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1996 State Trail Administrators Meeting

Workshop notes by Stuart Macdonald, American Trails

NOTE: This discussion took place prior to finalizing the National Recreational Trails Funding Program Guidance. As a result, several items in the discussion have been superceded.

Workshop Summary: State Trail Administrators and others involved in State funding programs were invited to an all-day session to learn more about the National Recreational Trails Funding Program (NRTF). For the first time since 1993, funds have become available to States to provide grants for trail-related projects. Topics of the workshop included:

John Fegan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for the Federal Highway Administration in Washington, DC, opened the workshop with a discussion of how FHWA ended up with the program and how it fits in with other bicycle/pedestrian and transportation programs. The attendees, representing 21 States, introduced themselves.

Christopher Douwes, National Recreational Trails Funding Program Manager for FHWA, discussed how the Program worked in 1993. Even though the program was funded for only one year, its success is indicated by the fact that every State used their allocations and funded 478 trail projects. Even though only $7.5 million was available, States received requests to fund 1,400 projects totalling $34 million. Over $1 million of funds went to USFS as well as other Federal agencies, showing they can be successful applicants as well as good partners.

Problems encountered during administration of 1993 NRTF funds

Even though the Trails Program was successful in its first year, especially for a start-up program, a number of concerns emerged. The sheer diversity of States with their own various needs and management styles raised questions and possible changes for the future. Problems and concerns include:

Eligibility and Certification for the 1996-97 Program

Certification means that a State certifies that it is in compliance with the requirements of the NRTF Act and, upon receiving the allocation from FHWA, can spend the money. While June 4 is the deadline for States to be certified, FHWA is in process of making the State allocations. After first contacting the respective Congressional offices, the first 20 States were announced at the National Trails Symposium. The assumption on allocations is that all States would be eligible; FHWA will redistribute any money left if some States don't certify. For certification, a one to two-page letter is fine.

The basic requirements for certification are:

  1. Designation of agency that administers NRTF Program;
  2. Name of the responsible State official;
  3. That the funds will be used on a plan identified in a SCORP;
  4. That the State will meet 30-30-40 allocation formula (remembering that diversified means more than one trail use on each project);
  5. Appointment of an acceptable State Recreational Trail Advisory Board.


Coordination with Federal Agencies and FHWA:

One aspect of coordination is within FHWA. It has Division and Regional offices as well as in Washington, DC, where John Fegan and Christopher Douwes are headquartered. Even though the Program Guidance comes from Washington, the actual administration of the Trails Program takes place in the Division and Regional offices. For instance, questions about accounting procedures should be directed to the Division office in your State. A second aspect is getting State Departments of Transportation to help us understand the process, even though they aren't actually involved in most States. Some have been helpful, but some aren't interested in recreational trails or programs with such small funding. Another concern is that States have varying expectations of FHWA. Some want more specific guidance and for project requirements to be more clear cut. Others complain about the regulations they see as a hindrance to meeting their own trail users' needs and goals. Balance is needed between a program that is so driven by the States that you can't get decisions made, and one that is too driven by the Federal government in Washington, DC.

Allocation of Funds to the States:

The total Trails Program funds available nationwide are $15 million for each year, 1996 and 1997, less a small percentage of administrative funds for FHWA. Half of total is evenly split among all eligible States and the other half is allocated according to each State's share of off-highway recreational fuel use.

Trails Program Guidance

Christopher Douwes outlined the draft Trails Program Guidance for 1996, including the changes that are new. This information along with questions from State administrators is summarized below. Some States delayed asking for project applications because of concerns about potential changes in the 1996 Guidance. Other States have assumed that their existing grants programs were suitable, or used the same mechanism as in 1993.

One requirement in the NRTF Act is that projects be identified in a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), or further goals of trail plans identified in or referenced in a current SCORP. This requirement can generally be interpreted fairly broadly, but make sure that trails are at least referenced in the SCORP. For instance, Delaware's SCORP simply identifies a strong need for trails in linear corridors. The practical reality is that States may know their trail needs, but they don't know which group's project will submit the best application, so it is not logical to be held to an extremely specific specific plan in advance. Another point is to coordinate recreation and transportation planning. To avoid problems with a new highway cutting across a trail corridor, be sure to get trails included in State and local transportation plans.

Time Period
For the 1993 Trails Program funding, States had to comply with specific time limits. This year funds are coming from FHWA administrative funds, so they doesn't have a time limit. States can set their own time periods for grants, as nothing in Federal law states a deadline on when you actually have to spend or complete funding of projects. While States get an obligation limitation each year, if you don't use it you will lose it. FHWA will try to get funds rolled over, but strongly urges States to obligate their funds by Septem­ber 30 or as soon as possible. States should choose projects that are ready to go, and if some aren't moving, take funds away from them and give to others.


Matching Fund Policies

Note: Much of the following discussion was superceded in the final Program Guidance. See 49 CFR 18.24.
One of the more difficult aspects of the 1996-97 program is a change that requires a 50% non-Federal match for NRTF funds. The 50/50 match is a little unusual for FHWA projects; 80/20 is more usual. The legislation allows donation of private funds, materials, and services at fair market value to be counted toward the match. The idea was to allow private group to donate materials or services or cash. That was supposed to be for the Enhancements Program only, but it has been opened up for the entire Federal-aid highway program. [Since the Trails Program will be administered using 49 CFR part 18 (Common Rule), the new Federal-aid highway program allowances are not applicable. However, the Common Rule already allowed private donations and in-kind services.] To the question of a "programmatic match" for a State's entire funding program, the answer is that each project has to be matched separately. However, the State may determine the source of the match so that it does not have to come directly from the actual project sponsor.


