USDA: Healthy Benefits Abound in the Outdoors

By Beacon Staff

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone living in Northwest Montana that the outdoors are a great source of relaxation and fitness.

The U.S. Forest Service recently released the results of a visitor survey that reinforced the intrinsic value of amenities like national forest lands.

Outdoor recreation destinations provide health benefits to tourists and $11 billion in tourist spending to businesses and communities that serve the more than 160 million forest visitors, according to the report.

“When Americans spend time enjoying the great outdoors in our National Forests, everyone benefits,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “Visitors reap the health and stress-reduction benefits that outdoor recreation activities provide, and tourism helps to strengthen the economic well-being of rural communities across the nation.”

The goal of the survey was to help Forest Service land managers more clearly understand why people visit the outdoors, what they do during their visits and their overall satisfaction with their recreation experience on a forest, according to the USFS.

According to the survey, Forest Service lands provide the opportunity to de-stress; about 37 percent of visitors said they spent time simply relaxing. When visitors were asked about their primary recreation activities, the three most common responses were hiking/walking (19 percent), downhill skiing (14 percent) and viewing natural features (13 percent).

Recreation visitor spending amounted to nearly $11 billion in 2012, and visitors who lived more than 50 miles from a national forest accounted for nearly half that amount. As visitor spending ripples through the U.S. economy, the monetary value of all the goods and services adds a little more than $13 billion to the gross domestic product, and sustains about 190,000 full- and part-time jobs.

Here are a few other highlights of the 2012 report:

— Most people – 86 percent – described the forest as their primary recreation destination for their trip away from home.

— About half of all forest visits lasted 4.5 hours or less; about two-thirds lasted six hours or less.

— As in past years, more than 70 million say they enjoyed day-use developed sites while about 17 million used overnight facilities. The great majority of the visits occur in undeveloped areas of the National Forest System.

— More than 8 million visits were made to wilderness areas, which mean people chose to leave behind motorized vehicles as required and hike or camp in more primitive settings.

— In addition to the actual visits on agency lands, Americans travel on scenic byways or similar routes near or through forests to view the scenery about 300 million times a year.

“Today, more than ever, our public lands should serve as the nation’s preferred playgrounds for high-quality outdoor fun,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement. “The work of providing recreation opportunities for all Americans is among the most important tasks we face.”

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