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Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.


The Best Recreation Is On Public Lands

Outdoor Alliance


Imagine if the places you like to bike, climb, hike, paddle, and ski were sold off, developed, exploited or turned into private real estate. Over the last few years, we’ve talked a lot about a movement we’ve called “the public land heist.” More than 92 percent of national public land is located in the Western United States. This year the public land heist agenda continues and several bills have been introduced that would sell off national public lands (e.g., H.R. 621 Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017) or would transfer the authorities associated with oil and gas development on national public lands to states (e.g., H.R. 3565 Federal Lands Freedom Act). These types of bills diminish the voice of the recreation community during the decision making process that directly affect recreation opportunities.

To better represent the human-powered recreation community and protect our public lands, we compiled the most comprehensive backcountry skiing, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and whitewater paddling data for the western 12 states.

Our research highlights the deep connection between human-powered recreation and national public lands. In the West, national public lands are home to over 76 percent of human-powered outdoor recreation and provide access to some of the most outstanding outdoor recreation experiences in the world. To share our findings, we launched the Western States Outdoor Recreation website that includes downloadable reports and interactive data visualizations. The foundation of our study rests on recreation data from local, state, and federal sources and was bolstered by data from crowd-sourced recreation websites. We are excited to have partnerships with Adventure Projects, American Whitewater, Trailforks, and Mountain Hub.

Photo courtesy Kt Miller

Photo courtesy Kt Miller

When the outdoor recreation community contributes to any of these websites or applications it provides our GIS Lab with access to more accurate data, resulting in better protection of human-powered recreation and our public lands.

To understand the footprint of America’s human-powered outdoor recreation opportunities, we developed a method to normalize (compare apples to apples) different types of recreation data. We applied a quarter-mile safeguard, a “recreation area,” around climbing areas, mountain biking and hiking trails, paddling runs and backcountry ski trails. A quarter-mile safeguard was chosen because a quarter-mile safeguard zone is typically used for land designations (e.g., Wild and Scenic Rivers) and public land policy (e.g., Moab BLM Master Leasing Plan). The quarter-mile safeguard provides a well-substantiated buffer that protects air, water, viewsheds, soundscapes, and other natural landscape attributes that are fundamental to outdoor pursuits.

By calculating recreation area, Outdoor Alliance is able to identify human-powered recreation opportunities and public lands that deserve protection or are at risk. We’ve verified what many of you already know: In the American West, public lands support the majority of human-powered recreation. And now, with great precision, we can understand complex geospatial relationships regarding human-powered outdoor recreation and our public lands.