Great American Outdoors Act in the Northern Region

Great American Outdoors Act

Maximizing the benefits to the American public and increasing the resiliency of our Northern Region forests for present and future generations one project at a time.

The Northern Region is actively implementing projects funded by the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which enables us to take aggressive steps to address deferred maintenance and other infrastructure projects on our national forests and grasslands through 2025.

Our Stories, Our Successes

Partnerships between the Forest Service and the Montana Conservation Corps and Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, funded by GAOA are getting some trails in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex some TLC. 
Forest Service U.S. Department of Agriculture
Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest | R1-23-32 | May 2023

Nestled in the heart of the mountains alongside the Blackfoot River, the Lincoln Ranger District manages lands that provide many recreational opportunities for all seasons. One of those recreational opportunities is the Landers Fork trail system to the northeast of Lincoln, accessed by the Indian Meadows Trailhead. This trail system is deep in the Scapegoat Wilderness, and gently meanders through high-elevation conifer forests while being surrounded by Crow Peak, Scapegoat Mountain, and Red Mountain. The Landers Fork Trail ultimately connects to the Upper Lander Trail and Heart Lake which is a popular backcountry camp site. Wildlife is abundant in this area, including grizzly bears, Canada lynx, Shiras moose, mule deer, and elk. This area is also very popular with outfitters and guides, hunters, hikers, and horseback riders.

Over the years, an upper 5-mile stretch of the Landers Fork Trail has become overgrown and was identified as in need of maintenance. Utilizing Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) funding, the Lincoln Ranger District identified and planned the project, and partnered with the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC). Together, the Lincoln Trail Crew and MCC were able to accomplish 3 of the 5 miles of trail work, including retread, brushing, and drainage work. The Forest Service and MCC plan to finish the remaining two miles of the Landers Fork trail in the summer of 2023.

In addition to the Landers Fork trail work, the Lincoln Ranger District partnered with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation (BMWF) and leveraged GAOA funds to replace a trail turnpike on the Mineral Creek Trail that had flooded and washed out the prior spring. The BMWF provided a 5-person trail crew including Makenna Benson, Lauren Pacheco, Elizabeth Spradlin, Rex Koenig, and Isaac Slevin, and together with the Lincoln Ranger District Trails Crew Foreman, Madeline Rubida, the turnpike was replaced, restoring trail access to this section of the Mineral Creek trail.

A narrow Forest Service Trail going through a high-elevation conifer forest that is over-grown and in need of trail work.
Landers Trail #438 before Forest Service and MCC members completed retread, brushing, and drainage work 
A Forest Service Trail going through a high-elevation conifer stand that has been cleared of debris and has improved tread.
Trail 438 after trail work was completed. 

View the full sized images on Flickr.

Forest Moulton, Lincoln Ranger District Trails Program Manager, was responsible for proposing and planning the project, and said “We are thrilled with the success of these projects. Improved access and flood recovery would not happen without the investment of our partners, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation crew and Montana Conservation Corps, working alongside our dedicated staff. We have more projects planned together this summer and are looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish as a team.”

Additional trail work in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is planned for the 2023 field season.

The Mineral Creek Trail Puncheon being built. The puncheon is two logs laid down parallel with the trail, and tread boards installed to act as a walkway.
Mineral Creek Trail puncheon being built
The Mineral Creek Trail Puncheon nearly complete. The tread boards are all installed and the edging is being completed.
Puncheon nearly complete
View the full sized images on Flickr.
Four Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation crew members standing on top of the completed trail puncheon with a conifer forest in the background and a cloudless blue sky.
Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation crew members standing atop the completed trail puncheon

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

GAOA funding has helped bring new life to the 1925 Historic Lochsa Ranger Station on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in 2022.
Nez Perce – Clearwater National Forests | R1-23-18 | March 2023
A brown-painted log cabin with a newly built  front porch sits amongst a conifer forest.
Figure 1 - New porch deck and columns on the visitor center. (USDA Forest Service photo)

In north-central Idaho, west of the Lolo Pass Visitor Center, near Lowell, Idaho on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, lies the Historic Lochsa Ranger Station. From 1925 to the late 1950s, the station was utilized as a backcountry Ranger Station by the Forest Service. It served as the administrative hub for a system of fire lookouts, smoke chaser cabins, and other remote Forest Service facilities linked together by a system of pack trails and telephone lines. In 1976, the station was formally dedicated as an interpretive site, as part of the nation's Bicentennial Celebration. The station is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An end-gabled, brown log cabin with a cedar shingle roof shows signs of repair including two unpainted logs below the roof and along the sill that  have recently been installed.
Figure 2 - Sill logs replaced, including foundation work, to promote water drainage away from the structure. (USDA Forest Service photo)

During the summer of 2022, many structures on the compound received much-needed restoration work made possible with funding from the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). The work was completed by Forest Service employees, including the Region One Historic Preservation Team, and Framing our Community (FOC) partners based out of Elk City, ID. The FOC provided skilled preservation workers to assist the Forest Service with the repairs. The crews were able to replace two upper roof purlins, two sill logs, a spandrel log, four porch columns, and the porch deck. The floor and building piers were also reinforced, fresh mortar was laid under two logs, and the shake roof was replaced. Additional preservation work will continue into 2023.

A brown-painted log cabin with a map board hung near the door shows signs of recent repair.
Figure 3 - Lochsa Visitor Center undergoing extensive restoration. (USDA Forest Service photo)

This work will ensure the buildings endure for decades to come, and that travelers will be able to continue visiting this timeless place.

