Updated December 13, 2013
The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides funds to the States to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonmotorized and motorized recreational trail uses. Examples of trail uses include hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, equestrian use, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or using other off-road motorized vehicles.
The RTP is an assistance program of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Each State administers its own program, usually through a State resource or park agency. Each State develops its own procedures to solicit and select projects for funding. Each State has a State Recreational Trail Advisory Committee to assist with the program. In some States, the committee selects the projects, in others, the committee is advisory only. See the State contact list.
For fiscal years 2013 and 2014 up to $84.16 million are available (unless States opt out). See Funding Levels by State.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) reauthorized the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) through Federal fiscal years 2013 and 2014 as a setaside from the Transportation Alternatives Program. The amount set aside is equal to the State's FY 2009 RTP apportionment. (From FY 1993 through FY 2012, the RTP funds were distributed to the States by legislative formula: half of the funds were distributed equally among all States, and half were distributed in proportion to the estimated amount of nonhighway recreational fuel use in each State.)
The RTP funds come from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and represent a portion of the motor fuel excise tax collected from nonhighway recreational fuel use: fuel used for off-highway recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-highway light trucks.
Recreational Trails Program funds may be used for:
States are encouraged to enter into contracts and cooperative agreements with qualified youth conservation or service corps.
States must use 30 percent of their funds for motorized trail uses, 30 percent for nonmotorized trail uses, and 40 percent for diverse trail uses. Diverse motorized projects (such as snowmobile and motorcycle) or diverse nonmotorized projects (such as pedestrian and equestrian) may satisfy two of these categories at the same time. States are encouraged to consider projects that benefit both motorized and nonmotorized users, such as common trailhead facilities. Many States give extra credit in their selection criteria to projects that benefit multiple trail uses.
Recreational Trails Program funds may not be used for:
These funds are intended for recreational trails. RTP funds may not be used to improve roads for general passenger vehicle use. RTP funds should not be used to provide shoulders or sidewalks along roads unless the shoulders or sidewalks are necessary to complete a trail link.
A project proposal solely for trail planning would not be eligible (except a State may use its administrative funds for statewide trail planning). However, some project development costs may be allowable if they are a relatively small part of a particular trail maintenance, facility development, or construction project. States may allow some project development costs to be credited toward the non-Federal share.
States may make grants to private organizations, or to municipal, county, State, Tribal, or Federal government agencies. Some States, by policy, do not provide funds to private organizations. Projects may be on public or private land, but projects on private land must provide written assurances of public access.
States are encouraged to use qualified youth conservation or service corps for construction and maintenance of recreational trails under this program. See www.corpsnetwork.org for more information.
Project amounts vary by State, from $200 to more than $1 million, but most range in value from $10,000 to $300,000. Some States set minimum allowable dollar values (perhaps $1,000, $10,000, or $25,000); some States set maximum allowable dollar values (perhaps $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, $150,000). Some States do not have minimums or maximums.
In general, the maximum Federal share for each project from RTP funds is 80 percent (higher in States with large amounts of Federal lands), but some States require up to a 50 percent match. A Federal agency project sponsor may provide additional Federal funds, provided the total Federal share does not exceed 95 percent. The non-Federal match must come from project sponsors or other fund sources. Funds from any other Federal program may be used for the non-Federal match if the project also is eligible under the other program. RTP funds also may be used toward the non-Federal share for some other Federal programs. States may allow a programmatic match: if some project sponsors in a State provide more match funds than required, other sponsors in the State may provide less. Some in-kind materials and services may be credited toward the project match.
Usually, project payment takes place on a reimbursement basis: the project sponsor must incur costs for work actually completed, and then submit vouchers to the State for payment. Reimbursement is not normally permitted for work that takes place prior to project approval. However, working capital advances may be permitted on a case-by-case basis, and some project development costs may be reimbursable. Also, States may allow prior planning and environmental assessment costs to be credited toward the non-Federal share (limited to costs incurred less than 18 months prior to project approval).
Each State has its own procedures to solicit and select RTP projects. A project sponsor should develop its proposal sufficiently so that the project may be implemented quickly after project approval.
If you have a trail project proposal, first contact your State to find out the program requirements and criteria for project selection. As a project sponsor, you should: