“Where have all the airstrips gone?” Do pilots want to sing this song far into the future?

General aviation airstrips in the United States are disappearing at a rate of 2 per week. Some are well publicized, such as Meigs Field in Chicago. Others receive little or no publicity including many unpaved airstrips in rural and mountainous backcountry.

The Pretty Prairie airstrip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana has been closed since 1964. The RAF will help prevent any similar closures in the future.

Usually these unpaved airstrips are on public lands administered by the United States Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or other federal and state government agencies. Their disappearance is often the result of revised planning documents that fail to recognize or address the needs of general aviation because pilots are not involved in the process.

In 1998, the Montana Pilots’ Association (MPA) became concerned with the loss of recreational and backcountry airstrips and formed the Recreational Airstrip Committee (RAC) to take an active part in the planning process.

The RAC has made considerable progress, but it soon became obvious additional funding was required to maintain and create airstrips. The Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) was incorporated in Montana on December 22, 2003, filed a 501(c) (3) application with the Internal Revenue Service for non-profit, tax-exempt, public charity status effective December 30, 2003, and received recognition of that status on July 7, 2004.

The RAF will use tax-deductible donations to:

  • Provide more participation with governmental agencies controlling rural and backcountry airstrips to preserve and protect public access.
  • Improve and maintain existing rural and backcountry airstrips.
  • Acquire or lease land to construct additional general aviation airstrips.
  • Educate the public on the benefits of rural and backcountry airstrips.
  • Promote Air Safety through support of flight training seminars.

The RAF is not a Montana-only organization. It was established by Montana pilots but is concerned with preserving backcountry airstrips throughout the west through the lending of expertise, experience, reference documents and financial help when applicable. The RAF board members have gained a wealth of experience in working with federal and state agencies who manage public lands where airstrips are located as well as dealing with groups who oppose the existence of backcountry airstrips.

Submitted on December 7, 2003.

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