Updated: Dec 31, 2021
As stated numerous times a big market failure that ASTC is focused upon is the large disconnect between small towns and federal public domain land.
This Blog will attempt to provide another model to help bridge the gap to improve community revitalization in rural areas. A good chunk of ASTC’s service area is found in the United States Forest Service Land (USFS). See our general service area of (112 counties).
Nearly all of these forests have had 80 years of forest succession, which allows canopy closure and a brand new ecosystem in the understory to host critters and tourists. This is serendipitous for rural communities who are trying to rebuild their economies over the last 15 years, and one more example why our National Forests are gems.
This model also serves to highlight the need for regional trail crews on public domain land, because there is not enough personnel and funding to improve trails and other recreational opportunities on our public lands.
This Blog will use the word Ranger to describe the bridge to connect rural towns to federal public lands.
Rangers are people who provide the following:
Natural Resource stewardship.
Educating the public with the skills needed to preserve public lands.
Workforce development in careers in nature based tourism.
Interpretive guides for travelers to engage the next generation of public land enthusiasts.
Data gathering for research.
Management to help clear trails, harden resources, and aid USFS employees.
Eyes and ears of communities and agency partners.
Informing the public on commenting periods for policy formation.
First responder for injured or lost recreationists.
Local who can point people in the right direction.
A typical week for these Rangers.
Wednesday: Go to a festival or some time of stakeholder meeting like expo and set up a booth and educate the public about federal public domain lands and stewardship and managment. Or another option is go to a local club meeting to better understand their needs and their vision for the public domain lands.
Thursday: Go on a solo work hike and remove blow downs that are on the trail, and do some brush work (tick prevention), remove fire rings, hardin resources, document any issues.
Friday: Visit a higher education center and give a talk about Outdoor Leadership and the job opportunities involved with natural resource conservation. Spend the rest of the day writing up a report on the tourism experience surveys you gathered.
Saturday: Go to a congested area and count the amount of recreationists present for USFS employees and other stakeholders to digest. Help spread Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles. Collect feedback on how to improve the overall tourism experience.
Sunday: Host tourists or locals who have paid for a guide to take them on an interpretive hike. A donation fund would allow the Ranger to take out people who do not have much cash. Also, people can donate to the fund to provide funding for the next Ranger.
These Rangers would have a uniform that would quickly help recreationists understand who they are in short order.
Agency Partners like the USFS, and or local trail clubs can help with logistics by dropping Rangers off at Trail heads.
These Rangers are not Law Enforcement agents, so they cannot write citations.
A couple of local organizations who have very similar models in place that perform similiar duties mentioned above:
Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS): Wilderness Ranger (These are found on Congressional designated Wilderness as per the 1964 Wilderness Act).
Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC): The Appalachian Trail Conservancy uses the term Ridge Runners. The Appalachian Natural Scenic Trail is overwhelmingly found in USFS lands in order to protect the corridor.
Funding to get Rangers in your Forests in distressed counties in the Appalachian Regional Commision.
This should be created at the state capital level. Funds could be distributed to regional Tourism Authorities which are typically made up of 7 to 15 counties, or the state capital could go straight to the 3rd party and work out the details and seasonal schedule.
Expenses for a temporary 6 month position. May 15th -October 15th.
$18,000-$22,000. Most of this is to pay the Ranger, however there are administrative costs found within the state capitals and also for a 3rd party to recruit, hire, train, and help create a work plan/s with agency partners.
Cost break down for 12 months: $49/day to $60/day.
Frankfort could put a Ranger in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Richmond could put a Ranger in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Far Southwest Virginia.
Charleston could put a Ranger in Southern West Virginia where they have 14 State Parks and 18 Wildlife Management Areas, or the Monongahela National Forest in the east.
Of course the NC, TN boundry is rich with federal public domain lands with the Cherokee National Forest, Great Smoky National Park, and Nantahala National Forest.
This Ranger model is a force multiplier and is hyper flexible with soft and hard skills, and most importantly they offset the massive funding and personnel issues that the USFS has had over the last 20 years. Sadly, for decades when industry jobs were so plentiful so was the tax support for the USFS, and now with tourism being a great way to diversify economies, funding has dropped significantly within the recreation department of the USFS.
Nonprofits and social enterprises need help in correcting this market failure.
The 5 state capitals in our service area should look into this Ranger model to help create sustainable high quality tourism experiences as tens of thousands of citizens leave urban areas for rural areas over the next 10 years. Consumers are wanting more transparency and more natural resource stewardship, which could be an important factor when they decide to relocate.
Thanks for reading.
Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration