A report on the use and benefits of Federal Recreational Trails Program funds across the United States.
Publication No. FHWA-HEP-17-001
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This document is based on work supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-12-C-00029 with KMS Enterprises, Inc. This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of information contained in this document.
The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers' names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of this document.
The contents of this report reflect the views of the authors, who are responsible for the facts and accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation.
The purpose of the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) Annual Report is to provide information about the program and the projects funded in Federal fiscal year (FY) 2015. This report serves as a useful guide to the RTP for trail managers and the public. It highlights program funding and administration, the RTP Database, and how States use funds. It illustrates eligible project types along with project examples receiving awards from the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT).
The RTP is a Federal-aid assistance program of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to help the States provide and maintain recreational trails for both motorized and nonmotorized trail use. Projects include urban greenways and horse, hiking, mountain bike, and off-highway vehicle trails, as well as snow and water routes. Since 1993, States have received over $1 billion in Federal funding for local projects.
The RTP applies the "user-pay/user-benefit" philosophy of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Trail users pay the Federal motor fuel excise tax for fuel used for nonhighway recreational trail use, and receive the benefit of the RTP through funds provided to the States for trail projects. This program implementation is consistent in practice with other expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund.
The RTP was created by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), reauthorized in 1998 as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), again in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), and the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). On December 4, 2015, the RTP was reauthorized as part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, for FY 2016-20 (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/fastact/).
States may use RTP funds for a variety of project types and expenditures which fall under eight categories of permissible uses. The RTP legislation identi es these general permissible use categories:
The RTP Database (http://www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org) provides an online record of RTP project data for the FHWA, Congress, the State administrators, project managers, and the public. Over 21,350 projects can be searched by State, County, Congressional District, Trail Name, Project Name, Permissible Use Category, and Year Awarded. Reports can be printed from the search results.
A review of the RTP Database shows the diversity of local impacts of RTP funding. Like other Highway Trust Fund programs, the RTP provides benefits to virtually every county in the United States.
Projects using RTP funds illustrate a variety of the ways that trails enhance public lands and communities across America. Some important benefits are identified along with examples of how trails support larger public goals:
The RTP is a Federal-aid assistance program of the FHWA with funds provided to each State to build and maintain recreational trails and related facilities and activities.
States are required to use 40 percent of their RTP funds for diverse recreational trail use, 30 percent for motorized recreation, and 30 percent for nonmotorized recreation. (The 40-30-30 calculation takes place after accounting for State administrative costs. A small State exclusion exempts Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island from 30 percent motorized and nonmotorized requirements).
The specifics of how to apply this formula to project selection is up to the States, and varies considerably around the country. States with large Federal land ownership sometimes fund backcountry projects with both motorized and nonmotorized use to achieve diversity. Others may fund projects with adjacent paved and unpaved trail surfaces for diverse nonmotorized activities, or trails with winter snowmobiling and summer all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use.
The Federal funds will provide up to 80 percent of the project cost and require project sponsors to provide the remaining amount in matching resources (generally at least 20 percent). In many cases, the actual match from the project partners is 50 percent or more.
An ongoing goal of State administration is efficient use of RTP funds. This includes streamlining required reviews, clarifying financial accountability, improving project selection, reducing project implementation costs for sponsors, and tracking program and project performance.
Managed Uses include a wide variety of both motorized and nonmotorized trail activities that are appropriate to recreational trails. The RTP legislation defines the term “recreational trail” as “a thoroughfare or track across land or snow, used for recreational purposes,” and includes the following activities:
This table shows RTP funding authorized by Congress for use by States each year of the program. Beginning under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the States return one percent annually to FHWA for program administration: up to $841,600.
The funds were allocations in 1993, 1996, and 1997, but the funds were apportionments for 1998- 2015.
|Allocations (All States)||RTP Funding||Obligated|
|1993-2015 Obligation Rate||84.27%|
----- NOTES -----
Table 1 and Table 3
The difference in the totals in Table 1 and Table 3 is due to the different sources providing the information (see the notes below) and the manner in which a State obligates its funding (e.g., some States obligate funds every other year). Additionally, the RTP Database does not currently have complete data for all States; data collection and validation for the RTP Database is an on-going effort. Data will be regularly entered into the Database as it is received from the States and the District of Columbia.
The obligation rate represents the percentage of funds committed to projects compared to the funds available. The obligation rate for the overall Federal-aid highway program averages about 95 percent over time. The obligation rate for the RTP has trended in the 80 to 85 percent range. There are many reasons why the RTP has a lower obligation rate. The obligation authority for the Federal-aid highway program is lower than the apportionments, so some States give priority to other Federal-aid highway programs. Some States select projects on two-year cycles (even-numbered years tend to have lower obligation rates). Some States delay project selection and implementation when there is uncertainty about the reauthorization of the program, or take time to implement the program after each new authorization act.
FY 2012 apportionments were reduced from the $85 million authorized because of mandatory rescissions. States also must consider limitations on Federal-aid highway program obligations.
The source for the data in Tables 1 and 2 is the Federal Highway Administration’s Fiscal Management Information System (FMIS). The source for the data in Tables 3 (Page 7) and 4 (Page 17) is information provided by the States for the Recreational Trails Program Database (http://www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org).
This table shows the number of projects per State for Federal FY 2015.
It shows RTP funds apportioned to each State for the most recent year of the program. The funding is based on the amount each State received in FY 2009. In that year, half of the funds were distributed equally among all States, and half were distributed in proportion to the estimated amount of off-road recreational fuel use in each State: fuel used for off-road recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, and off-road light trucks.
This table also shows obligations by State. Obligations are the Federal government’s legal commitment to pay or reimburse the States or other entities for the Federal share of a project’s eligible costs.
|State||2015 Projects||FY 2015 Apportionment||FY 2015 Obligation|
|District of Columbia||2||$816,847||$2,740,706|
|South Carolina (4)||0||$1,199,108||$1,889,429|
|Total to States||1,056||$80,741,889||$71,980,520|
This table shows the number of projects funded plus the amount of funding by State for Federal FY 1993-2015. It shows the total RTP funds obligated by each State during the period. In addition, the “Total Other Funding” column shows how much additional match was provided by project sponsors. Note that the matching funds are generally higher than the 20 percent minimum required by RTP. In 11 States the match is higher than the total RTP funds apportioned.
|State||1993-2015 Projects||Total RTP Funding||Total Other Funding|
|District of Columbia||35||$7,876,842||$1,811,757|
|South Carolina (4)||240||$14,731,804||$20,291,705|
The RTP Database (http://www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org) includes more than 21,350 projects that have received more than $1 billion in funding. These projects have been matched with $774 million.
The RTP Database provides a central repository for RTP project data that is usable by the FHWA, Congress, the States, RTP administrators, project managers, and the public. To promote program transparency, FHWA seeks to know how States use RTP funds in a manner that provides sufficient information to the public without undue burden on State program administrators.
In 2012, FHWA contracted with KMS Enterprises, Inc. (which subcontracted with American Trails) to develop, operate, and update a searchable RTP Database to be available on a website, and to provide annual reports on RTP funding. New data is regularly entered into the Database as it is received from the States, District of Columbia, and other sources.
Updating the RTP Database is important because there are more than 1,000 new RTP projects each year. American Trails also gathers photographs for the Image Library to provide examples of permissible uses and managed uses for trails, related facility construction, and other project types.
Database users can search by State, County, Congressional District, Trail Name, Project Name, Permissible Use Category, and Year Awarded. Reports can be printed from the search results. Database users can view a record of the project for more information. A link to a brief webinar on how to navigate and use the RTP Database is located online: http://ww.recreationaltrailsinfo.org.
