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1994 State Trail Administrators Meeting

Presentation by Christopher Douwes, Trails Program Manager
Federal Highway Administration

National Trails Symposium, Anchorage, AK

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) authorized the National Recreational Trails Funding Program for Fiscal Years (FY) 1992-1997. The Congress must appropriate funds each year, since the Trails Program does not have Contract Authority, which is a method of providing funds that does not require annual appropriations.

The Trails Program only received funds in FY 1993, and only $7.5 million, not the $30 million authorized. Each State developed procedures to select projects for funding. By September 30, all States will have obligated all the funds. Despite the limited amount of funding, the Trails Program has benefitted people in communities across the United States.

How States Used Funds

States were able to use up to 7% of their funds for administrative expenses. States used these funds to pay for the costs of developing the Trails Program and for State Advisory Board costs. Nine States chose not to use any administrative funds, and 5 States used only a small portion of their administrative allowance. These States wanted to maximize funds available for projects.

States were able to use up to 5% of their funds for Environmental Protection and Safety Education expenses; 23 States chose to use these funds. Most of these projects consisted of producing safety education material and trail maps. Some other educational projects included producing a trail use safety video in California, monitoring trail use in Massachusetts, and developing an environmental education boardwalk and display in Georgia.

States were required to use at least 88% of their funds on actual trail projects. Nationwide, States chose about 450 projects for funding, including projects such as installing trail gates, snow trail grooming, clearing brush, reconstructing bridges, and developing trail facilities. Projects ranged in cost from $200 to $180,000; but most were in the $5,000 to $25,000 range.

The Federal funds served as a catalyst to generate more funds for trails. Federal funds for actual trail projects totalled nearly $6.9 million. But on their own initiative, many States, local governments, and trail advocacy groups raised over $6.4 million in local funds--nearly doubling the value of projects funded. A majority of the States (36) requested or required matching funds; and in 17 States, the local matching funds exceeded the NRTFA funds.

However, trail needs far exceeded the funds available. Most States received more applications for projects than they could satisfy. Nationwide, 37 States received 850 project requests for which funding was not available, totalling almost $25 million. States, local governments, and trail advocacy groups were ready to provide $13.5 million more in local funds.

State Processes

Each State developed its own method to select projects for funding. Generally, there were two means of selecting projects: 1) Open Competition, and 2) State Agency Selection.

  1. Open Competition Process: Most States (32) had an open competition process to rank projects and select them for funding. Most of these States developed application packages and provided them to local governments and trail advocacy groups. The States accepted completed applications and ranked them based on State-developed criteria. Some States used their State Recreational Trail Advisory Boards to make the project selections.

    Some States placed limitations on the maximum dollar value available for projects. Some States opted to distribute funds among many small projects. A few States placed limitations on the minimum dollar value available to avoid funding too many small projects.

    Most States with an open competition process received many more applications than they had funds available: Minnesota had 105 unfunded projects; Pennsylvania had 70; Tennessee, 55; New York, 50; Alaska, 48; Massachusetts, 46; Oregon, 40; Vermont, 33; California, 32.

  2. State Agency Selection Process: Some States (16) reserved NRTFA funds for State projects. Some of these States distributed funds among several small State projects; for example, Kansas and Ohio funded small projects in many different State Parks. Other States consolidated funds into a few major projects. For example, Connecticut and Nebraska used all their funds on rail-trail projects that required the entire State allocations.

    Most States selecting their own projects did not have lists of unfunded projects because they limited their projects to the funds available. However, some States said that they had more projects needing funds: Michigan had 34 unfunded projects, and North Dakota had 25.

    Four States had not completed their project information before 21 September 1994, and information on how they selected projects was not available.


The Trails Program had specific requirements for how States could spend funds. The most discussed requirements are the Assured Access to Funds and Diversified Trail Use requirements, popularly called the "30-30-40". These requirements were made to guarantee at least 30% of the Trails Program funds for motorized projects, at least 30% for nonmotorized projects, and at least 40% for diversified projects. Unfortunately, it was not recognized until later that these categories can have substantial overlap: there can be diverse motorized use, diverse nonmotorized use, and diverse use including both motorized and nonmotorized users. Furthermore, nearly all motorized trails allow nonmotorized use to take place, or at least do not exclude nonmotorized users.

