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2009 State Trail Administrators Meeting

Meeting Notes

Organized by the National Association of State Trail Administrators
and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Recreational Trails Program (RTP)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Attendees

See Attendee List.

Welcome, Overview of Agenda and Workshop

Alex Weiss, Florida Office of Greenways and Trails, regaled us with the many attractions of the Gainesville area and the Southeastern Equestrian Conference (SETC).

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Introductions / Show and Tell

Participants introduced themselves and provided information about trails programs in their States.

Christopher Douwes encouraged the States to know and communicate with their Transportation Enhancement Activities (TE), Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, Safe Routes to School, and Scenic Byways Program managers.

Stuart Macdonald reminded everyone about the National Association of State Trail Administrators (NASTA). While informal, the organization is asked to represent States on national efforts such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for accessible trails and outdoor recreation facilities committees, and is now a part of a group to develop a US Physical Activity Plan.

Randy Moore, NV: Nevada is planning trails and has a lot of new growth. The State has had success working with Indian tribes on developing public trails on reservation land.

Bryan Alexander, GA: Bryan has been doing job this job for four years. The RTP is the only dedicated source for trail funding in his State. Georgia has been reconsidering the timeframe for public use; it is not going to require perpetuity, but a more practical maintenance timeframe.

Bill Robinson, WV: West Virginia rose from 50 to 42 in rank as a “Bicycle Friendly State” list by the League of American Bicyclists. West Virginia won an award Coalition for Recreational Trails at the annual achievement awards this year.

Jean Lacher, CA: The RTP has been a boon especially during State budget crisis, along with the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), for funding trails.

Bob Richards, TN, is the trails and greenways coordinator; paid by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) but housed in State parks agency. He is working on a Geographic Information System (GIS) inventory of all trails in Tennessee. The first Southeastern Water Trails Conference will be in Chattanooga. Tennessee held greenways and trails forum in April 2009. The 2010 American Trails National Trails Symposium and 2010 State Trail Administrators Meeting will be in Chattanooga.

Laurie Giannotti, CT, is the Recreational Trails and Greenways Coordinator. Connecticut is bringing back a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); it is using a summer youth program as well as RTP funds. She hoped stimulus funding will add to other funding sources for trails. Water trails getting new life. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association sponsored many National Trails Day events.

Mick Rogers, ME, is staff of one. Maine is in the process of putting its trail info on the web.

Alex Weiss, FL, is doing an Accessible Paddling workshop along with other accessible trails workshops.

Jody Waites and Rob Grant work for the Alabama Department of Community and Economic Affairs, which is a clearinghouse for Federal funding. ADECA is looking to build new partnerships. The Alabama Scenic River Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail (NRT) and is bringing a variety of water recreation groups together. There is a lot of potential for water trails throughout the State. Alabama opened a new large Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) park, 1,500 acres, with over 60 miles of trails. The Surplus Property Division acquired surplus FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] trailers to use for educational efforts.

Jessica Riepl, ND, just started a month ago and came to learn.

Jean Caraway, MS, does LWCF and trails and has been involved in grants for three years.

Stephanie Gleason, FL, is the financial manager for the FHWA Florida division, and is very much in support of Recreational Trails and appreciates Alex’s work for trails.

Bob Richards showed slides of a wood trail bridge built onsite for $4,000 with volunteer help. He had plans drawn for use by other engineer volunteers. He has worked with Scouts on bridge projects and suggests them as a good resource for trail projects. See: Beaman Park Trail Bridge (Available on American Trails website)

By Phone

Bob Reinhart, NY, has been with the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation for almost 34 years. New York is updating its statewide trails plan, as well as master plans for parks. New York is developing a trails website for the agency and doing Global Positioning System (GPS) inventory for trails in the State parks. New York has nearly 100 rail trails in the State, so it is doing an economic survey of them. New York also is developing a sign manual for the parks.

Greg Lovelady, WA. The agency that administers Washington's trails programs, the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), is organized on the federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation model from the 1960s. That is, RCO does not own or manage land; it is basically an independent State grants agency with a dozen funding programs, including RTP. In a typical biennium, it will award $300 million to more than 1,000 projects. Later this year, RCO will be co-hosting its annual State trails conference.

Jennifer Wampler, VA. Jennifer had questions about signs. She wanted to use the FHWA logo. Christopher: When the RTP was new, the National Recreational Trails Advisory Committee came up with recommendations for a logo; but the law does not require a logo, therefore the Committee did not finalize one. Some States came up with appropriate language, such as "funded through the Federal RTP," etc. States can use the USDOT logo if they wish. The RTP is not intended to be a marketing program like Scenic Byways. Laurie wants to talk to NY about its sign plan, and is looking for other States that have standardized guidelines for sign placement, height, and blazes. On a shared use path, signs are required to meet the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD); Part 9 is for bicycle facilities. Florida has a statewide sign manual, as do some local park and open space systems (Jefferson County, Colorado).

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Federal Surface Transportation (Re)Authorization: FY 2010 and Beyond

Stuart Macdonald introduced American Trails' explanation of Oberstar's "Blueprint for Transportation" plan: www.americantrails.org/rtp/Oberstar-transportation-plan-June-2009.html.

What’s going to happen to RTP?

Authorization discussions within the USDOT for the next surface transportation legislation have not reached the program level. Christopher’s responsibility will be to take ideas and suggestions from State Administrators and other stakeholders and where applicable incorporate them into recommendations for upcoming authorization legislation. Now is the time to get your ideas into the discussion.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provided program funding through Federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. The funds expire September 30, 2009.

The Administration would like an 18-month extension to allow time to develop a new authorization proposal. Some Senators agreed. Followup after STAM: The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) approved an 18-Month extension on July 15, 2009. This is a clean extension, with no policy changes.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) released its Blueprint for Investment and Reform in June 2009. House T&I Chairman James L. Oberstar (MN) also released a Committee Print of proposed legislative amendments. Representative Oberstar, as well as Tom Petri (WI) and Nick Rahall (WV), have been outspoken proponents of the RTP.

Part of the House T&I plan is to streamline and reorganize many of the surface transportation programs. It would create an Office of Livability that would administer the following programs:

Some stakeholders worried that programs will be incorporated into one and may lose their distinct funding. That shouldn’t be a concern; the purpose of the reorganization is to get related program areas working closely together, and it won’t impact the way Federal-aid highway programs are administered or how funds are apportioned or allocated.

According to Christopher Douwes, Transportation Secretary LaHood wants to extend current funding, but with limited and streamlined funding for top priorities. Secretary LaHood has been a strong proponent of Livability, so Bicycle and Pedestrian type programs may have precedence.

Stuart pointed out that American Trails has many resources related to Authorization on its website. He also points out that RTP is only 0.2% of all Federal transportation funding. The positive side of that is the program is so small that it really doesn’t take much from everything else. The negative, is that it’s so small it is easily overlooked. The House wants to push through new legislation by September 30, 2009, and have it signed by the President. Meanwhile the Senate is saying it won’t take the issue up until sometime in 2010. Senator Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, says the Senate will work on climate change and health care before transportation.

In May 2009, Senators Rockefeller (WV) and Lautenberg (NJ) introduced a National Surface Transportation Policy Bill funding transit, rail, and planning; it steers transportation funds into ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled. The Bill is very urban oriented. Transit, buses, and light rail may work in urban areas, but are not as effective in rural areas.

Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT) Update
The Coalition for Recreational Trails is an association of all the major national trail organizations and many outdoor recreation nonprofit organizations that support the RTP and advocate for continued funding. See the index of articles and resources at www.americantrails.org/rtp/.

The CRT is sending letters to Congress on an ongoing basis to advocate the benefits of Recreational Trails. As of July 2009, more than 269 local, State, and regional organizations had signed on to the CRT letter to Members of Congress in support of the RTP. States can pass this kind of information to their local contacts and project sponsors. Administrators can’t necessarily advocate for the program, but can help provide information to stakeholders.

CRT proposes the following modifications to the Recreational Trails Program. See: http://americantrails.org/resources/fedfund/RTPreauthCRT09.html.

  1. Increase funding to $550 million over five years: $90/100/110/120/130 million. 2. Provide $2.5 million in funding for a USDOT study of nonhighway recreational fuel use.

  2. Adjust allowed FHWA administrative expenses to 1% of actual available annual funding, and permit up to 100% Federal share for approved administrative expenses and projects.

  3. Simplify funding provisions for projects on Federal lands, incorporating provisions similar to Federal Lands Highway Program projects that allow up to 100% Federal share.

  4. Recommit to and codify provisions encouraging use of youth conservation corps and volunteers. See the Corps Network transportation page under www.corpsnetwork.org.

  5. Exempt RTP projects from the statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes where the projects are (1) recreational in character, (2) less than $100,000 in total cost, and (3) include major volunteer effort.

  6. Allow credit for donated easements and rights-of-way as part of a project’s non-Federal cost if done within 18 months of project authorization.

Some explanations from Christopher Douwes:

One item is not on CRT’s list: increasing funding for education programs. Most States wanted to raise the funding for trail-related education to 7% or 10%, as long as they weren’t required to spend it, although a few others wanted to keep more money for project specific funding. The Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT) didn’t support this recommendation.

Christopher agrees we need to fund a new study for determining actual nonhighway recreational fuel use. We need to get a clearer picture to develop and determine funding levels. Current estimates are based figures that may not be reliable. See Estimating Nonhighway Recreational Fuel Use for Recreational Trails Program Apportionments: Changes in Estimates for FY 2009.

Administrative funding funds many publications and projects. For example recent snowmobile training manuals are even good for Floridians who many never have traveled by snowmobile before and go to a snow State to ride.

Federal Agency match requirements have proven problematic. There are conflicting match ratios between what the RTP allows and what the rest of the Federal-aid highway program allows for project on Federal lands. The CRT agrees it would be good to simplify legislation to make this consistent and make it easier for States to fund projects on Federal lands.

Youth Corps: Some projects are not compatible for Youth Corps, such as acquisition projects, planning, or heavily engineered trails.

How many States enjoy adding projects to the STIP (Statewide Transportation Improvement Program)? No one raised hands. No States find this useful. Congressional staff claim that some advocacy organizations want all projects (including RTP) in the STIP and Metropolitan TIP. Some advocacy groups think that if RTP projects bypass the TIP and STIP processes, then the public loses a full disclosure of transportation projects.

Each State is supposed to have a stewardship and oversight agreement. In States where the RTP is administered through the State DOT, the RTP would be covered in the State DOT’s stewardship and oversight agreement. However, in States where the DOT doesn’t administer the RTP, the State agency and FHWA division office should develop an agreement. See the RTP State Practices weblink.

Bob Richards (TN): The Uniform Act is cumbersome. For example, if someone wants to donate land, they still must follow the Uniform Act and will require payment (reimbursement) and therefore will keep the land from being "donated". Christopher: The Uniform Act is a Federal law to ensure just compensation for private property taken for public use. In the past there had been cases of forced acquisition or “donation”. The Federal government developed legislation to help prevent this from occurring again. Bob Richards - The person donating lands may want tax credits for the donation. This is case where the law creates a lose-lose situation.

Editor Note: For property purchased from a third party by a qualified conservation organization, the regulation in 23 CFR 710.511 can apply to RTP projects as well as TE projects.

In Representative Oberstar’s proposal there is an amendment to require prevailing rate of wage for all projects using Federal-aid highway funds. (Moans and groans from the group!!)
Jean – The California prevailing rate is higher than the Federal rate. Therefore, it must follow State law; but if the Federal rate was higher it would have to follow the Federal rate. This may negatively affect many States.

Rob Grant (AL) - What about force account? Answer - This would fall under procurement rather then prevailing rate of wage.

Bill Robinson (WV) - A force account must be approved to avoid temporary project based force.

Editor Note: See the RTP Financial Management Guidance, particularly

Q: Do any States incorporate workforce development and training into projects?

A: California (Jean Lacher) does some of that. This type of activity can be done, but it may be nice to have this in the legislation.

Bob Richards (TN) - used ARRA funds to add personnel to State Parks (not using transportation funds). This was categorized as a training project.

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RTP Questions and Answers

Item numbers refer to Draft Recreational Trails Program Ideas to Consider for Authorization (as online in July 2009). Unless otherwise noted, answers are from Christopher Douwes, FHWA.

One change for RTP is that Youth Corp language gets pulled into Title 23. There is no effective change, but this just keeps the legislation together.

Bob (TN): Elaborate on item 7: Facilitate using volunteers on RTP projects with incentives or exceptions.
A: It’s about creating incentives. For example, an incentive could be, if you incorporate volunteers you get a 5% higher Federal share, or if you involve youth corps you can more easily get a categorical exclusion. There has been no new legislative language developed yet.

Florida uses higher points when approving projects... So does Colorado.

Bryan Alexander (GA): Volunteers complain it’s hard to contribute on some projects such as construction or other technical issues. Perhaps legislative language could expand eligibility to project tasks such as clean-up. Jean Lacher said, "Look at all aspects of projects to see where volunteers could be applicable and fit them in." Stuart Macdonald suggested using volunteers only on projects such as maintenance projects. Bryan said the point is to have more projects volunteers can do.
Christopher: A lot can be done at the State level. What tweaks can be developed into legislation? Christopher would like to hear suggestions.

Bob Richards (TN): One problem with volunteers getting credit (match) at minimum wage when they might be building miles of trail is that may not be getting the true value of match. The organization Independent Sector documents the value of nonprofit services. This is useful to determine the value of volunteer time. See: www.independentsector.org/programs/research/volunteer_time.html.

Bryan Alexander (GA): For whom is the CRT advocating? Are they advocating for something that the Secretary of Transportation wants or what members of the Senate want? Or are they speaking for States and advocacy groups?
Stuart: The CRT advocates what its nonprofit members want. The CRT support issues that it sees as benefiting the program.

Jean Lacher (CA): Do you see the levels of Obligation Authority changing in the future? Can we ever expect more obligation authority?
A: The amount of funding authorized has been higher than the amount of Obligation Authority provided for many years. There are now leftover unobligated balances of funds, which end up getting rescinded. Will we get to a point in time where obligation authority will increase? It is unlikely to happen, especially with the Federal Highway trust fund running out of money. There is another $8.3 billion rescission upcoming.
Jean - That said, any tips on redistributing funds from leftover funds from other programs. (August redistribution)
Christopher - That is very State specific. So I have no answer.

Florida DEP has a good relationship with its DOT. The DOT has always asked Alex for how much money DEP expects to obligate so the DOT can reserve funding, and will take money from other programs if necessary. Other States have had 100% obligation authority made available for the RTP, but few. Others have had 2/3rds money taken back. Something that might help is if a DOT representative would sit on the State’s recreational trail advisory committee and therefore understand and like what the program is doing.

Christopher: This may be a good hint for all States to have a DOT (or Resource Agency) person involved in their Committees. It might also be good to have a Transportation Enhancement (TE), Scenic Byways, or Bicycle and Pedestrian committee member. Sharing information is good. If a project looks more like a sidewalk than a trail, push the project to TE or Safe Routes to School (SRTS) rather then just marking the project as ineligible. Same goes vice versa.

Rob Grant (AL): In the rescission coming up; does it have to be equally distributed? Is there a proportionality requirement?
A: SAFETEA-LU Section 10212 requires a rescission of $8,543,000,000 on September 30, 2009. It will be proportional. Stephanie said that in this rescission, the States will not have same flexibility to decide which funds will be rescinded.

Editor Followup. See Notice N 4510.710 Rescission of Unobligated Balances of Contract Authority on September 30, 2009. The rescission was $8.708 billion, with a proportionality requirement and limited flexibility for adjustments.

Alex Weiss - Hazardous Waste / Contamination
Florida uncovered a project where the applicant tried to sneak a project through with incorrect title documents. Do any States require title opinion? Have other States had this issue of project sponsors being less then transparent?

Bob Richards: Tennessee
Tennessee mainly uses LWCF or a State funded program (real estate recordation tax on the sale of property in Tennessee) and $0.08 cents/$100 is divided among 4 programs, three of which are used for land acquisition. One fund is used for the Local Park and Recreation (LPRF) Program which is available to cities and counties on a 50% grant to 50% match basis. The maximum grant is $500,000. LPRF grants can be used for land acquisition and development of park/recreation and greenways and trails facilities. Funds are accumulated for a two year period and then a grant cycle occurs. New grant manuals are developed for each cycle and the LWCF and LPRF have the same grant application process. In 2008, all these funds ($30 million) were taken in order to help balance the State budget. Tentatively, $25 million will be restored in the State FY 2010-11 budget.

Continued RTP funding is critical as these are the only funds directly available for trail projects. TN has about 140+/- grant application submitted each cycle. For the grants webpage, go to: http://www.tn.gov/environment/recreation/grants.shtml.

Jean Lacher: California does a pre-award site inspection; this is a requirement and keeps many of these issues from arising. There is a Statement on payment portion of Procedural Guide (See: http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=24324 [Page 74]) that says:

"I represent and warrant that I have full authority to execute this payment request on behalf of the Grantee. I declare under penalty of perjury, under the laws of the State of California, that this report, and any accompanying documents, for the above payment request are true."

Christopher Douwes: Uniform Act. FHWA’s Office of Real Estate Services has many resources available on its website. See www.fhwa.dot.gov/real_estate/.

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Challenges for State Programs

This discussion covered several challenges for State programs: staffing, State budget cuts, effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and what happens if the RTP is not included in the next authorization. Discussion question: what is your biggest challenge and how are you facing it?

Jean Lacher - Recession / Economic Issues
Employees are on a 3-day-per-month furlough: What if the sponsoring Agency dissolves or can afford only to manage or maintain access to trails 1 or 2 days a week? Is that still justifiable public access?

Christopher noted that Illinois, under a previous governor, closed several parks including at least one trail that went through the park that had used TE funds. This would effectively cut off a transportation route. This would be unlikely on a highway. The new governor reopened the parks immediately upon taking office, so this particular case is no longer an issue.

Jean: the fiscal crisis in CA is well known, but the State has been seeing an increasing number of subgrantees default on projects. There is a secondary concern about the ability of local jurisdictions to fulfill their 10-year operation and maintenance requirements for grants under $100,000, and 20 years for grants over $100,000. What if sponsors have to close a facility part of the time: is that acceptable public access? What happens if municipalities go into bankruptcy or insolvency? What is an appropriate response? In theory, TE project sponsors would have to return the money if the project was closed to public use. There was a city in Montana that could not afford to maintain a TE-funded building and was able to turn it over to a nonprofit. If a RTP project was only partially completed, FHWA would likely ask for the money back.

California has also proposed closing 120 State parks. Georgia proposed cutting hours in parks, and in Florida, Hillsborough County proposed closing several large regional parks including one with an RTP project in it.

How long is the project supposed to be open for public use? If the project agreement doesn’t say, then it is "in perpetuity."

Christopher stated that "there is no Federal policy yet about closures. States must establish a reasonable timeframe for public use; and if not specified, is considered in perpetuity."

Idea: In Washington State, the vehicle registration renewal form provides a box that people must check if they don't want $5 to go to the State Parks fund. Studies show that this should be a major source of revenue.

Stephanie: From a strictly mechanical funding perspective, if FHWA asks for money back it will be taken back. It would come out of the State’s current Federal bill. It comes out of the DOT and then DOT will be after your agency to pull the money back.

Bryan: Georgia has had situations where a project has been stopped and another project was used as a replacement in another part of the district. Of course, the FHWA division office was consulted and environmental clearances were completed.

Christopher pointed out that if a trail project is a transportation project, it should be steered toward transportation funding. For example, almost all rail-trail projects are eligible for TE funds. Most bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects are eligible for all Federal-aid highway program funds. This can help save RTP funds for the recreational trail projects that can’t use transportation funds.

States should take a proactive role in helping potential project applicants find the correct funding source. Colorado has one grant application for recreational trail projects, and the State steers the projects to the correct State or Federal funding source for recreational trails. In Oregon, if Oregon State Parks receives an RTP application for a trail project that really is a nonmotorized transportation project, then Oregon State Parks will recommend that the project sponsor work with the Oregon DOT to obtain transportation funds, such as TE funds. Likewise, if Oregon’s TE program receives an application for a recreational trail, the TE manager will recommend that the project sponsor work with Oregon State Parks. Oregon’s process is a primary reason that Oregon received the Coalition for Recreational Trails Outstanding State Trail Program award for 2009. See www.americantrails.org/awards/CRT09awards/State-Trail-Program-Award-Oregon-09.html. Oregon and North Dakota are two examples of States where the State’s TE, Byways, and RTP programs work closely together: these are good examples for all States to emulate.

What if there was funding for TE but not for the RTP? Then States would be able to move forward with trails that have a transportation purpose, but the truly recreational trails would not have a funding source. This would be especially difficult for the motorized trails, because there are no other Federal funds for motorized trail programs [through the States].

Under the Recovery Act (ARRA) funds, States will use 3% of their ARRA highway funds for TE projects. If you don’t know how your State is spending the TE percentage, you can have an influence on it by suggesting trail projects. But trail projects must meet the basic test of TE projects: there must be a transportation benefit. A circular loop trail within a park or a sidewalk inventory wouldn’t qualify.

Bryan (GA): States are able to use up to 7 percent of RTP funds for State administrative expenses, so they use it to pay one person to run the program. Bryan is working for GA DNR, and State Parks lost 39% of its appropriations and revenues was down 25 percent, so the DNR laid off 90 people. Bryan showed that the Federal money could pay for a staff person to do the administrative work. But the State didn’t do any of those things.

In CT, State Parks has been trying to get a staff person for two years based on the 7 percent. Finally, the State let Laurie hire a seasonal employee but that person can only work six months a year. If the RTP program goes away, the entire Connecticut trails program would go away.

Same in Nevada; the 7 percent pays for the trails person’s job and can’t even hire a seasonal person.

The Florida legislature proposed cutting the whole Office of Greenways and Trails, but the RTP program would remain. There is a lot of support for the trails program, but we need to improve our performance measures. How do we document the work that trails program does besides just giving away money? How can we show visitation rates and other benefits? (Afterthought: this would be a great function of the RTP database.) Bryan said the Congress ought to care about all the money that has been invested in trails, and how the trails will be maintained or if they are converted to other uses. Bob wondered if his division doesn’t get funded, will he be paid with RTP administrative funds?

Bryan noted there is an important difference between RTP and LWCF. The LWCF requires projects to be dedicated for outdoor recreation use in perpetuity (Section 6(f)(3). Although States may choose to protect RTP-funded projects in the same way under the RTP’s Continuing Recreational Use provision (23 U.S.C. 206(h)(3)), the National Park Service (NPS) is not accepting applications to administer RTP projects.

The FHWA Florida Division noted that any funds returned would require a conversation between the State DOT and the project sponsor. Funds come out of FHWA, but it’s an internal State problem. In Florida there is interest assessed from the day the check was cut. The goal is to keep States from having to return money.

Georgia allows sponsors to start over, or build a similar project elsewhere. It’s like the LWCF Section 6(f) requirement.

Tennessee funds both paved and dirt trails. Is one funding source better than another? Either RTP of TE can be used for trails, but to determine which is most appropriate, check if there is a recreational or transportation emphasis. TE has categories for historic and museum functions, for instance, that were appropriate for the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. An example with BMX and Motocross tracks: RTP has allowed an oval track if it’s not only a race course, i.e. it is part of a larger trail system. But a high school track is not a trail. In many rural areas, the school property is the public setting for recreation. But communities need to make a good case. It is still up to the States to determine the spirit of the program and select the best projects.

Some Florida applicants are coming in with very expensive but very short projects. Clearwater did a short trail that was very expensive. As the maximum amounts increased, it seems like some applicants and consultants are going after as much money as possible. Some smaller counties seem to be doing better projects with less money.

Stuart suggested that while it is hard to quantify a "good" trail, it’s very important to give applicants the chance to really show benefits of the project. The criteria are vital to helping encourage the best projects.

Question about authorization of RTP: should States go ahead with another round of RTP grant applications? Colorado asked applicants to apply based on possibility of funding. That is better than not asking for applications, and then losing a year or forcing sponsors to apply in a rush.