The RTP legislation identifies eight categories of permissible uses for how States may use RTP funds. The following pages provide details and examples for each use. The categories are:
See the text of the legislation defining the categories: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/legislation/#permissible
Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, Delaware
The Northern Delaware Greenway Trail links parks and communities between the Delaware River and the Brandywine River. The purpose of the greenway trail is to help protect water quality, safeguard historic and cultural resources, improve air quality, maintain plant and animal biodiversity, sustain and enhance Delaware’s scenic beauty, and provide space for recreation and active transportation. The trail serves a wide variety of neighborhoods in the greater Wilmington area, and gives residents in lower-income areas easy access to parkland.
Category A: Maintenance and restoration of existing trails: trail maintenance, restoration, rehabilitation, or relocation. This category may include maintenance and restoration of trail bridges, or provide appropriate signage along a trail.
Blanca Peak Trail, Colorado
The photos above show the Blanca Peak Trail before and after the maintenance project completed by Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) staff and volunteers. The project focused on stabilizing the primary trail corridor and included building risers, retaining walls, drainage structures, and 583 rock steps. Leveraging the RTP funds, RMFI secured matching funds from organizations such as the Colorado Mountain Club and the Forest Service to complete the project. Photos from RMFI.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
Burning Rock Outdoor Adventure Park, West Virginia
The Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia worked with the Beaver Coal Company to use RTP funds for repairs and maintenance of the over 100-mile OHV trail system. Work to improve user safety as well as the environment included stabilization and repair of badly rutted and deteriorated trail sections, clearing and grubbing of trail corridors, and addressing runoff and erosion. Continued improvements to the park will increase the number of visitors, which positively affects the economy of the area and helps promote tourism in southern West Virginia.
Category B: Development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages for recreational trails. Typical eligible work includes parking areas, toilets, horse and vehicle unloading facilities, signs, and seating.
Bois D’Arc Trail, Oklahoma
The Bois D’Arc Trailhead’s interpretive signage at Hugo Lake State Park in Choctaw County provides visitors with an overview of the park’s navigation that is easy to read, as well as history and background about the park. With help from the RTP, the Dixie Community Action Agency was also able to install restrooms, a fishing dock, a pavilion, picnic tables, and rest areas as part of this project. Photo from Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
Lake Joanna Trail, Missouri
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used RTP funds to purchase two restrooms for the Lake Joanna Trail at Mark Twain State Park. Both restrooms are fully accessible and designed to be low maintenance, minimizing operating costs and the environmental footprint. A local chapter of Show-Me Missouri Back Country Horsemen also donated hitching posts, refurbished picnic tables, and installed trailhead maps and trail ethics signs. The project was also supported by local Boy Scouts, high school vocational students, and the Mark Twain Lake Friends of Recreation and Environmental Stewardship Council.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
Category C: Purchase and lease of recreational trail construction and maintenance equipment. Examples include snow trail grooming equipment, mechanized trailbuilding equipment, vehicles for trail maintenance, and other equipment to help maintain the trail surface, drainage, adjacent vegetation.
Alakai Swamp Boardwalk, Hawaii
The Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources used RTP funds for helicopter support to replace the 20-year old disintegrating boardwalk made of redwood planks and chicken wire. Trail users trying to navigate around decomposing boards were trampling the plants and getting stuck in the thick alpine bog mud. As one of the world’s highest-elevation temperate rainforests and almost a mile above sea level, the Alakai Swamp is home to many rare native species.
Leasing the helicopter enabled supplies to be flown in, avoiding damage to the delicate ecosystem. The boardwalk renovation was accomplished with recycled plastic boards reinforced with fiberglass that can withstand the fluctuating climate. The ongoing funding by the RTP also provided additional tools, equipment, and materials. The goal of the project was to ensure that the new boardwalk will be more durable, while enhancing the public’s enjoyment and safety. Photos from Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
OHV Trails Maintenance Project, Montana
RTP funds enabled the purchase of equipment needed to maintain Montana’s motorized recreation trails and manage their steadily increasing use. Photo from Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
Category D: Construction of new recreational trails. This is the largest category of expenditures in most States, and includes paved and unpaved trails, water trails, snow trails, and bridges. The needs of local communities, agencies, and trail users are reflected in the great variety of trail construction that has been accomplished. Urban trails, greenways, natural surface pathways, paddling routes, and recreational vehicle routes are all well represented in RTP funding.
