said the increased funding levels were still insufficient to meet operations and maintenance needs. The Forest Service has recently initiated efforts to offset its anticipated recreation funding shortfall. In April 1988, it issued a National Recrea- tion Strategy, which calls for stretching available federal dollars through greater use of volunteers and through seeking out public and private groups to share the expense of developing, repairing, and oper- ating facilities. Although these efforts may provide some help, we believe it is questionable whether they will provide sufficient additional resources to develop planned facilities and achieve a showcase level of operations at the special recreation areas. Special recreation area managers told us that shortfalls in funding and Funding for Forest staffing were often the reason for the delays in projects, the inadequacy Service-Wide of visitor information services, and the lower levels of cleanup and Recreation Fell maintenance. Specifically, officials at 8 of the 10 areas where facility developments had been delayed or dropped cited funding or staffing Substantially During shortfalls as the reason. At all 15 areas where services and/or mainte- the Early 1980s nance levels had been reduced, officials cited funding or staffing as the cause. However, the Forest Service was unable to provide us with annual recreation funding allocated to these areas for fiscal years 1980 through 1985. As a result, we could not develop quantifiable trend data on funding levels for t.hcse areas for the lo-year period ending Septem- ber 1989. As a surrogate, we used Service-wide recreation funding allo- cations to determine the direction of funding during that period. During fiscal years 1980 through 1986, the Forest Service experienced a mqjor reduction in the purchasing power of its recreation dollars. Figure 3.1 shows the level of Service-wide funding for recreation during fiscal Page 25 GAO,‘RCED-‘JO-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter :I Development, Operations, and Maintenmcc Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations “Since 1978, some maintenance and services have been deferred while operation needs were being addressed. Accumulation of deferred maintenanceis now the focus for some of the highest priority work because of the potential investment loss and rapidly increasing nwd for major site and facility restorations.” The update stated that the percentage of Service-wide recreation use management that meets full Forest Service standards for quality recrea- tion had decreased from 74 percent in 1978 to 27 percent in 1985. It concluded that financial and work force limitations reduced the agency’s capability to manage recreation at acceptable levels and “results directly in facility deterioration and closure.” The deferred maintenance and facility deterioration caused by the shortfall in funding has contributed significantly to a growing Service- wide backlog of recreation repair and reconstruction projects. The For- est Service reported that the Service-wide backlog of recreation facilities in need of repair and reconstruction increased from a 1978 total of about $134 million to nearly $300 million by 1986. The Forest Service reported that $52 million of this amount was directly related to high- priority projects to reduce health and safety hazards to the public. Special Recreation Areas During fiscal years 1980-86, the Forest Service generally did not single Also Affected by Declining out special recreation areas for priority funding. Most of the special rec- rcation area managers we talked to stated that they had to compete Budget with other forest areas on a near-equal footing for limited resources to implement their plans. These managers reported that this, combined with Service-wide budget reductions, has resulted in a decline in both facility development and operations funding similar to that experienced Service,-wide. Because, information on operations and maintenance fund- ing by area had, in most cases, been discarded or sent to storage for the years before 1986. WI’ wer(L not able to determine the historical funding pattern. Beginning in fiscal year 1987, Service-wide funding for recreation Recent Funding increased, as figure 3.1 shows. Expressed in constant dollars, fiscal year Increases Inadequate 1989 funding was about 30 percent greater than the fiscal year 1986 to Address Backlog l~t~l. According to t htb Forest Service, however, this Service-wide inc,reasc in recreation f’unding has not been sufficient to eliminate con- struction backlogs or bring maintenance up to levels described in forest plans. In a 1989 rrporl, the Forest Service compared planned recreation neclds Icported in the f’orttst plans to initial funding allocations for fiscal Page 27 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 3 Development, Operations, and Maintenance Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations through the use of volunteers and partnerships to help operate and maintain facilities and support recreation projects. The strategy applies to all national forests; however, it specifically calls for recognizing the value of special recreation areas within the forests. The new recreation strategy has not been in place long enough to deter- mine the extent to which it will enhance the development and operation of special recreation areas. However, two internal Forest Service analy- ses identified several concerns brought up by Forest Service employees that may limit the strategy’s effectiveness: (1) limitations in the ability of the current “busy” Forest Service work force to accomplish addi- tional responsibilities, (2) limitations on the use of volunteers, and (3) an absence of guidelines on establishing and implementing partnership agreements. With regard to the first concern, Forest Service employees said that the “workbench is full” and that they do not have extra time to take on new tasks, such as developing partnership skills and strategies and imple- menting volunteer programs. Forest Service officials also noted that many employees are so pressed by day-t,o-day tasks and existing priori- ties that they do not have sufficient time to adequately plan and imple- ment new programs. With regard to the second concern, the Forest Service employees noted that although individual volunteers contribute significantly to the devel- opment, operation, and maintenance of recreation facilities, volunteers are not free labor. Recruiting, training, and supervising volunteers require a considerable investment of time and money, with no assurance that volunteers will remain committed and available. Finally, the Forest Service chief and his staff discussed the need for partnership guidelines to support managers’ efforts to increase the num- bers and kinds of partnerships. However, as of May 1989, guidelines for managing partnerships had not been finalized. Recreation Cost Share To supplement the new strategy, the Forest Service implemented the Program Recreation Challenge Cost Share Program. To compete for funds under this program, forest managers must secure matching contributions from private individuals, public agencies, or other sources. In fiscal year 1988, the Congress appropriated $500,000 to implement the program, which generated about, $900,000 in pledged contributions, according to Page 29 GAO/RCEDSO-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 4 Conclusions and Recommendation Forest Service policy calls for special recreation areas to be managed as showcases for National Forest programs, services, and facilities. Specific development and management objectives for these areas are contained in individual plans t,he Forest Service develops for each area. We found that many of the special recreation areas fall short of expectations established for them in Forest Service policy and individual area plans both in the extent, to which facilities have been developed and in the levels at which they are operated and maintained. For example, officials at 10 of the 20 areas we reviewed reported delaying or dropping projects contained in the area plans, and officials at 15 of the 20 areas reported that visitor services were inadequate and/or that maintenance levels had been lowered. Special recreation area officials told us that funding and staffing shortfalls were often the cause of delayed or dropped facility development, inadequate interpretive services, and lowered maintenance or cleanup levels. The reported funding shortfalls at special recreation areas correspond to funding shortfalls in t,hc Forest Service recreation budgets in the 1980s. Between fiscal years 1980 and 1986, the purchasing power of the Forest Service budget for recreation declined about 26 percent. Although the Forest Service has had increases in recreation funding for the last 3 years, special recreation area officials told us that they believed these levels are still insufficient to achieve the showcase levels called for in Forest Service policy for these areas. The Forest Service has developed initiatives to encourage public contri- butions of time and dollars, which could help offset these shortfalls. Although these initiatives will doubtless provide some help, preliminary indications are that thc‘rc are limitations on the amount of these resources and the Forest Service’s ability to use them. It is unlikely that in themselves the additional resources available to the Forest Service through its initiatil ESwill bridge the gap to achieve full showcase levels of development ant1 opt’rations for the special recreation areas. Detailed information on the amount of resources that would be needed t,o develop, operate>. and maint.ain these areas up to the levels called for in Forest Service policy and the individual area plans is not readily available. In addition. information on progress made, deferments, and future needs has gt~n~Xrallynot been developed. Without such data, ncithr>r the Forest Servict> nor the Congress has the detailed information needed to make decisions on appropriate levels of funding and time frames for meeting thcl goals established for these areas. We did find one area-Mount St,. I1~~l(~~\s~P~wh(lrr officials tracked, updated, and Page 31 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Page 33 GAO/RCED-9027 National Recreation Areas Appendix I Funding Levels for Special Recreation Areas Fundinq level (actual dollars) Activity FY 1966 FY 1967 FY 1966 FY 1969 Arapaho National Recreation Area: Established October 1976 Recreation use $193,000 $238,000 $225,000 $121,000 Recreation construction 19,500 35,200 60,000 271,000 OtheP 6,650 34,800 15,700 8,000 Total $219,150 $306,000 $300,700 $400,000 Rattlesnake National Recreation Area: Established October 1960 Fiecreatton use $10,000 $10,000 $10,000 $12,000 Recreation constructIon 0 70,000 0 0 Other" 5,000 25,000 10,000 8,000 Total $15.000 $105.000 $20.000 $20.000 Admiralty Island National Monument: Established December 1960 Recreation use $52,430 $45,130 $50,250 $256,500" Recreation construction -~ 0 0 0 15,000 Other” 224,380 265,290 327,140 203,428 Total $276,610 $310,420 $377,390 5474,920 Misty Fiords National Monument: Established December 1980 Recreation use $35,900 $20,500 $11,900 $164,500b Recreation constructIon 15,000 0 0 0 Other" 447,200 488.900 369,000 424,400 Total $498,1 $509,4 $380,9 $588,900 Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument: Established August 1982 Recreation use $700,000 $800,000 $850,000 $850,000 Recreation constructIon 1,600,OOO 850,000 766,000 3,400.000 Othera 530,000 2,990.000 944,000 6,428,OOO Total $2,830,000 $4,640,000 $2,560,000 810,678,OOO White Rocks National Recreation Area: Established June 1984 Recreation use $5,000 $5,000 $5,000 $15,000 Recreatton construction 18,600 40,000 3,000 0 Other" 29,600 4,000 5,500 12,500 Total $53,200 $49,000 513.500 527.500 Page 35 GAO/RCRD-9027 National Recreation Areas Appendix I Funding Levels for Special Recreation Areas Funding level (actual dollars) Activitv FY 1966 FY 1967 FY 1966 FY 1969 Total Allocation .