Visits to the nation’s 193 million acres of National Forest land add $13 billion to the gross domestic product and sustain about 190,000 full and part-time jobs, according to a just-released survey by the Department of Agriculture.
Forests in the Southwest account for about 10 percent of all visits.
The findings underscore the importance of forest-based recreation to rural economies like Rim Country’s. The 3-million-acre Tonto National Forest ranks as one of the most heavily visited forests, with about 6 million visits annually.
The national survey counted more than 160 million visitors to the vast expanses administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
Visits typically last less than six hours and the most common goal listed was “relaxing.” When asked to list their primary reason for visiting national forests, 19 said they wanted to hike, 13 percent come for the scenery and 14 percent went skiing.
About 70 million used day-use facilities and only 17 million spent the night. Most sought out undeveloped sites.
The nation’s forests include 150,000 miles of developed trails, 10,000 recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 ski areas, 338,000 historic sites, 22 National Recreation Areas and seven National Monuments, which in Rim Country includes Tonto National Monument overlooking Roosevelt Lake.
The Tonto National Forest alone has about 2,600 miles of dirt roads and has more off-road vehicle users than almost any other forest in the nation.
The national study concluded that the Forest Service lands also provide about 20 percent of the nation’s water supply, with a value of about $7.2 billion.
A related study that asked people to list the variety of things they do found that 47 percent want to “view natural features,” 40 percent hike or walk, 36 percent “relax,” 32 percent view wildlife, 24 percent “drive for pleasure,” 17 percent go skiing, 12 percent go fishing, 10 percent go to picnic, 9 percent camp, 7 percent hunt, 7 percent engage in “nature study,” 4 percent ride bikes, 4 percent want to ride off-road vehicles and another 4 percent engage in “motorized trail activity.”