National Forest visitors down





In the years after World War II, Americans packed up their young families and Army surplus camping gear and headed into the national forests to hunt, fish, and hike. Going to the woods was part of what it meant to be an American.

Today, however, visits to the national forests are off 13 percent.

Top officials at the U.S. Forest Service blame it on circumstances outside their control — rising gas prices, the popularity of video games and the Internet, and an increasingly urban and aging population less inclined to camp out.

Critics focus on fees charged for hiking trails and visitor centers, a proliferation of noisy off-road vehicles and the declining proportion of the Forest Service budget dedicated to recreation.

James Johnston, a policy analyst with Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics in Eugene, spent the last year camping out in 67 national forests and talking to 400 people. He concluded that while fewer people may be using the woods, fewer trails and campgrounds are open and there are more people riding noisy off-road vehicles.

"They think that it's harder to find solitude," he said of the people he talked to.

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