~ For Areas Listed Above Recreation use $3,757,520 $4,969,500 $5,187,180 $6,408,525 Recreatron construction 1,952,400 2.750,150 3,666,200 10,553,900 Subtotal for recreation $5,709,920 $7,719,650 $8,853,380 $16,962,425 OtheP 2,552,620 5,934,580 4,243.910 10,932,243 Total for recreation and other 56.262.540 51X654.230 $13.097.290 $27.694.666 aThe “other” budget actwty reported here includes fundrng for other recreation-related actrvrtres asso- crated wrth these areas, rncludrng trawl maintenance, tra constructvan, and wrlderness management, where applrcable %cludes wlderness management fundrng that was rncluded rn the “other” fundlng actrvrty reported rn prewus fiscal years Page 37 GAO/RCEB9@27 National Recreation Areas Appendix U Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas The major features of the Shasta and Trinity units are the lakes-Lake Shasta, with a 370-mile shoreline offering wooded flats, steep rocky hill- sides, creeks, and thousands of acres of mountainous country surround- ing the lake, and Clair Engle Lake and Lewiston Lake on the Trinity unit, with 145-mile and 15-mile shorelines, respectively. Both units offer boating, water skiing, swimming, fishing, camping, picnicking, hiking, and hunting. Both Shasta and Clair Engle Lakes have outstanding houseboating opportunities. Area officials report approximately 3 mil- lion recreation visitor days annually. The designating legislation directs that the area provide for (1) public outdoor recreation benefits; (2) conservation of scenic, scientific, his- toric, and other values contributing to public enjoyment; and (3) man- agement utilization and disposal of renewable natural resources that are compatible with and do not significantly impair public recreation and the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic, or other values contribut- ing to public enjoyment. The Forest Service’s major planned objective for the area is to recon- struct existing campground facilities. In addition, the area plan calls for constructing major forest roads to five areas that provide access to the lakes or are sites for potential development of several large, modern campgrounds. These campgrounds will replace the many small, scat- tered sites around Shasta Lake, which the Forest Service plans to close because they are costly to operate. The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, located in the Jefferson Mount Rogers National National Forest in Virginia, was established in May 1966. The 154,000- Recreation Area acre area is characterized by scenic mountainous terrain, including Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. The area’s landscape theme is rural America, and its intent is to retain and restore visual elements of early rural America, including stone bridges, rail fences, old mills, stone iron fences, and intermingled fields and forests. The Mount Rogers area is located in southwest Virginia. Included among the recreational oppor- tunities at Mount Rogers are camping, picnicking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and swimming. Mount Rogers officials reported about 693,000 recreational visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). Mount Rogers’ authorizing legislation calls for the Secretary of Agricul- ture to manage the area for public outdoor recreation benefits; conserve Page 39 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas area is open to off-road vehicles. Other recreation opportunities include camping, hiking, fishing, and environmental education and interpreta- tion. Area officials reported approximately 1.4 million recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). About one-quar- ter of the yearly visitors are off-road vehicle recreationists. The law established thcl area “in order to provide for the public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment” and for “the conservation of scenic, sci- entific, historic, and other values contributing to public enjoyment.” The area plan, approved in 1979, proposed managing the area to provide for a broad spectrum of recreation activities. It called for confining develop- ment to the perimetflr, leaving the interior in an undeveloped state. It also called for retaining cxist,ing access roads and campgrounds and did not propose any new a~ess roads to the beach. The area plan also pro- vidcd for a formal visitor center, unmanned visitor contact stations at the north and south boundaries, and a moderate number of signs to help interpret resources The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is in the Sawtooth National For- Sawtooth - National est in central Idaho The Congress designated the 756,000-acre area in Recreation Area August 1972. Located about 120 miles from Boise, Idaho, it is accessible by two state highways The Sun Valley resort lies near the southern end. Three other communities lie within the area-Stanley, Lower Stanley, and Sawtooth City--offering restaurants, lodging, and other facilities. Encompassing parts I )I’ three mountain ranges, the area includes over 300 high mountain lakes and hundreds of streams. The area also con- tains the headwatcrs of several major Idaho rivers, most notably the Salmon River. In 1972. legislation established the 217,088-acre Sawtooth Wilderness, which makes up about 29 percent of the area. The area emphasizes a widtl rang? of primitive and developed activities, including camping, hiking, bacakpacking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, and hunting. The area also offers boating and other water-related activities on the many lakes in the area, while the Salmon River provides white-water rafting opportunities. Area officials estimate that the arca averages about 1 million recreation visitor days each year. The area was established to ensure that the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values are preserved and protected and that recreation valu~u arc enhanced. Page 41 GAO/RCED-W-27 National Recreation Areas ---~ Appendix II Sg nopsis of Special Recreation Areas recreation objectives. The area plan was approved in January 1985. We were told that the plan recognized that public facility areas were over- crowded, and outlined a number of projects designed to improve availa- ble facilities and activities. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area is located in the Lo10 National Rattlesnake National Forest within 5 miles of Missoula, Montana. Established in October Recreation Area 1980, the area totals 61,000 acres, a major portion of which makes up the municipal watershed of Missoula. Valued for its solitude and free- flowing waters stored and used for municipal purposes, the area has long been used as a wilderness by residents of Montana. There are no public access roads within the area and no overnight campground facili- ties. Three trailheads provide walking access to about 230 miles of trail and primitive camping. The Forest Service estimates that there were about 6.000 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest informa- tion available). The law that created the area splits it into two almost equal portions. ,4pproximately 33,000 acres, titled the Rattlesnake Wilderness, is to be managed under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The remainder of the area is managed for watershed. recreation, wildlife habitat, and ecological and educational purposes. The Forest Service area plan calls for limited improvements to trailhcad facilities, including new toilets, an expanded parking area, and a horse-unloading ramp scheduled for 1991. Admiralty Island National Monument, in Alaska’s Tongass National For- Admiralty Island est, is accessible only bb air and water. The 969,600-acre area was desig- National Monument nated in December 1980. The island lies in the southeastern portion of the state. The island’s northeastern shore is within 10 miles of Juneau. Alaska’s capital. Mo~mtains running north to south divide the forest- covered island. The area offers dispersed primitive recreation, with opportunities for solitude, hunting, fishing, boating, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and bird watching. In addition, the designating legislation allows an existing special-use permit for a lake lodge resort to continue as long as the management of the lodge remains consistent with the purposes of the area. According to an area official, in addition to visiting the island, many people view it from tour boats and planes. The area had about 293,000 recreation visll or days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). Page 43 GAO/RCED-9027 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recwation Areas volcanic activity, then enter a transition zone where trees were killed but left standing, and end within the blown-down blast area. Turnouts along the road provide access to hiking trails and vistas of mudflows and older volcanoes: Mount Hood to the south, Mount Adams to the east, and Mount Rainier to the north. One lookout, Windy Ridge, is within 3.5 miles of the crater and provides a breathtaking panorama of the vol- cano, the building lava dome at its base, and the stark landscape created by the eruption. Naturalist activities and interpretive talks are pre- sented by Forest Service personnel to help visitors understand and enjoy this special place, and a new visitor center-opened in 1986 and only 5 miles from an interstate highway-offers displays featuring the 1980 eruption and explaining Mount St. Helens history. The Forest Service estimated that there were approximately 1 million recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The public law establishing the monument provided for protecting sig- nificant features, allowing geologic forces and ecological succession to continue unimpeded, and permitting scientific and recreation uses. The area plan, completed in 1985, presents the Forest Service’s approach to preserving the natural processes while providing for construction of trails, roads, and the associated support facilities needed for full recrea- tion use and en.joyment,. Many of the recreation construction projects listed in the plan are to replace facilities lost during the eruption: over 200 miles of roads and viewpoints, 97 miles of trails, 244 camp units, and 54 picnic units were damaged or destroyed. The plan calls for rees- tablishing road access to safe viewing points, constructing a primary visitor center, building day-use facilities and interpretive displays at key viewing points. and rrrreating an extensive trail system. White Rocks National Recreation Area was established in June 1984 and White Rocks National lies within the Manc.hester Ranger District of the Green Mountain Recreation Area National Forest. Known for its white rock cliffs and ice bed area, the 36.400-acre area is traversed by a portion of the Appalachian Trail. White Rocks was established to preserve and protect existing wilderness values and promote wildlife habitat watershed protection, opportunities for primitive and st>miprimitive recreation, and scenic ecological and sci- entific values. The area is located in south central Vermont and is acces- sible from nearby highways. The area had about 39,000 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The legislation establishing the area calls for the promotion of primitive and semiprimitive rcc*rcation usages. Approved on January 30, 1986, Page 45 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas __-. Appendix I1 Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas found in the Northwest, as well as consistently good nordic skiing condi- tions. The Forest Service reported about 12,000 recreation visitor days to the area in fiscal year 1988 (latest information available). The area was designated as part of the Washington State Wilderness Act, with direction to manage the recreation area in a manner to best provide public outdoor recreation (including but not limited to snowmo- bile use); conserve scenic, natural, historic, and other values contribut- ing to public enjoyment; and manage natural resources in a manner compatible with the purposes of the recreation area. According to an area official, between 1984, the year the area was established, and 1988, the Forest Service has essentially managed the area at the same level as before designation. About 20 miles of hiking and horse trails provide the major recreation act.ivity. A draft area plan to provide specific direction for the administration, development, and operation of the Mount Rake1 area was circulated for public input in late 1988. The draft plan includes proposals for improving and expanding the trail system, adding sanita- tion facilities, enlarging the trailheads to accommodate horse trailers, and adding signs to provide information on recreation opportunities and limitations. and descript.ions of natural and scenic features. The North Cascades Scenic Highway, managed by the Forest Service as North Cascades a national scenic area, is located in Washington State’s Okanogan and National Scenic Area Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Kational Forests and was designated in July 1984. The 87,600-acre area. located about 140 miles north of Seattle, Washington, is divided by a state highway providing the northernmost route through Washington’s rugged Cascade Mountains. The recreation activities include camping, hiking, fishing, helicopter skiing, snowmobil- ing, cross-country skiing, bicycling, driving for pleasure, and viewing scenery. The area had approximately 172,100 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The enabling legislation calls for the preservation and protection of the area’s scenic beauty and recreation qualities for future generations. As of .July 1988, the area offered a picnic area, two campgrounds, and trails. The draft plan calls for developing various new facilities or major upgrades to facilities. such as a visitor center, additional highway over- looks, picnic areas, c*ampgrounds, and trail loops. Trails will be main- tained to a level approl)riate for nonmotorized users. Paye 47 GAO/RCED9027 National Recreation Areas - Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas boat launches and a water and sanitation system, which are in good con- dition. In fiscal year 1987 (latest information available), the area had an estimated 174,000 recreation visitor days. The legislation that designated the area calls for managing the area for outdoor recreation purposes; conservation of fish and wildlife; protec- tion of watersheds; maintenance of free-flowing streams; conservation of scenic, cultural, and other natural values of the area; and develop- ment of resources while minimizing environmental disturbances such development causes. A Forest Service official explained that the Forest Service has not added any new facilities since designation, pending the development of an implementation plan with specific objectives. -___ The Pine Ridge Eational Recreation Area was designated in October Pine Ridge National 1986 and is located in northwest Nebraska approximately 300 miles Recreation Area from Denver, Colorado. The 6,600-acre area, in the Nebraska Kational Forest, is a unique island of wildlands, home to a thriving elk herd. in an area of agricultural development. The area offers primitive and semiprimitive nonmotorized recreation, such as camping, hiking, pic- nicking, horseback riding, and hunting. Area officials estimated 200 rec- reation visitor days in lQ87 and 500 in 1988 (latest information available). The area manager believes that this increase in visitors resulted from local publicity on the designation of the area. As of December 1988, the arca had two trails, one picnic area, and one toilet. The enabling legislation directed the Pine Ridge area to be managed to allow t,he continuation of existing primitive and semiprimitive rccrea- tion use; to preserve and protect the forest, aquatic, and grassland habitat; to protect and conserve special areas having uncommon or out- standing wilderness, biological, geologic, recreational, cultural, historic, archeological, scientific, or other values; to allow the continuation of existing livestock grazing uses; to control noxious weeds and insects; and to control fires. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, established in Novem- Columbia River Gorge ber 1986, includes portions of the Columbia River Gorge along the Wash- National Scenic Area ington and Oregon boundary. The area is within a l-hour drive of Portland, Oregon, by way of a major interstate highway that runs through most of the arca The 285,100-acre area is managed by the For- est Service in cooperation with the Columbia River Gorge commission. The area, part of bot 11the Gifford Pinchot and Mount Hood Kational Page 49 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix III Major Contributors to This Report James Hunt, Assistant Director Resources, Charles Rarchok, Assignment Manager Community, and Katherine Hale, Eva!uator Economic Development Division, Washington, D.C. Sterling Leibenguth, Evaluator-in-Charge Seattle Regional Office .Iulianne Hartman, Evaluator Robert Miller, Evaluator (140722) Page 51 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas Forests, offers river-oriented activities, hiking, and day-use opportuni- ties. The enabling legislation calls for protecting and enhancing scenic, cultural, recreational, and natural resources of the Columbia River Gorge. According to Forest Service officials, the area plan is expected to be approved by 1990 or 1991. Several facilities, including an interpre- tive center and a conference center, are specifically mentioned in the law. Page 60 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Sprcial Recreation Areas Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, designated in September 1984, Mono Basin National is located in east central California about 70 miles east of the Yosemite Forest Scenic Area National Park headquarters and within a few miles of the Nevada bor- der. It is accessible by state and U.S. highways. San Francisco is the nearest major city. about 4 hours driving time away. The landscape con- sists of a broad shallow basin with Mono Lake in the middle. Mono Lake is a salt lake, 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. The area includes about 115,600 acres. Because it is on the Pacific flyway, it is popular with bird watchers. The lake’s tufa towers, limestone formations similar to stalag- mites found in caves, is a scenic attraction, as are the nearby volcanic domes and craters. The area has several interpretive sites and a county- operated picnic area with restrooms. The area has no overnight camping facilities. The area had an estimated 78,200 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The public law designating the scenic area provided for the protection of the area’s geologic. ecological, and cultural resources, as well as for rec- reation and interpretive use and scientific research. The law made these provisions subordinate: to protecting the existing water rights of the state of California. The act also required a study of the ecology of the scenic area by the Nat ional Academy of Sciences and authorized con- struction of a visitor cacntrr. The Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement and area plan in September 1988. The draft plan’s preferred alternative emphasizes interprct.ivc opportunities and the possible construction of a campground. The arc’s received funding for a visitor center in fiscal year 1988 and expects to have a $4.3 million center completed in 1990. The Allegheny National Recreation Area, located in the Allegheny Allegheny National National Forest in Pennsylvania, was designated in October 1984. The Recreation Area area is easily accessible by state highways and is about 160 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to a Forest Service official, a por- tion of the area makes up part of the Allegheny front, which is primar- ily wilderness and undeveloped forest land. He explained that it is used for low-development rc>creation opportunities-such as hiking, dis- persed camping, and hunting, since it is next to a designated wilderness. Ife also noted that t tic area includes part of the Allegheny reservoir, which offers more developed recreation facilities, such as campgrounds and boat launches. 111addition to hiking trails. Forest Service officials report that all facilitic>s ar(b in fair condition, with the exception of the Page 48 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas the area plan calls for the development of some winter and summer trails, more camp sites, and additional parking facilities. The Oregon Cascades Recreation Area, which the Forest Service man- Oregon Cascades ages as a national management emphasis area, was established in June National Management 1984 and is located in southwest Oregon along the spine of the Cascade Emphasis Area Mountain range north of Crater Lake National Park. Portland, Oregon, is about a 4-hour drive via interstate and state highways. The 156,9OO- acre area includes 70.800 acres of designated wilderness and a section of the popular Pacific Crest Trail. The area is largely roadless and has only hike-in campgrounds. It offers no information and interpretive services. The recreation opportunities available in the area include fishing, hunt- ing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. The nonwilderness parts of the area offer a back-country experience for drivers of off-road vehicles and an alternative to off-road driving at the Oregon Dunes National Rec- reation Area. The area had about 6,600 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The enabling legislation, among other things, directed the Forest Service to maintain the natural scenic characteristics of the area to the extent practicable, and to provide for the use of motorized recreation vehicles. The draft area plan calls for low-intensity, semiprimitive use. Although trails are to be improved and expanded, no new facilities are proposed or anticipated for the area. The Mount Baker IGational Recreation Area, established in July 1984, Mount Baker National consists of 8,600 acres on the south slope of Mount Baker, locat.ed about Recreation Area 100 miles north of Staattle, Washington. The area consists primarily of four large subalpine meadow systems with panoramic views of the 10,778.foot summit of this dormant volcano, which is capped with snow year-round. The arca is rich with interesting geologic features associ- ated with glaciation and volcanism. The Sulphur Creek lava flow and Rocky Creek mudflows are visible from many points within the area. Also, the ancient remains of cinder cones and a massive trench carved by the action of a glacier are accessible for exploration. Access to the area is primarily limlt.cd to a single unpaved Forest Service road, which leads to a trailhead and several high mountain trails. In summer, the area is popular with day hikers, backpackers, mountaineers, and horse groups. The area offers only back-country camping, with access only by trail. In winter, the>area offers perhaps the finest off-road snowmobiling Page 46 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recrration Areas The designating legislation calls for protecting objects of ecological, cul- tural, geologic, historic, prehistoric, and scientific interests. Currently, the area has 12 primitive public recreation cabins, 6 trail shelters, 1 resort, and 24 miles of trail. The 8 miles of road, providing access to the Greens Creek Mine, is allowed under the enabling legislation. The cabins, shelters, and resort offer a primitive experience, since they have no power or water and offer only pit toilets, and there are limited plans for additional facilities. The Forest Service plans to continue development of the Admiralty Island Water Trail as part of the National Recreation Trail System, including three foot trails. The area plan also calls for replacing a bear observatory. Misty Fiords National Monument, in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, is Misty Fiords National accessible only by air or water. The 2,294,300-acre monument, estab- Monurnent lished in December 1980, is 25 air miles from Ketchikan, Alaska. Bounded by sheer granite cliffs, it is made up of both mainland property and small islands. Over 100 trout-filled lakes, densely timbered river valleys, and streams containing salmon are included in the area. In addi- tion to being able to view the area from tour boats and planes, visitors can hike, camp, cross-country ski, rock climb, and take nature photo- graphs. The area had an estimated 194,000 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The designating legislation states that the area is to be managed to pro- tect objects of ecological, cultural, geologic, historic, prehistoric, and sci- entific interest. As of October 1988, the area offered 14 primitive recreation cabins, 4 sh~~lters,and 22 miles of maintained trails. According to an area official, the current area plan calls for little change in facility development. He said more shelters may be built to protect hikers from storms, and plans include adding to the existing trail sys- tem. In addition, arca officials are exploring the offering of interpretive services on tour boats m partnership with private businesses. On May 18, 1980, after 123 quiet years, Mount St. Helens in southwest Mount St. Helens Washington State erupted, blasting 1,300 feet from its summit and National Volcanic transforming the green forest around it into a blown-down, gray land- Monument scape. The 1 lO,OOO-acreMount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created in 1982 and is within a 4-hour drive of Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Within the monument, Forest Service roads wind through forest where a layer of pumice is the only sign of recent Page 44 GAO/RCED-99.27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, established in December Hells Canyon National 1975, is located in west central Idaho and northeastern Oregon. It is Recreation Area about 4 hours driving time from Boise, Idaho, the nearest metropolitan area. The Snake River flows north through the 652,500-acre area, form- ing the boundary between the two states. The 67.5 miles of river have wild or scenic designations under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The area’s terrain is rugged; elevations range from 9,393 feet to 800 feet, where the Snake River leaves the area. On three-quarters of the area, the ground slopes at 30 percent or more. Access within and to Hells Can- yon is not easy. Approximately 79 percent of the area is roadless and undeveloped or is classified as wilderness. Only two unimproved roads in the area offer access to the Snake River. Fishing, hunting, sightseeing, and hiking are long-established pursuits in Hells Canyon. Trail riding and floating or jet boating on the Snake River are available to visitors. The area also contains prehistoric and historic sites. The estimated number of recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available) was 210,000. The public law creating the area contained objectives that included pro- viding public outdoor recreation; protecting the free-flowing nature of the rivers; conserving scenic, wilderness, cultural, and scientific values; and utilizing natural resources-such as timber, minerals, and range- land-in a manner compatible with the other objectives. The law allowed 5 years for completion of an area plan. The Chief of the Forest Service approved the area plan in May 1981, but the resolution of appeals delayed release of the plan for implementation until April 1984. The plan emphasized improving vehicle access within the area and con- tained a facility development program over two 5-year periods. The Arapaho National Recreation Area is located in the Arapaho and Arapaho National Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado and was designated in October Recreation Area 1978. According to an area official, water-based recreation on five lakes is the major attraction of the 35,700-acre area. These lakes constitute the “Great Lakes of Colorado,” a part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Water Diversion Pro.ject. The Arapaho area is located within a 2-hour drive of Denver. Colorado. The area’s visitation was reported at 475,000 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). Arapaho’s authorizing legislation requires the Secretary of Agriculture to provide for public recreation and enjoyment; conservation and devel- opment of scenic, natural, historic, and pastoral values in the area; and use and management of natilral resources in a manner compatible with Pa@= 42 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas scenic, scientific, historic, and other values contributing to public enjoy- ment; and manage, use, and dispose of natural resources in a manner compatible with and not significantly impairing, the recreation area’s purposes. The Secretary of Agriculture was also authorized to acquire needed lands for the area and directed to institute an accelerated pro- gram of outdoor recreation facilities development. The Mount Rogers area has had two area plans-the first approved in 1968 and a revision prepared in 1980. The current plan calls for low-density recreation development. The Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, established in October Flaming Gorge 1968, is located in the northeastern corner of Utah and the southwest National Recreation portion of Wyoming. One of the most popular activities in the area is Area boating on the 92-mile-long Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The Green River, below the Flaming Gorge Dam at t.he southern end of the Reservoir, is also popular with fishermen and floaters. In addition to water-oriented activities, recreation inchides camping, hunting, and hiking. Area offi- cials reported about 680,000 recreation visitor days in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available). The Congress created the area for the purpose of “public outdoor recre- ation use and enjoyment” and “the conservation of scenic, scientific, his- toric, and other values contributing to public enjoyment.” The area plan, approved in October 1977, emphasized the recreational uses of the area and promoted appropriate multiple uses of the land. Many facilities needed for the varied recreation purposes were already in place at the time of the plan’s issuance. They included 22 campgrounds and picnic sites, 9 boat ramps, 4 boat campsites, and 2 visitor centers, The area plan proposed (1) providing adequate water and sanitation facilities, (2) completing projects under construction, (3) expanding existing facilities when necessary, and (4) constructing needed new facilities. The Oregon Dunes Kational Recreation Area, established in March 1972, Oregon Dunes National is a 4 1-mile strip of land on the central Oregon coast about 150 miles Recreation Area southwest of Portland, Oregon. Access to the area is via a U.S. highway, which roughly parallels the east boundary About one-third of the 