Some States tried to keep their spending strictly along the 30-30-40 percentages, adding up to 100%. Others recognized the overlap, and exceeded all percentages. Many States classified projects as motorized use for the purposes of funding, although the trails allowed diverse motorized and nonmotorized use. In many snow States, trails have snowmobile use when there is enough snow cover, but allow only nonmotorized use when there is no snow. Some of these States classified their 30% motorized and nonmotorized use on a seasonal basis.

Some States did not have enough eligible motorized projects ready to go forward during the first funding cycle. In some of these States, the State Recreational Trail Advisory Board exempted the State from the 30% minimum requirement. In a few States, the State Agency decided to divert funds to nonmotorized projects to meet obligation deadlines; otherwise, the funds would have been lost.

Some States did not meet the Assured Access and Diversified Trail Use requirements. However, for some of these States, the confusion over funding availability placed them in a "use or lose" situation: they had the choice of obligating funds for nonmotorized projects or losing the funds completely. If the Trails Program receives funding in the future, the FHWA will make sure that the States meet these requirements. States will have to make up for unfunded 30-30-40 shares if decisions were made without input from State Recreational Trail Advisory Boards.


The National Recreational Trails Funding Program provided funds for 450 individual trail projects. Following are a few examples of how the Trails Program benefitted people across the country.

Humanization of Transportation--Putting People First: The Trails Program helped build connections between neighborhoods. The Great Barrington Land Conservancy was awarded funds to extend and improve the Housatonic RiverWalk through downtown Great Barrington, MA and to organize volunteers for a 'River Clean-up Day'. This project involved government, non-profit organizations, landowners, and volunteers.

Youth Training and Employment: In Georgia, a program called Project Opportunity involved the Georgia 4-H Program, the U.S. Forest Service, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Motorcycle Industry Council, Young Harris College, the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center, and many other organizations to provide summer job training opportunities for at-risk youth in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Trainees studied environmental impacts, learned to draw maps, install signs, control erosion, etc. to maintain and construct various trails and trail facilities for hiking, bicycling, equestrian use, and off-road vehicles. The Trails Program paid for materials, and the Job Training Partnership Act paid for the labor.

In Alaska, the Mat-Su Trails Corps received funds to recruit and train volunteers, trail leaders, and perform work on various trails in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. In Minnesota, the Superior Hiking Trail Association received funds to allow the Minnesota Conservation Corps to maintain a 200 mile trail.

Education: The Blue Hills Reservation near Boston, MA established a resource monitoring and trail user education program. The Finger Lake Elementary School in Palmer, AK received funds to purchase material to build a nature trail and boardwalk to observe a wetland area, using local in-kind labor. The Petsworth Elementary School in Gloucester, VA received funds to construct 2 foot bridges on a nature trail.

Environmental Concern: The Village of Brandon, WI received funds to develop a trail from a community park to a marsh area for interpretive purposes, and supplemented these dollars with local funds. In Rhode Island, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Audubon Society, and Nature Conservancy each received funds to repair pedestrian trails to protect environmentally sensitive areas. In Philadelphia, PA, the Friends of Andorra Natural Area received funds to protect trails in their neighborhood.

Accessibility: The William B Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC will renovate a trail to make it accessible to people with disabilities. The City of Montrose, CO will construct a trail along the Uncompahgre River to provide access for walking, bicycling, and wheelchair use, and supplement with local funds. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission re-decked an old railroad bridge over the Niobrara River in Knox County to provide access for walking, bicycling, wheelchair use, equestrian use, and snowmobiling.

Partnerships: The Town of Rangeley, ME and the Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club joined together to replace a bridge to provide for snowmobile, ATV, and other uses, and will supplement these dollars with local funds. A Kentucky project involved the City of Georgetown, Scott County, the Scott County Board of Education, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, and the Elkhorn Land & Historic Trust.

User Cooperation: The Rhody Rovers Motorcycle Club repaired a bridge on a nonmotorized trail in Exeter, RI, and donated a truck and labor to transport materials. In Clovis, NM, motorized and nonmotorized user groups joined together to sponsor a multi-use trail project.

Leveraging Local Funds: The Yellowstone River Parks Association in Billings, MT was able to raise $362,641 in other funds and provide $77,000 in donated labor and material. Their NRTFA funds totalled only $13,333 although they requested $52,940. The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers received $31,000, but will provide $342,340 in other funds and $115,680 additional value in-kind. The State said, "Snow grooming of the 2,862 mile VT SSTP system by 89 club / contractors involved 56,548 traveled miles and 11,310 hours of volunteer operators. Grooming of snowmobile trails is analogous to winter plowing of VT roads; both necessary for utilization."

Infrastructure Rehabilitation: New York City received funds to repair old equestrian and walking trails in Van Cortlandt Park.

Making Network Connections: The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District was able to acquire land to connect ridge trails in San Mateo County, CA.

Rail-to-Trail Conversions: There were at least 32 rail-trail projects in 18 States, totalling at least $850,000. Since States were not required to specify that projects were rail-trails, the actual numbers could be higher. Many rail-trail projects involved replacing or re-decking bridges, or providing gates at road crossings. Some project examples are the Greenbrier River Trail near Marlinton, WV; restoration of the Airline North State Park Trail in Connecticut, and providing trail facilities along the George S Mickelson Trail in South Dakota. One unique rail-trail project replaced a bridge abutment in Wakefield, NH for an old rail grade with tracks in place that is used by recreational rail equipment owners. A parallel trail is used by pedestrians, bicyclists, skiers, and snowmobilers.

Federal Lands Projects: Federal Land Management agencies benefitted from the Trails Program.

In Pennsylvania, a trail system in the Allegheny National Forest had improvements to install culverts and improve trail drainage. In New Jersey, the National Park Service will repair a bridge on the Appalachian Trail at a trailhead in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. In the District of Columbia, the National Capital Parks Region will renovate trails in the historic Fort Chaplin Park. The Arizona projects involve the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

National Recreational Trails Advisory Committee

The National Recreational Trails Advisory Committee was a great help for the FHWA. The Committee was created to review how States use funds, to provide guidance to States on project eligibility, and to provide recommendations to the Department of Transportation on trails policy. Unfortunately, the lack of program funds impaired the ability of the Committee to perform its duties. The Committee had to concern itself more with funding and legislative issues rather than program implementation. Nevertheless, the Committee's unified voice has helped the Trails Program.

The Committee recognized that trail user conflict is an important issue needing resolution, and recommended that the FHWA conduct research in this area. We are pleased to announce that Roger Moore of North Carolina State University completed this study under contract to the FHWA, and copies of the Study will be available in the middle of October.

The FY 1993 Annual Report of the National Recreational Trails Advisory Committee also will be available in October 1994.


The FHWA has tried to demonstrate its commitment to the Trails Program. The FHWA has had to deal with very limited funding. But States have used the limited funding extremely well. The Program has further strengthened the cooperation of nonmotorized and motorized users and the transportation and recreation communities. It has been a challenge for us, but in many ways, we have all benefitted from the experience. Thank you.

Future of National Recreational Trails Funding Program
The FHWA Viewpoint

The FHWA supports funding the National Recreational Trails Funding Program as envisioned under the ISTEA (with contract authority and the National Recreational Trails Trust Fund). The FHWA requested full funding in FY 1996. As is always the case, however, the recommendation is subject to negotiation with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in developing the Department's final budget proposal. We sincerely hope that funding for this Program will make it through the negotiation process. Once the Administration submits its formal budget proposal to the Congress, funding decisions are up to the Congress. The Administration proposes budgets, but the Congress passes the Appropriations bills.

The final FY 1995 DOT budget proposal did not include funding for the Trails Program. This was due mostly to the confusion over where the funding came from, and the desire to pursue contract authority for the program. Since the Congress did not provide funds, there will not be any FY 1995 funds through the Appropriations process.

The FHWA agrees that the NRTFA needs changes to function properly. There is complete agreement that the Trails Program needs Contract Authority--which essentially means that the Trails Program would not require specific annual appropriations.

The FHWA also agrees that the State Fuel Tax requirement is not a feasible requirement in most States, and we will support a change to reduce the legislative and financial burden on the States. This is the requirement that States dedicate State revenue from off-road recreational use for trails projects. The current law requires State legislation regardless of the Federal allocation.

The FHWA is very willing to work with Congressional staff to provide technical assistance with regard to legislative language to make the Trails Program work. The FHWA has some reservations about the legislative language on the Trails Program in the House National Highway System (NHS) Bill. At the request of the Senate, we provided alternative language.

Updated: 2/12/2014
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