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Every year, I take pack trips in Montana’s backcountry. Every year, I have to change my itinerary due to poor trail conditions.

This year, in the Great Burn, dangerous trails forced me to abandon my trip. On a particularly bad stretch, overgrown trees pushed the pack animals off the exposed trail, dislodged their packs, and nearly sent them tumbling into the ravine below.

Since 1980, Congress has cut Forest Service trail funding by 32 percent, while trail use across Montana has continued to grow. I’ve seen trails blocked by windfall and vegetation and rendered impassable by rutting and washouts.

An overwhelming majority of Montanans strongly supports public lands, but without adequate funding for trail maintenance, access to those lands is at risk.

Many volunteer organizations have stepped up to maintain our trails, but these groups are up against a national $296 million trail maintenance backlog. Montana needs to adequately fund our public land infrastructure, or we risk losing it.

Trails, for all users, are central to our $7 billion outdoor economy and it’s bad business to allow them to go unmaintained. They generate income for our communities and connect us to the public lands that are vital to our Montana heritage.

Our public lands and the trails that access them are one of the greatest gifts our forefathers gave us. We need to act now to protect them, and elect candidates supporting the protection and funding of our public lands and public land infrastructure.

- Taylor Orr, Stevensville