33,996acre area cant ains active, open sand dunes. These dunes range from small dunes with crests 6 to 8 feet high to large dunes with heights to 300 feet above sea level and lengths to 5,000 feet. Two major rivers and four smaller streams dissect the area. The area has 32 freshwater lakes within its boundaries or adjacent to it. About 47 percent of the Page 40 GAO/RCED90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix II Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area was established in Spruce Knob-Seneca September 1965. Located in northeastern West Virginia near the Vir- Rocks National ginia border, the lOO,OOO-acrearea is about 175 miles from Richmond, Recreation Area Virginia. Featuring the highest mountain in West Virginia, along with spectacular rock formations, the area is considered to be one of the most challenging rock-climbing destinations in the East. Other attractions include fishing, hunting, and white-water canoeing. According to an area official, state and federal highways into the area are narrow, two-laned roads. He also stated that a planned major four-lane highway was never completed. Recreation visits have lagged far behind original projections. The 1969 management plan for the area estimated that recreation visi- tor days would grow from 110,000 in 1967 to 2.5 million by 1980 and 5 million by 2000. Forest Service officials reported that recreation visitor days at the area in fiscal year 1987 (latest information available) totaled 150,000. The legislation establishing the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks area called for the Secretary of Agriculture to provide for public outdoor recrea- tion; conservation of the scenic, scientific, and historic values of the area; and management of natural resources in a manner compatible with the purpose of the recreation area. The law requires the Secretary of Agriculture to institute an accelerated program of developing facilities for outdoor recreation The 1969 area plan called for an aggressive pro- gram of campground, picnic, road, trail, and related facility construc- tion. According to area officials, only a small portion of planned facility development has occurred for a variety of reasons, including (1) public opposition to development, (2) decisions not to build two scenic drives through the area, and (3) problems with the limestone strata in the area, which precluded lake development. Forest Service officials said they formulated a new forest plan in 1986 that shifted the emphasis for the special recreation area from the old concept of extensive development to one of limited recreation development. Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity Xational Recreation Area is located in Whiskeytown-shasta- northern California approximately 200 miles north of San Francisco. Trinity National The area was established in November 196.5 to recognize the recreation Recreation Area opportunities provided by reservoirs created by the Bureau of Reclama- tion’s Central Valley Project. The 212,000 acres of the Shasta and Trin- ity units are administered by the Forest Service, while the National Park Service administers the Whiskeytown unit, which includes Whis- keytown Lake. Interstate 5 runs through the Shasta unit, and a state highway allows access to the Trinity unit. Page 38 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix I Fhding Levels for Special Recreation Areas Funding level (actual dollars) Activity FY 1966 FY 1987 FY 1966 FY 1969 Oregon Cascades National Management Emphasis Area: Established June 1984 Recreation use $7,600 $7,800 $11,200 $27,000 Recreatm constructm 0 0 8,000 17,600 OtheP 0 0 0 21.500 $7,600 $7,800 $19,200 $66,100 Mt. Baker National Recreation Area: Established July 1984 Recreation use $7,000 $12,000 $12,000 $15,000 Recreation constructIon 0 10,000 10,000 0 Othera 23,000 68,000 78,000 16,000 Total $30,000 $90,000 $100,000 $31,000 North Cascades ~ National ~._____. Scenic Area: Established July 1964 Recreation use $30,000 $32,000 $35,000 $40,000 Recreation construcbon 23,000 0 2,000 6,400 OtheP 16,000 16,000 18,000 20,000 Total $69.000 $48,000 $55.000 $66.400 Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area: Established Seotember 1984 Recreatfon use $63,930 $81,900 $78,500 $78,700 Recreation construchon 15,900 18,500 13,200 4.120.000 OtheP 120,920 108,900 102,500 234,000 ,. ___~ __~~ Total $200,750 $209,300 $194,200$4,432,700 Allegheny National Recreation Area: Established October 1984 Recreation use $84,500 $82,000 $89,000 $82,000 Recreation construction 0 0 29,000 0 Other” 1.500 1.200 1.000 ~~ ~.500 Total $86,000 $83,000 $119,000 $87,500 Pine Ridge National Recreation Area: Established October 1986 Recresse- $800 $1,000 $9,065 Recreation constructlon 0 0 0 Othera 5,700 3,800 4,300 Total $6.500 $4.800 $13.365 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area: Established November 1986 Recreation use $45.000 $315,000 $426,000 $794,000 Recreation constructlon 0 0 0 50,000 Other” 5,000 35,000 164,000 0 Total $50.000 $350.000 8590.000 $844.000 (continued) Page 36 GAO/RCEDSO-27 National Recreation Areas Appendix I F’unding Levels for Special Recreation Areas - Funding Ilevel (actual dollars) Activity FY 1986 FY 1987 FY 1988 FY 1989 Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area: Established September 1965 Recreation use $104,000 $120,000 $165,000 $114,800 Recreation construction 126.400 822 000 1 475.000 705.900 OtheP 8,700 215,400 102,000 740 700 TiGi $239,100 $1,157,400 $1,742,000 $1,561,400 Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area: Established November 1965 Recreation use $635,090 $1,059,930 $1,094,000 $887,500 Kecieatlon constructior 15,000 420,950 0 42,600 Other" 851,730 934,890 1,110,000 1,098,584 Total $1,501,820 $2,415,770 $2,204,000 $2,028,084 Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area: Established May 1966 Recreation use $106,780 $138,770 $130,860 $147,531 Recreation construcbov 0 133,500 0 889,000 Other+ 44,720 37,300 20,460 -83;331 Total $151,500 $309,570 $151,320 $1,119,862 Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area: Established October 1968 R&reatlon use $567,690 $745,870 $773,670 $982,929 Recreation construction 30,000 112,000 425,000 538,000 Other" 20,920 83,500 7,810 4,000 Total $618,610 $941,370 $1,206,480 $1,524,929 Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: Established March 1972 Recreation use $400,000 $540,000 $600,000 $853,000 Recreation constructlon 64,000 134,000 200,000 254,000 Other" 36,000 246,000 320,000 160,000 Total $500,000 $920,000 $1,120,000 $1,267,000 Sawtooth National Recreation Area: Established August 1972 Recreation use $561.600 $516,800 $408,800 $560,000 Recreation constructIon d 69.000 425 000 235.000 OthW 4,300 107,700 85,000 978,000 Total $565,900 $693,500 $918,800 $1.773.000 Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: Established December 1975 R&reatm use $148,000 $198,000 $210,000 $398,000 Recreation constructlon 25 000 35,000 250,000 10,000 Other" 177,000 267,000 560,000 482,000 Total - $350,000 $500,000 $1,020,000 $890,000 (continued) Page 34 GAO/RCED90-27 National Recreation Areas - Chapter 4 Conclusions and Recommendation reported progress and accomplishments annually in a 5-year outlook for achieving objectives in the area plan. Similar information for all the spe- cial recreation areas would assist the Forest Service and the Congress in making decisions on funding levels and time frames for meeting the objectives established for these areas. We recognize that in times of tight budgetary constraints all funding needs and requests may not be realized and that delays for planned projects may be expected. However, appropriate levels of funding and time frames for meeting congressional and public expectations for these areas can better be decided if both the Forest Service management and the Congress have sufficient information to make appropriate choices and trade-offs. That information is not available for Forest Service man- agement purposes or congressional review. Development and disclosure of such information is needed for the Congress and the Forest Service to make informed decisions on the benefits and consequences of various options and alternatives for these special recreation areas. We recommend that the Secretary of Agriculture direct the Chief of the Recommendation Forest Service to develop information on and periodically report the sta- tus of development, operations, and maintenance at each special recrea- tion area to the Congress. Such information should, as a minimum, include (1) aspects of each area’s plan that have been completed, (2) aspects of the plan that have yet to be completed, (3) the proposed time frame and the estimated costs associated with completing the work nec- essary to fulfill the plan, and (4) an assessment of the resources needed to operate and maintain these areas at showcase levels. Forest Service headquarters officials told us that they generally agreed with this recommendation. Page 32 GAO/RCED-SO-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 3 Dwelopment, Operations, and Maintenance Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations the Forest Service. In fiscal year 1989, the Congress increased the pro- gram’s appropriation to $3 million. Forest Service guidelines call for giving special consideration to congres- sionally designated areas within the forests-including the 20 special recreation areas-when making decisions about which projects to fund under the Recreation Challenge Cost Share Program. For fiscal year 1988, 31 projects were selected Service-wide. Forest Service officials told us that five of these projects were for special recreation areas. These five projects received $80,300 in Forest Service funding, which generated $88,000 in pledges from partners, as shown in table 3.1. Table 3.1: Forest Service Cost Share Projects Funded in Fiscal Year 1988 at Federal Nonfederal Special Recreation Areas Reviewed by Area name Project description share pledges GAO Arapaho Park with handicapped access $27,000 $27,000 Mt Rogers Handmpped access trail 25,000 25,000 White Rocks Appalachian Trail shelters 20,000 20,000 Sawtooth Hlstorlc ranger statlon restoration 6.000 7,000 Sawtooth Horse Llnloadlng faclllty 2,300 9,000 Total $80,300 $88,000 The $168,300 in federal and nonfederal funds generated by the Recrea- tion Challenge Cost Share Program for special recreation areas repre- sents about 2 percent of the $8.8 million total fiscal year 1988 recreation use and recreation c*onstruction funding reported available for all spe- cial recreation areas. Initiatives Not Likely to The increased use of volunteers, partnerships, and the cost share pro- Provide Sufficient gram provides a step toward closing the gap between current and planned recreation facility development and showcase operations at Additional Resources these areas. However. it remains to be seen just how much the initiatives will add, since many areas already use volunteers and partnerships. At many of the sites we I-Isited, officials depend on volunteers and partners to oversee campground activities, operate visitor information centers and cultural sites, assist in building trails and other facilities, and help restore historic buildings. While some officials were optimistic about increasing the level of participation, Forest Service officials’ concerns regarding using volunteers and partnerships are significant enough to suggest that these programs arc not likely to fulfill all the efforts needed to bring the areas up to the’ showcase levels called for in Forest Service policy Page 30 GAOjRCED-St-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 3 Development, Operations, and Maintenance Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations year 1989. Our analysis of final fiscal year 1989 funding allocations showed that 48 percent of the $24 million in recreation construction projects listed in forest plans for fiscal year 1989 would be funded and that about 72 percent of the $142 million in recreation operation and maintenance needs called for in forest plans would be met. Since fiscal year 1986, funding for special recreation areas has increased faster than the Service-wide rate. For example, recreation funding in constant 1989 dollars for these areas has increased about 170 percent from about $6.3 million in fiscal year 1986 to about $17 million in fiscal year 1989. Comparatively, funding for Forest Service recreation overall has increased by about 30 percent, from about $127 million to about $166 million during the same period. Detailed information on the resources needed to develop, operate, and maintain each of the special recreation areas is not readily available. Nevertheless, officials at six of the nine areas we visited said they believed that if the current higher funding levels continue, all facility development projects listed in their area plans could be completed within the next 10 years. However, most of the officials at the nine areas we visited doubted that these funding levels would be sustained. In addition, officials at all nine areas we visited told us that the increased funding available for fiscal year 1989 for recreation use activ- ities was still insufficient to meet Forest Service standards, let alone the undefined but higher showcase standard. The Forest Service has recently initiated efforts to offset its funding Forest Service shortfalls for recreation. In April 1988, it issued the National Recreation Initiatives to Offset Strategy, which gives special attention to showcasing recreation at spe- Funding Shortfalls cial recreation areas. The strategy calls for stretching available federal dollars through greater use of volunteers and through seeking out public and private groups to share the expense of developing, repairing, and operating facilities. Although these efforts may provide some help in developing and operating the areas, we believe that, on the basis of con- cerns identified by the Forest Service, they may not provide sufficient help to achieve the areas’ planned levels of facility development or a showcase level of operations. National Recreation The National Recreation Strategy has a goal of meeting recreation needs Strategy without depending solely on the Forest Service budget. The strategy encourages all Forest Service managers to leverage federal dollars Page 28 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 3 Development, Operations, and Maintenance Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations years 1980-89. Funding is expressed in terms of constant 1989 dollars, which means that funding levels for all years shown in the figure have been adjusted to the purchasing power of the dollar in fiscal year 1989. As the figure shows, the amounts available dropped from fiscal year 1980 to fiscal year 1986. In fiscal year 1980, recreation funding had a constant dollar value of $170 million. By fiscal year 1986, the value for recreation funding had dropped to $126.6 million, a reduction of about 26 percent. However, fuitding was increased in each of fiscal years 1987-89. Figure 3.1: Forest Service-Wide Trend for Recreation Funding, Fiscal Years 1980-89 Constant FY 1089 Dollars (in Millions) im 110 100 1980 1!is1 1002 1083 1984 1985 1986 1967 Iwo lom Fiscal Year In July 1986, the Forest Service reported that in recent years financial and work force limitations had reduced the agency’s capability to man- age all recreation USC’activities at acceptable levels Service-wide. In its 1985 Recommended Renewable Resources Program LJpdate,’ the Forest. Service reported: ‘The Forestand RangelandNcwwablc Kewurce Act of 1974,as amended,directs the Secretaryof Agnculture to penodlcally wscssthe status of the nation’s forest and rangeKCNXIKXS and rccom- menda programfor their managt’men+ and USP.The 1986programupdate is the third npdatc% rmde! this lrgislatmn Page 26 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectwes We did find one area-Mount St. Helens-where officials annually updated, reported progress and accomplishments, and prepared a 5-year budget for achieving planned development and operation objectives. According to officials at the Forest Service office responsible for Mount St. Helens, the annual published updates prepared for this area have contributed to keeping the planned goals and objectives stated in the area plan on target. The area manager told us that the report serves as a combination implementation plan, accomplishment report, and docu- mentation to support project needs. The detailed information contained in the reports provides an implementation schedule with associated cost estimates for review by Forest Service, local, and congressional interests. Page 24 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives provide proper maintenance to clean pipes and replace older pumps and broken pipes. He said t,hat in 1988 he did not have the resources to assign anyone full-time responsibility for maintaining these systems; consequently, the systems were vulnerable to breakdowns during peak summer weekends. An area official reported that a few breakdowns have occurred that required closing a campground. In fiscal year 1989, funding permitted dedicat,ing three full-time staff to maintaining these systems. . At Shasta-Trinity, maintenance at the primary swimming beaches for visitors to the area was reported deferred for 15 years. As a result, nearly all the sand on the beaches has eroded, leaving a strand of rocks, mud, and weeds at the water’s edge. According to an area official, these beaches are no longc>rdesirable places to swim. Of the 12 areas reporting reductions in maintenance and cleanup levels, 7 were established before 1980. ( These older areas are more vulnerable t,o the effects of drl’c~rrcd maintenance because they generally have older facilities t,o main1 ain. However, limited maintenance funds can also be a concern al newer facilities. For example, an official at Mount St. Helens, one of the newer areas, expressed concern about the impact of future deferred maintenance. He reported that after committing nearly $35 million for new facilities over the past several years, funding has not increased c*orrcspondingly to meet new operation and mainte- nance demands. He cst,lmated that a 20- to 25.percent increase would be needed over the currcmt recreation funding budget of $850,000 to bring the area’s maintenanc,c up to full Forest Service standards. He said that if the rate of maintenance funding does not increase, the new facilities would deteriorate at a faster rate than would be expected if adequate routine maintenance> were performed. We have reported that the contin- ued deferral of maintc>nanc8e.carries the potential for continuing deterio- rat.ion to t,hc point whc~rt some assets will be lost permanent1y.l Page 22 GAO/RCED99-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives levels, and officials at 9 of the 20 said that inadequate funding contrib- uted to the inadequate interpretive service levels reported. Visitor Services Are Often According to Forest Service policy, special recreation areas should pro- vide interpretive services to enhance visitors’ understanding and appre- Inadequate ciation of the areas’ special features, and these services should be maintained at showcase levels. These services include providing guided nature walks to special features, operating interpretive and information sites where visitors can obtain explanations of natural and historic events and directions to popular features, and conducting educational programs to help visitors understand and follow forest practices. While the policy does not provide details on what constitutes showcase levels, many of the area officials we talked to stated that information and interpretive services were often inadequate and did not approach show- case levels. Officials of 12 of the 20 areas stated that information or interpretive services were inadequate. Examples provided by Forest Service person- nel include the following: . At Sawtooth, eight rangers patrolled 247 miles of wilderness trail during 1980, providing information and assistance to visitors. Because of staff- ing cutbacks, only one ranger was available to provide such services in 1988, and the area staff has severely curtailed evening and weekend walks and talks at campground amphitheaters and the visitor centers. . At Flaming Gorge, Forest Service interpretive staff declined from as many as 12 in 1970 to one in 1989. As a result, weekend interpretive programs for visitors that were held at campgrounds during the May- through-September visitor season have been eliminated since 1983. In addition, a Forest Service official told us that visitors receive limited information about boating safety and regulations, environmental issues affecting the area, or the geology, cultures, and history that make the area unique. Furthermore, all four Forest Service boats used for safety and information patrols, facility maintenance, and rescue operations on the 91-mile-long reservoir were taken out of service in the mid-1980s because of funding shortfalls. In 1988, the Forest Service entered into a partnership with a local county government to jointly maintain and operate one boat to patrol the reservoir. An area official told us, how- ever, that one boat IS not sufficient to meet the area’s water recreation management responsibilities and that at least five boats are needed to conduct adequate safety and information patrols. Page 20 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives centers. According to an area