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Best Practices

The FHWA Recreational Trails Program lists State Practices on its Guidance webpage. See the link to the sample Stewardship and Oversight Plan from Tennessee.

The Tennessee program has information on its website. It also keeps records online to be sure an applicant hasn’t had problems completing previous projects. It provides the whole list of Federal environmental requirements. See the pre-application example available at www.state.tn.us/environment/recreation/grants.shtml.

For motorized trails, see the Hatfield-McCoy website at www.TrailsHeaven.com. The initial planning and establishment used Bureau of Land Management funds. RTP funds were used for some on the ground mapping. Many of the trails were developed with RTP funds: the implementation would not have taken place without RTP.

NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act): In CT, the State has staff to review impacts to wetlands, endangered species, other potentially conflicting resource issues.

Rob Grant – AL: The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is one of programs ADECA administers. The State has developed procedures for Categorical Exclusions (CE) for certain kinds of projects (see ADECA’s Current Forms and Sample Documents). It covers parks, trails, ROW, etc. This document is used for any ADECA projects.

Traci – MN: What are the criteria for qualifying for a Categorical Exclusion?

ROB – Existing park, existing right-of-way, etc. It is a basic statement, though if you find any dinosaur bones, please stop and contact ADECA.

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Mobile Workshop

Off of Museum Rd. and Newell street on the University of Florida Campus, we walked 1.5 miles of newly constructed Flexi-Pave surfaced trail. Every mile of 10 foot wide trail includes approximately 19,000 recycled passenger car tires. It claims a 19-23% void capacity. It is made of 3/8 inch granulated passenger tires plus crushed rock and a binding agent. Water is slowed by the material but actually flows through it. Installation doesn’t require heavy machinery. The urethane binder will not react with petroleum products as asphalt paving does. This new technology is being used on more recreational trails throughout the country, including Florida.

We also visited the University of Florida Bat House. For follow up, see article in the Gainesville Sun: UF's bat house collapses.

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Wednesday July 8, 2009

Recreational Trails Program Database

This session discussed local and national trail project databases, the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT) Database, trail data standardization, project information availability, and the importance of information sharing. How are States making RTP information available? How can we work together to provide RTP project data each year for an improved database? What should be the Performance Measures?

Nearly all States have some kind of statewide project database. Some use spreadsheets. What is the purpose of the national database? Is it just to find projects in certain congressional districts? Tennessee sees the use of data to be able to combine project statistics with congressional districts to promote project success in States. Sometimes there has been a need to determine how much money is going to where. Stuart suggested that States could require each project sponsor to go to an online database and enter their own project data before they receive final payment.

All States raised hands when asked who had internal databases.

Christopher - Purpose of CRT database: In early days, a few advocacy groups claimed the RTP was funding motorized trails that were impacting Wilderness and Wilderness study areas. There was a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request; the groups were trying to prove that the RTP should be eliminated. The groups found that their fears were unfounded. But we determined that a publicly available database would help inform the public with the truth about RTP projects. Since the RTP database has existed, there have not been any FOIA requests.

The TE project database is an example of good searchable database. See www.enhancements.org/projectlist.asp.

If we want to create a truly useful database, we need to generate a list of requirements and this should be the data that will be used; this is what the advocacy groups want.

Collecting data: Can the States just provide the information in whatever format they already have and the RTP database manager will be able to take it from there? What are the critical pieces of information needed? For instance, States questioned why contact information for project sponsors was needed, especially if it gets out of date quickly.

Christopher - any data collection should have as little burden on the States as possible, but in the meantime provide quality data.

Is there a way to track numbers of people using the database? Yes, just like for any website.

Christopher asked the group "Would State Trail Administrators be okay with maintaining their own databases and fielding inquiries?" California said "Yes" as well as a few other hands were raised in agreement.

Can project sponsors be responsible for entering data, after project is complete, before funds are distributed? Project sponsors may not necessarily be computer literate.

How hard is it for States to provide data? Most States now have data is some electronic format.

Stuart suggested that if any States had a good model of a database for RTP projects that they share the information with us. What are the costs to set up and maintain websites and databases?

The State of Washington uses a database for trail projects on a daily basis. It’s available online to the public as well. The database is used for all sorts of intensive data entry and is publicly accessible. The database is called PRISM and can be accessed at www.rco.wa.gov/rco/prism/prism.htm. The State has a write-up and training available and will be happy to share information on request.

Editor’s Note for Followup (August 2009): The American Recreation Coalition is contacting the States to request information to update the RTP database.

Performance Measures (Flip Chart)
(proposed)

1) Number of Miles traveled per category of use
2) Results of Grants?
3) Percent finished
4) Number of trail users - health benefits / nature benefits
5) Trail opportunities - health benefits / environmental education
6) Potential Service Area
7) Issues of Over Use - environmental impacts / mitigation
8) Number of Projects NOT funded
9) Cost/mile trails vs. highways

A standard complaint about many Federal-aid programs is that the programs are good at providing funds to States as pass-through, but if you ask "how do we know these programs are working?" all you can say is "we spent the money." There are no performance measures for the RTP. Within FHWA, the RTP is so small ($85 million out of $41 billion) that it is unlikely to be included in the Agency’s high priority performance measures. But we may have to come up with performance measures for RTP. How much time and money would it cost for States to apply performance measures?

What’s the result after the project is finished? Increase in trail users (compare with population), potential people who would benefit, service area. Where high use is an issue, funds are used for resource protection and environmental improvements, as with OHV management projects. Is there increased accessibility for people with disabilities, underserved populations, and the elderly? What are the current Administration issues to address, such as health, improving fitness, putting people to work, engaging youth in conservation, and environmental education? There are a lot of anecdotes about the benefits of trails to individuals. There are livability and quality of life issues. How do you quantify the benefits, such as economic benefits, local economy, and tourism impacts? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looks into how to quantify which kinds of facilities improve tendencies to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, etc.

What is the demand for the grants compared to amount available for funding? It is typically 3 to 1, and 8 to 1 in CA and CT. The cost per mile of trails is low compared to other facilities, and may be more cost effective than acres of mown grass, parks, and other facilities that require greater maintenance.

Laurie, Jody, Jean, and Greg Lovelady will form a team to come up with performance measures.

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OHV Management, Assessments, and Planning

Jim Schmid (USFS) discussed OHV management on three Florida national forests. Route designation has been the big challenge. In 1999, the FS prohibited cross country travel, but there were never any signs of policies. The FS directed its Forests to develop systems of marked and designated trails with public input. Motorcycle groups GPSed 600 miles of motorized routes they proposed, while environmental groups wanted Forests closed. The Forests included restricted areas where motorized vehicles are restricted to roads and designated routes. In unrestricted areas, research showed growth in new routes and tracks. An environmental impact statement and four environmental assessments were completed by 2007 to enable implementation. The Forest is using the RTP and a Florida State program for funding to construct trailheads, install signs, and perform maintenance. The Forest went from thousands of miles of user created routes to a few hundred miles of signed, designated routes. The Forest must have a motor vehicle use map updated each year and posted on a public website.

Jim ran CRT database numbers and learned that only a very small number of projects were motorized projects.

See also: Jim Schmid Presentation Handouts for 2008 Virginia Conference on Greenways, Blueways and Trails.

Laurie Giannotti, CT discussed State project to assess OHV use and events on State lands. Connecticut has a small State exemption for motorized programs. In Connecticut there is no legal place for quads to ride, yet there are a lot of them which do. If motorcycles are street legal they can ride on Forest roads and other approved trails by special use license.

The Connecticut project was initiated due to an increase in the number of riders attending permitted Enduro events, as well as illegal Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use on State land. The hypothesis was that this increased use is resulting in ongoing trail degradation and natural resource impacts. Factors such as rising public demand for multiple use trails and associated conflicts on these trails, insufficient funding, and the intensive maintenance required to maintain state trails to accommodate these recreational activities, necessitated the urgency in addressing the situation by hiring a consultant to work with the Agency.

Alex - How did Connecticut procure services?
Laurie: The State advertised the contract (RFP) online and via email.

The project was scoped very generally and Baystate Environmental Consultants, Inc (BEC) came back with much more specificity.

The project was successful largely because the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the RTP were also willing to revise the projects scope of work with the consultant as they learned what was really needed through field investigations, meetings with a Resource Team made up of DEP staff, and from the user community. Project conclusions and recommendations are available in the Executive Summary (Available through American Trails website). The DEP is moving into an implementation phase using the recommendations from the phase 1 project. DEP is also working on the second half of the project, which is to develop a methodology to assess the feasibility of converting some DEP land to OHV use.

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State Trail Conferences / Continuing Education / Trails Training

This session discussed the importance of trail training. States need to determine goals, and focus on State needs. They didn’t often try to bring in big speakers. They focused on local experts who had their hands on the trails. They discussed projects of interest, current events, user conflict, and adjacent landowner issues.

Question 1: What would you like to know about other State experiences?

Question 2: What States have put on State trail conferences?
A: Most States raised hands. Some haven’t.

Benefits vs. Expenses of State Conferences

Bob Richards (TN) – Tennessee recently held a conference sponsored by Council on Trails (Advisory Board). It had a $60 registration fee. The conference lasted a day and a half, in Germantown, TN. The meeting brought people together to network. They also had another conference in Johnson City because they volunteered and were willing to sponsor. The hosts found that a lot of people learned a lot and were excited to find out about topics they didn’t already know about.

Laurie Giannotti (CT) - I’d rather have training than a conference. I’m not sure what the point of a conference is other than to just network.

What are the goals of a conference?

Jean Lacher (CA) - One of the big benefits is informal networking. Being able to talk one on one, learn best practices, and make contacts in other States for future relationships and information sharing. Networking equals coalition building.

Something often learned is that communities and trail groups are greater than what you may be personally familiar with. There’s an opportunity to learn about many different uses and issues.

West Virginia found a lot of success with bringing in some big speakers or speakers that focused on a particular topic such as water trails, rail trails, or public involvement.

Tennessee is getting solicited for a 4-day conference. They are considering trying to trade free lodging for some trail work.

Georgia barely has enough time to manage existing workload let alone organize a conference.

Christopher asked: does it really take a lot of time to organize a conference, or can you delegate responsibilities?

Bill Robinson (WV): No, it takes a lot of time.

Jean Lacher (CA) said California has enough other people to help out. She suggested calling on different trail user groups to help put on a conference.

A good example of a successful regional conference is the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society Annual Conference: http://prps.org/.

Some State Health departments are willing to help and be involved. Federal agencies and the CDC are working to figure out how to bring more awareness to trails and health issues.

Question posed to group - What do you need help with?
Rob Grant from Alabama would like more Technical Assistance. Tennessee offered to help: It has organized two conferences in the last 18 months. Laurie G. said Pam Gluck from American Trails has also offered to help anyone in need plan a conference.

The Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) of the National Park Service (NPS) provides technical assistance to locally-led natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation projects.

The project applicant may be a State or local agency, tribe, nonprofit organization, or citizens group. Federal agencies, including the National Park Service, may apply only in collaboration with a non-Federal partner. RTCA does not provide financial assistance to support project implementation. RTCA is accepting applications until August 1, 2009. The information was on the latest RTP Update: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/rtp_te_update/2009/june/index.cfm#a6.

Other notes on Training Meetings:
Tennessee has used GoToMeeting and found that it has worked great. The only issue for the State was paying the $40 monthly fee.

Acrobat has integrated functionality worth exploring.

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Questions and Answers (Stump the Fed)

Accessibility: What is the probability that Accessibility Guidelines will go to regulations this year?
The Access Board may move the Proposed Guidelines for Federal Outdoor Developed Areas under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) toward rulemaking later in 2009. These guidelines would be legally enforceable only on Federal lands and on federally-constructed projects, but not for Federal-aid projects. However, they would be "best practices" for federally-funded trail projects. FHWA is providing funding through an Interagency Agreement with the US Forest Service through the Missoula Technology and Development Center to update the Forest Service Recreation Accessibility Guidelines, expected to be released late in 2009. The guidebook will spell out accessibility guidelines for all Federal agencies, not just USFS. The concepts would be applicable to federally-funded projects.
Editor Note: The US Access Board has expressed interest in making this an Access Board publication, which may delay publication into early 2010.
Editor Note: After the ABA regulation is complete, then the Access Board would be able to work on the Outdoor Developed Areas guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which would apply to Federal-aid projects and non-Federal projects. The Access Board expects the guidelines to be consistent.

Laurie from Connecticut expressed an interest in learning if it is possible to classify horses as pedestrians.
FHWA policy is that horses can be considered nonmotorized transportation. See Equestrian and Other Nonmotorized Use on Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities. This policy was developed in coordination with the American Recreation Coalition and the American Horse Council.

What is the Federal definition of a pedestrian?
Under 23 U.S.C. 217(j)(3), the term ’pedestrian’ means any person traveling by foot and any mobility impaired person using a wheelchair.

If a State chooses to include equestrians as a pedestrian activity, you could not come up with a definition and then apply accessibility requirements. There have been documented cases where people have received a citation for impaired driving while riding a horse.

Tennessee is working to get funding for the Southeastern Water Trails conference. Could Georgia help fund this conference in Tennessee?
A: Yes. An example of a shared conference is the Mid-America Trails & Greenways Conference, which is funded by several States (see 2009 conference information). There needs to be an arrangement between States. Conference support may come from RTP administrative funds, or from education funds if the meeting focuses on training. RTP funds cannot be used for advocacy.

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Closing

The meeting closed with a presentation from KB, Industries, Inc., the manufacturer of Flexi-Pave.


Mobile Workshop: Paynes Prairie

We drove to Paynes Prairie State Preserve State Park, just a few minutes south of the hotel. Park staff and volunteers introduced everyone to one of Florida's most beautiful State parks. We had the opportunity to go through the very uniquely designed visitor center, enjoyed a movie about the park, walked trails, and saw the prairie from the observation tower. The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail goes through the park.

Paynes Prairie, visited and documented by explorer William Bartram, is also known for its rich cultural history. As such, a Country Cracker Gathering was part of the evening activities. Living history interpreters shared stories about the Camp Ranch, Cracker Cowboys and the like. We even had an opportunity to meet a Cracker Horse and an Armadillo!

Paynes Prairie placard that reads: Paynes Prairie has been designated a National Natural Landmark. Photo of an armadillo.
Photo of 2 history interpreters. Photo of Jean Lacher on top of the Observation Tower overlooking Paynes Prairie.

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Updated: 02/12/2014
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