To find out more about the Lochsa Historical Ranger Station, including hours of operation visit our website. The Visitor Center is typically open between Memorial Day and Labor Day, seven days a week 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests used GAOA funding to resurface 3 miles of the Route of the Hiawatha Trail in 2022, including the 1.66-mile-long St. Paul (Taft) Tunnel!
Idaho Panhandle National Forest | R1-23-02 | December 2022

Forest Service Invests in Route of the Hiawatha Trail

a freshly graveled narrow road exits an arched  cement tunnel into evergreen forested mountains.
New gravel and tread on the resurfaced trail near Tunnel 29 by Pearson, ID. (USDA FS photo by Josh Jurgensen)

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests completed nearly three miles of resurfacing improvements at the popular Route of the Hiawatha Trail this year, paid for with funding provided by the Great American Outdoors Act.

The Route of the Hiawatha Rail Trail Resurfacing Project is one of 11 projects on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests funded by the landmark 2020 federal legislation. The project included resurfacing the 1.66-mile-long St. Paul (Taft) Tunnel, as well as improving the bottom 4.65 miles of the trail. Crews also cleared brush from the trail corridor, shaped the running surface with a grader to establish a smooth, well-drained trail prism, then added a 4-inch aggregate base to the surface. The improvements will make for a safer and more enjoyable experience for the thousands of cyclists who traverse the Hiawatha every summer.

"This project will provide long-term improvements to what we consider a crown jewel of the National Forest System," said Forest Recreation Program Manager Josh Jurgensen. "It significantly decreases deferred maintenance, creates jobs, addresses critical health and safety issues, and builds on a legacy of exceptional customer service."

A man in overhauls stands beside a belly-dump gravel trailer and semi on a mountain gravel road.
Contractors delivered 5,700 tons of fresh gravel to the resurfaced trail this fall, making lasting improvements that will benefit hundreds of thousands of riders over the coming years. (USDA FS photo by Josh Jurgensen)

The Route of the Hiawatha Trail is a unique, highly scenic 15-mile trail that follows the railroad grade of the Milwaukee Railroad from near St. Regis, Mont., to Wallace, Idaho. Operated by Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area under a Forest Service permit, the route provides bicycle riders with experiences through 10 tunnels and over seven trestles, providing breath-taking views across the majestic Bitterroot Mountains near the Idaho-Montana border.

The Route of the Hiawatha was named a "Hall of Fame" trail by the Rail-to-Trail Conservancy — one of only 15 such designations in the country. Its visitation is now close to 70,000 per year and contributes significantly to tourism in the Shoshone, Benewah and Latah counties in Idaho, and Mineral County in Montana.

For more information on Great American Outdoors Act projects in the USDA Forest Service Northern Region, visit the regional GAOA website.

To find out more about the Route of the Hiawatha, visit Route of the Hiawatha.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

Funded by the Great American Outdoors Act Legacy Restoration Fund, this multi-year, $5.4 million project is focused on reducing deferred maintenance on3,247 miles of trails within the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and surrounding adjacent areas.
Flathead, Helena-Lewis and Clark, and Lolo National Forests | R1-22-22 | April 2022

The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex Trails Project is a multi-year, $5.4 million project focused on reducing deferred maintenance on 3,247 miles of trails within the Wilderness Complex and the Adjacent Lands Priority Area. This is one of only 15 Priority Areas nationwide (established under the National Forest System Trail Stewardship Act of 2016) that were identified as a priority for increased trail maintenance. The project is a combined effort between the Helena-Lewis and Clark, the Lolo, and the Flathead National Forest.

The Forests have partnered with the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC), the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation (BMWF), Flathead Area Mountain Bikers (FAMB), and Backcountry Horsemen of the Flathead (BCHF) to implement maintenance on hundreds of miles of trail as part of the project.

Over the 2021 season, the three forests were able to complete over 1,000 feet of turnpike repairs, 500 feet of puncheon replacements, 6 miles of retread, 220 feet of retaining wall restoration, 6,400 feet of ditch/drainage structure repairs, 5,000 feet of braided trail repairs, 31 miles of brushing, 535 feet of puncheon running board repairs, 40 feet of puncheon approaches/stair repairs, 98 miles of re- establishing cleared corridor, 6,000 feet of trail rerouting projects, and 50 feet of multi-tier crib wall repairs. GAOA funding was also used to invest in project area stock programs and primitive trail maintenance activities across the complex.

All of this work occurred in addition to the Forests' regularly scheduled maintenance projects. The additional funding provided by GAOA has allowed the Forests to address vital deferred maintenance tasks which otherwise would not have been completed.

The upcoming 2022 field season is also quickly taking shape. The Lolo intends to have 4 MCC hitches in the Scapegoat Wilderness. The Flathead expects to continue to improve clearing width across the trail system and focused work on the Bull Creek, Morrison Creek, and Big River Trails. The Helena Lewis and Clark is planning puncheon reconstruction on a couple of trails, as well as reroutes, turnpike work, and trail brushing.

Over the next four years, additional trails work is planned which will significantly improve the experience of forest visitors and provide enjoyment for many years to come.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

Fiscal Year 2023 Projects

Fiscal Year 2022 Projects

Fiscal Year 2021 Projects

Story Maps

Northern Region (R1) Presentation to Montana Forest Collaboration Network

Northern Region (R1) Public Information Sessions