official, inadequate funding was a primary reason for these projects being dropped. A Forest Service internal review of the area conducted in 1982 found the development of both information and interpretive facilities to be inadequate. The review noted that the plan, which specified a visitor center and two information stations, had been developed with public involvement but that the decision to drop these projects had been made unilaterally by the Forest Service. The review stated that “organiza- tional credibility is lost when plans that go through the public involve- ment process are abandoned or changed without reinvolving the public.” We were told that, except for the overlook and some new roadside signs, little has changed sincta 1982. -- Unlike the areas designated in the 1960s and 197Os, 10 of the 12 plans Limited Development for the areas designated in the 1980s do not call for a major investment Planned for Most in new recreation facilities. For the most part, the legislation calls for Areas Designated the continuation of existing recreation activities and the preservation of the natural resources. and plans for these areas project limited develop- During the 1980s ment. For example, the Mount Baker National Kecreation Area in Wash- ington State, established in 1984, is an 8,600-acre area used extensively for snowmobiling. The main planned developments in recreational facili- ties are restrooms, signs, and improved trails. Forest Service personnel estimate the total cost of these planned improvements at $512,000. Another example, is Admiralty Island National Monument/Wilderness in Alaska. Established in 1980, it is the second-largest special recreation area with 969,600 acres. Only about $100,000 is planned for facility projects, including a bear observatory and three trails. There are two exceptions to this general trend-Mount St. Helens and Columbia River Gorge. At Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monu- ment, Forest Service officials estimated that about $66 million would be needed for projects such as a visitor center, major road reconstruction, hiking trails, and interpretive sites. As of April 1989, about $35 million was reported spent. or obligated for these projects. At Columbia River Gorge, the Congress has authorized about $29 million for recreation facility development, including a visitor center and a conference center. The Forest Service is currently studying the recreation potential of the area before developing a facility and management plan. A completed plan is anticipated by fiscal year 1990. Page 18 GAO/RCED9@27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 2 Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives $450,000 to reconstruct about 6 miles of the road. The remaining 18 miles was scheduled for completion in 1989, but because of funding shortfalls, completion is now planned for 1990, funding permitting. l The remaining two roads provide driving access for visitors who want to tow their boats to boat launches on the river. However, because of the rough conditions of these roads, Forest Service officials do not recom- mend that vehicles pulling boat trailers use them. According to an area official, reconstruction of one of the roads is planned to start in 1990 and the other in 199 1. The Forest Service has recognized that facility development at Hells Canyon has not occurred as planned. For example, in a 1985 internal assessment of the area, the Forest Service noted that with regard to rec- reation development and road access, “there is a building groundswell of opinion that the Forest Service has not lived up to the promises of the National Recreation Area . .” Sawtooth National The Sawtooth National Recreation Area, designated in 1972, is located in Recreation Area Idaho and is a popular area for camping. When the area was designated, it had about 540 campsites. One of the goals listed in the area plan, approved in 1975, called for building 738 new campsites by 1995. The additional campsites were proposed to accommodate projected increases in visitors over a ZO-year period and to allow 25 percent of the existing campsites to be closed each season so that the impact of heavy use could be minimized. According to Forest Service officials, as of August 1988 only 75 of the 728 new campsites had been built, and the visitor trend still supports the need for the additional 663 campsites. The area manager told us that some damage to the area has occurred because the additional sites have not been built. For example, at several locations where existing campsites have been insufficient to handle demand on summer weekends, campers who are turned away from the developed areas move their recreation vehicles to undeveloped areas. The result has been damage to meadows and riverbanks, which results in soil erosion and unsightly conditions. Also, according to the manager, campers at these undeveloped areas have sometimes dumped waste- water into the river. The manager stated that both the erosion and the dumping contribute to degrading habitat for salmon and other fisheries that are specifically to be protected under the terms of the designating legislation. A 1987 Forest Service internal assessment of the area reported that “uncontrolled campground overflow to dispersed areas on Page 16 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Many Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Planned Objectives Many of the special recreation areas fell short of the expectations estab- lished for them in Forest Service policy or in the individual plans for these areas, and did not approach showcase levels. These shortfalls have occurred both in the extent to which facilities have been developed and in the level at which they have been operated and maintained. More specifically: . Officials at 10 of the 20 areas reported that planned projects have been either delayed or dropped. . Officials of 15 of the 20 areas said that visitor information or interpre- tive services were inadequate and/or that maintenance or cleanup levels have been lowered. At eight of the nine areas we visited, we found examples of inadequate services and/or maintenance activities that were at levels below full-service standards.’ These conditions affect both the quality of a visitor’s recreation experi- ence and the value of the Forest Service’s capital investments. Effects on recreation include difficulty in reaching scenic vistas, overcrowding in campgrounds, and inadequate information about an area’s significant features. Insufficient maintenance may shorten the useful life of recrea- tion facilities. We obtained most of tltc information about these areas from officials at the individual special recreation areas because a central monitoring and information-reporting system about the progress and status of these areas does not exist. We asked officials of t,he 20 special recreation areas if recreation facility Many Planned projects (such as campgrounds, roads, trails, and interpretive sites) Facilities at Special called for in legislation or individual area plans had been developed as Recreation Areas Not planned. Officials for IO of the 20 areas reported delaying or dropping projects. Officials at all eight of the areas designated before 1980- Completed areas in which large-sc,ale facility development had been envisioned- reported delaying or dropping projects. Officials at eight areas reported that insufficient funding had contributed to facilities not being built. Descriptions of some projects delayed are shown in table 2.1, Page 14 GAO, RCED-90-27National Recreation Areas Chapter 1 Introduction was designated in No\.ember 1986. and th(> Forest Service was still for- mulating a plan for this area. The entire planning process may take up to 6 years and allows for extensive public involvement. When completed and approved, the plans specify the actions the Forest Service plans to take to develop and man- age the area accorclirq; to t tic>designating law. Forest, Service policy. and public input. Forest Service funding allocations for the special recreation areas were not readily available for periods before fiscal year 1986. Detailed fund- ing information for t treschareas for fiscal years 198G89 is presented in appendix I. In fisc~;dyc’ar 1989, funding for these areas was about $28 million. The Chairman of that Sllbc,ommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, Objectives, Scope, and House Committee on lntc~%~ and Insular Affairs, asked us to Methodology . provide information on the number of special recreation areas, the acre- age they cover (SN (*II. 1). and their annual budgets (see app. I) and . determine whether t tn~soirrtaas are being developed, operated, and main- tained as provided fol in the designating legislation, Forest Service pol- icy, and the indivitlrlal plans the Forest Service has developed for them (see ch. 2 and 3)~ To determine whet ht,I the special recreation areas are being developed and managed according to their legislated purposes and Forest Service policy, and as planned by the Forest Service, we reviewed the laws and legislative histories for each of the 20 areas. We asked officials of all 20 areas to provide IIS inl’ormation on ( 1) major rrcrration objectives con- tained in their art’s plans and (2) the current implementation stat,us of recreation facility (kX\clopmmt planned. WC made site visits to nine of the areas, shown ilk t ;i bl(> I. 1. We selected these nine areas because they represent a mix of sizcss.rcbcreation t,ypes, and geographic locations. We contacted Forest St,r\ KY officials responsible for managing two addi- tional areas (Mono &sin Yational Forest Scenic Area in California and Oregon Cascades fl~~~~~~;~at ion Aron in Oregon) but did not visit, the sites Page 12 GAO /RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 1 Introduction The legislation that authorizes each special recreation area contains Designating requirements that are unique for that area. Typically, the laws that des- Legislation Varies ignated these areas direct the Secretary of Agriculture to manage them Among Special in a manner that best provides for (1) public outdoor recreation benefits and (2) the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic, or other values. Recreation Areas The emphasis and direction on the extent of recreational development have changed over time. Generally, the earliest designated areas were to have substantial facility development, while the more recently desig- nated areas were to have less, if any, facility development. Congressional Directives The types of special recreation areas and the purposes for establishing them have changed considerably over time. The first areas evolved from for Areas Have Changed attempts in the 1960s to provide for the nation’s growing recreation Over Time needs. In general, the first eight areas designated from 1965 through 1978 reflected congressional and executive branch interest in providing for high-capacity, all-purpose recreation. The laws designating them emphasized a wide range of recreation opportunities to draw people not only from cities in the general vicinity but from other states as well. In addition, the areas had potent,ial for accommodating large numbers of people, and the envisioned recreation facilities would require large-scale capital investment by the federal government. For example, the law that established Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972 authorized $26.2 million for facility devt>lopment. By the 198Os, legislative designation of special recreation areas had changed dramatically. For most areas established after 1980, the legisla- tion did not call for significant development of new recreation facilities. Instead, the legislation often included wilderness designations and emphasized continuation of past primitive recreation uses and preserva- tion of the existing natural resources. Appendix II gives a description of the 20 special recreation areas we reviewed, listed in the chronological order they were designated. The differences in development levels in these areas can be seen in these descriptions. Designating Laws In general, the designating legislation for each of the special recreation Generally Not Specific on areas does not require that specific recreation facilities be constructed. Details on implementing plans to achieve the general legislative goals Recreation Facility established for each of these areas was most often left to the discretion Development of the Secretary of Agriculture and the Forest Service. Page 10 GAO/RCED-SO-27 National Recreation Areas Chapter 1 Introduction Between 1965 and 1988. the Congress created 25 special recreation areas within lands administered by the I1.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. The enabling legislation generally calls for providing public outdoor recreation and prokting scenic. nat,ural, historic, and other values contributing to public en.joymt>nt. In general, the designat- ing legislative acts for these areas establish broad purposes, but. leave the details on implementat,ion to the discr~~t.ionof t,hc Secretary of Agri- culture, who administers these areas through the Department of Agri- culture’s Forest Service. Current Forest Scrvirt policy calls for these areas to be managed as showcases to drmonstr ate the highest Xational Forest management standards. Each special recreation area within nat,ional forest lands has been desig- Characteristics of nated by a specific act of the Congress as iI Kational Recreation Area, Special Recreation National Monument, National Sctnic Arca. National Scenic Research Areas Area, or National Managtlmcnt Emphasis .\rca. The Forest Service has defined these five categories as follows: . National Recreation Areas. These areas have outstanding combinations of outdoor recreation opportunities, sccmxry. and proximity to potential users. They may also have cultural, historic. and ot.her values contribut- ing to public enjoyment. . Kational Monument,s These arcas have uniqutb ecological, geologic, his- toric, prehistoric, cultural, or scientific. interests. . National Scenic Areas. These areas contain outstanding scenic charac- t,eristics, recrealion values. and geologic, cc8010gical.and cultural resources. . National Scenic Research Areas. These areas contain outstanding scenic values for research. scientific, and recreational purposes. l National Managemtlnt Emphasis Arcas. This cat&gory comprises the areas that do not fit the four other cacgoricx Areas with this designa- tion contain uniqucl or outstanding physlcal katures and specific physi- cal, cultural, or I)olii.ical characterist its rccviving specific emphasis in the legislation. We reviewed 20 of t.hc %5 arcas so designated on Forest Service lands! including 13 National Recreation Areas, 3 National Monuments, 3 National Scenic Areas, and 1 Kational Managcmcnt Emphasis Area, as Page 8 Contents Executive Summary 2 Chapter 1 8 Introduction Characteristics of Special Recreation Areas 8 Designating Legislation Varies Among Special Recreation 10 Areas Forest Service Direction for Special Recreation Areas 11 Objectives, Scope, and Methodology 12 Chapter 2 14 Many Special Many Planned Facilities at Special Recreation Areas Not 14 Completed Recreation Areas Not Limited Development Planned for Most Areas Designated 18 Meeting Planned During the 1980s Objectives Most Areas Not Receiving Showcase Management 19 Status of Planned Objectives Not Adequately Monitored 23 and Reported Chapter 3 25 Development, Funding for Forest Service-Wide Recreation Fell 25 Substantially During the Early 1980s Operations, and Recent Funding Increases Inadequate to Address Backlog 27 Maintenance Forest Service Initiatives to Offset Funding Shortfalls 28 Shortfalls Linked to Funding Limitations Chapter 4 31 Conclusions and Recommendation 32 Recommendation Appendixes Appendix I: Funding Levels for Special Recreation Areas 34 Appendix II: Synopsis of Special Recreation Areas 38 Appendix III: Major (‘ontributors to This Report 51 Page 6 GAO/RCED90.27 National Recreation Areas Executive Summary Officials at 15 of the 20 special recreation areas told GAO that visitor information or interpretive services were inadequate and/or that main- tenance levels have been lowered. For example, at Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho, eight rangers patrolled 247 miles of wilder- ness trail during 1980, providing information and assistance to visitors. In 1988, only one ranger was available to provide such services. At Shasta-Trinity Kational Recreation Area in California, maintenance at the swimming beaches had been deferred for the last 15 years. An area official told GAO that these beaches are no longer desirable places to swim because nearly all the sand on the beaches has eroded, leaving a strand of rocks, mud, and weeds at the water’s edge. Shortfalls Linked to Special recreation area officials told GAO that funding shortfalls were Funding Limitations often the cause of delays in facility development, the inadequacy of visi- tor services, and lower maintenance levels. Between fiscal years 1980 and 1986, Forest Service funding for its recreation programs (of which the special recreation areas are only a small part) declined about 26 per- cent, from about $170 million to $127 million (in constant 1989 dollars). According to Forest Service officials, during this period special recrea- tion areas were generally not given higher priority or additional empha- sis and suffered similar funding declines. Although the Forest Service has experienced imrcases in recreation funding in fiscal years 1987-89, the fiscal year 1989 level was still below the 1980 level in terms of con- stant 1989 dollars. Speclial recreation area officials also told GAOthat the higher levels of funding are still insufficient to achieve the showcase levels of operations called for in Forest Service policy. Forest Service Initiatives In April 1988, the Forest Service issued its National Recreation Strategy. to Offset Funding which gives special attention to showcasing recreation at special recrca- tion areas. The strategy calls for stretching available federal dollars Shortfalls through greater use of volunteers and through seeking out public and private groups to share the expense of developing, repairing, and oper- ating facilities. In fiscal year 1988, these areas received about $168.000, or about 2 percent of their recreation budgets, from a public/private rev- rration cost share program. Although this strategy may help, GAO believes that the limited amount of resources provided through this strategy are not likely lo enable the Forest Service to achieve its planned levels of facilil y development and showcase levels of operation. Page 4 GAO/RCED-90-27 National Recreation Areas Executive Summary Between 1965 and 1988, the Congress designated 25 areas within the Purpose national forest system as unique or special. These areas offer some of the most outstanding scenery-and varied recreation opportunities avail- able on forest lands. Concerned that the Forest Service has not developed and managed these areas to levels consistent with their special designations, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, House Com- mittee on Interior and Insular Affairs, asked GAO to determine whether these areas are being developed, operated, and maintained as provided for in legislation, Forest Service policy, and the individual plans the For- est Service has developed for them. Special recreation areas are designated by specific legislative acts. Typi- Background cally, the legislation directs the Secretary of Agriculture to manage these areas in a manner that best provides for public outdoor recreation benefits and the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic, and other values. Details on implementing these general goals were most often left to the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture, who administers these areas through the 1Y.S.Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. GAO reviewed 20 of the 25 specially designated areas. The remaining five areas were not included in GAO’S review because four did not have recre- ation as their primary purpose and the other was designated after GAO began its review. The 20 areas range in size from 6,600 acres to over 2 million acres and cumulatively include about 6.3 million acres. Forest Service policy calls for these special recreation areas to be man- aged as showcases to demonstrate national forest management stan- dards for programs, services, and facilities. While the policy does not define the term “showcase,” Forest Service officials interpret it to mean that these areas shoiild be developed and managed to a noticeably higher standard than other Forest Service recreation units. The Forest Service has developed detailed area plans for all but the most recently designated area. The plans include a list of necessary facilities, recrea- tion experiences to be provided, and management direction for other resources and activities m the area. Many of the special recreation areas have not been developed, operated, Results in Brief and maintained up to the levels and standards called for in Forest Ser- vice policy and the individual area plans. For example, special recrea- tion area officials reportcad to GAO that planned projects at 10 of 20 areas Page 2 GAO/RCEDW27 National Recreation Areas
National Forests: Special Recreation Areas Not Meeting Established Objectives
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-02-05.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)