State Administrative Costs

States are allowed to spend up to 7% of their allocation for program administration costs. If you don't need all or part of the 7%, apply it to projects; it's a maximum, not a requirement. Allowable costs include what you need to administer this program. Trail Program education seminars are one example that was mentioned. While a specific project list is not required, States should develop a proposal of administrative costs and submit that to the FHWA Division. Describe what you're going to do with the administrative funds, like program travel. A match is not required; just document your salary or other State-funded program expenses using 49 CFR part 18.22 (Common Rule).


Permissible Uses

Funds for actual trail projects can be used in a very wide variety of ways, according to the determination of the National Recreational Trails Advisory Committee (NRTAC). Keep in mind that funds are intended for recreational trails, not auto roads or other clearly transportation routes. A sidewalk along a road or other project with clear transportation benefits, unless it is a connector to a trail, may be more appropriately funded as an Enhancement or other ISTEA project. However, the State's SRTAB should make the decision, they're your partner.


Environmental and Historic Requirements
Project sponsors do have to follow Federal environmental and historic requirements. States must document compliance. It is recommended that you give emphasis to environmental issues or environmental mitigation. It is also good for the Trails Program nationwide to show that it is helping fix up OHV (and other) problems.


Access for People with Disabilities

A goal of the Trails Program is to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, but to not be destructive or inappropriate. Not every single trail has to be accessible. The idea is to provide equivalent access and make a good faith effort, like using rolling drainage dips instead of water bars. Determining levels of accessibility, using USFS the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum, and providing maps with better information on difficulty may be useful as well. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn't require recreational trails to meet standards for ramps and buildings. But, as an example, the rest area on a four-wheel drive route should be accessible since people with disabilities may be travelling in a vehicle. Use common sense: improve access but don't constrain projects merely to fit ADA since it's not a project-specific requirement. The State SRTAB may be a good advisor on accessibility issues. The new legislation added additional representative for disabled on the NRTAC and made it a voting position. States may or may not do the same.

Federal Partners

USFS and BLM still need to approve projects on their lands. Any Federal agency is a potential partner; but you can't match Federal funds with Federal funds. Now that the NRTF Act require a 50% match, a Federal agency can participate but can't be the sole partner. the challenge for project sponsors is to find other non-Federal funds to make up the 50% match, even though the Federal agency may be contributing funds and/or services. There are some Federal programs which can be used as a match, such as Community Development Block Grants. A list will be included in the final Guidance.

State Recreational Trail Advisory Boards (SRTAB)

The NRTF Act requires that each State have a SRTAB, but the requirements are not very specific except to have at least one motorized and one nonmotorized trail user represented. An important function of the SRTAB is to define what diversified use means. Even in the District of Columbia motorized users need to be included on the SRTAB even though there is no OHV use in DC. Another function is to ensure that the 30-30-40 allocation formula is met. States will have no excuse this year for not being able to meet it.

Some States don't like the idea of the SRTAB providing guidance on grant programs. The SRTAB's role is to work with States to decide how to make grants, but they don't necessarily have to actually choose the projects. You can still accept or reject their recommendations, but you do have to work with them. While the SRTABs are advisory boards according to the law, States can choose to give more authority to them.

Information Collection
FHWA gets inquiries from lobbyists and others who want specific project information. You have to supply enough information to FHWA so they can get it into their information system. Information is needed on the kind of project, how much money it received, miles of trail, kinds of facilities, sponsors, etc. Some States have not provided very complete information. FHWA would like to discuss these information needs so we can all agree what is important to the public and what States can provide without making it burdensome.

State Trails Program Discussions

Representatives of the various States present discussed how they are implementing and using their State Trail Advisory Boards, how they are managing and implementing their 1996 funds, and other initiatives underway.

Reauthorization of NRTFA in ISTEA

Keith Gilges of the National Recreation and Park Association (703-578-5446) represented the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT) and welcomed the opportunity for trails folks at the Symposium to help identify issues for reauthorization. CRT, which meets monthly, was formed to support funding for NRTF. CRT is comprised of 25 very diverse national organizations. Its goal is to help bring diverse trail interests together, similar to the State trail advisory boards. CRT works with NRTAC in a variety of ways, and tries to support its recommendations as grass-roots trails supporters. John Fegan noted that FHWA may either reappoint the previous NRTAC members, or have to ask for nominations and appoint new members. They are waiting for a decision.

Keith Gilges then discussed the vision statement of CRT and their strategies for reauthorization of ISTEA to be sure NRTF is included, and that productive changes to the Trails Program are included. The 1995 NHS Act included language to reauthorize NRTF. CRT has not laid out a strategy, but is working to try to get key legislators on their side to find sponsors. CRT lobbyists went to the congressional authorizers since appropriators weren't supportive, and that has been successful. CRT will coordinate with efforts of ISTEA proponents, as with "Show Congress your Trail".


Updated: 2/12/2014
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