National Parks get a lot of love, but it was in a national forest that I first played “fairies” around our campsite with my two kids, now a classic we play every trip. It was in a national forest that my son practiced walking up and down a slope covered in pine needles at just over a year old and my daughter learned to balance her way across an entire log (more challenging than a balance beam at the gym).
In national forests, my family has splashed in lakes and creeks, spent nights under the stars, and gazed at the moon through our telescope. We’re just one family among many thousands that has made memories in these special places. This National Forest Week, let’s celebrate just how important national forests and grasslands are to millions of Americans.
Why National Forests Matter
According to the National Forest Foundation (NFF), national forests and grasslands encompass 193 million acres of wildlands across the United States.
- More than 9,000 miles of scenic byways to drive
- Almost 150,000 miles of trails to hike
- More than 4,400 miles of wild and scenic rivers to float
- At least 5,100 campgrounds to pitch a tent
- 328 natural pools to swim in
The foundation’s president and CEO, Mary Mitsos, says: “These lands are the foundation of America’s outdoor recreation heritage and sustain our way of life. They provide water to millions of Americans in thousands of communities, clean our air, store carbon, and provide timber, minerals, oil and gas, and other resources for industry and communities.”
Managed by the USDA Forest Service, national forests and grasslands host more than 170 million visits each year, and Mitsos says this pumps $13.5 billion into the U.S. economy annually, sustaining nearly 223,000 jobs in gateway communities.
What’s more, national forests and grasslands are home to important ecosystems, thousands of plant species, and wildlife—including everything from elk and bears to trout and ducks.
Switch on ‘Forest Mode’ and Get Involved
This year, the theme for National Forest Week is “Forest Mode.” Mitsos says: “This year’s theme of ‘Forest Mode’ invites the public to switch their digital notifications off and switch ‘Forest Mode’ on. Whether this means taking a quiet morning hike before work, a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure, or telling stories by the campfire after a day spent outside with friends, the NFF encourages recreators to experience these moments in a forest nearby while recreating responsibly.”
In addition to stepping into your favorite forest, here are four ways to get involved and support national forests and grasslands during this National Forest Week:
- Participate in the National Forest Week Photo Contest
Submit your favorite photo of a national forest for the chance to win one of these outdoor-themed prizes, including gear, an America the Beautiful Pass, gift cards for adventure tour companies, and cool swag. There are three categories—landscape, recreation, and youth photography—and the deadline to enter is midnight (MT) on July 16, 2023.
Donations to the Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences program helps improve wildlife habitats and recreation opportunities. Past projects have included restoring two rivers in central Oregon and enhancing a critical salmon habitat in Alaska.
The NFF is on a quest to plant and grow 50 million trees in national forests by the end of 2025 (they’ve already planted over 29 million). You can help them reach this goal by donating $1 to the cause.
- Join the conversation
Join the NFF live on Twitter tonight, Wednesday, July 12, 2023, at 9 PM ET / 6 PM PT for a conversation about national forests and their importance.
Why do national forests matter to you? Tell us in the comments.