Cove Spring Park Trails, Kentucky
RTP funds have helped build multiple new trails. At approximately 250 acres, this trail system provides multiple types of transportation and recreation for residents and visitors, including raised boardwalks, accessible trails, an archery range, and wetlands preserve. The most recent phase of the trail system connects several neighborhoods with downtown Frankfort. Photo from Kentucky Department of Local Government.
Boardman Bridge, Idaho
A failing pier had permanently closed this bridge in 2012, but its replacement reopened connectivity to over 150 miles of motorized and nonmotorized trails. As the only bridge within 25 miles that allows safe crossing over the South Fork of the Boise River for trail access, the bridge provides access for an assortment of recreational trail users, livestock herders, and land managers. The raised crossing also improves water quality and fish habitat. Photo from the USDA Forest Service, Sawtooth National Forest, Fairfield Ranger District.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
Category E: Acquisition of easements and fee simple title to property for recreational trails or recreational trail corridors. This category may include acquisition of old road or railroad bridges to be converted to trail use. Acquisition of any kind of interest in property must be from a willing landowner or seller.
Haw River Trail Acquisition, North Carolina
The 8.3-acre land acquisition for the Haw River Trail in Alamance County, North Carolina was funded by the RTP in 2013. The grant enabled Alamance County and the City of Graham to purchase this property as part of ongoing efforts to preserve land along the river. This acquisition provides new recreation opportunities and increases the health of the Haw River, which stretches over 100 miles. It had been avoided for decades due to heavy pollution from the many textile factories along its edge. Photo by Brian Baker, Alamance Parks.
Category F: Assessment of trail conditions for accessibility and maintenance, authorizes specific projects to assess trails to determine the level of accessibility for people who have disabilities, to develop programs to provide trail access information, and to assess trails for current or future maintenance needs.
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Inventory and Assessment Program
Trail assessments help keep the thousands of miles of trails across our country maintained for consistent safety and enjoyable use. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) used an RTP grant matched by volunteer donations to assess and catalog trail conditions and perform maintenance as needed. A technical specialist trained volunteers to use GPS devices and attach digital photos and descriptions, in order to record conditions and maintenance needs for over 700 miles of trails in New Jersey.
An additional benefit of RTP funding has been to illustrate the productive and efficient aspects of trail assessment. As a result, the NYNJTC has received continued support from its major partners in the park systems of New York and New Jersey. Photo by Jeremy Apgar, NYNJTC.
Category G: Development and dissemination of publications and operation of educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection.
A State may use up to five percent of its apportionment each fiscal year for the operation of educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection as those objectives relate to the use of recreational trails.
North Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Safety Campaign, North Dakota
North Dakota’s Parks and Recreation Department contracted with a production company to make a series of OHV safety public service announcements (PSA) to be aired on television, radio, YouTube, and in safety presentations. The purpose of the PSAs is to raise public awareness about how to operate OHVs safely and in an ethical manner. The titles of the PSAs are: “Stick To The Trail,” “I Learned It In Class,” “2 Are Better Than 1,” “The Right Fit,” and “Helmet Superman.” The videos can be seen on the ND Parks and Recreation Department’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/ndparkrec/videosd.
Blue Tree Trail System and Spring Mountains Youth Camp, Nevada
The 50-mile Blue Tree Trail System is in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. The Forest Service uses RTP funds to improve the trails with help from youth at the Spring Mountains Youth Camp. This camp is part of the Clark County Juvenile Justice Program and provides education and work experiences for youth offenders between the ages of 12 to 18, who learn skills in trail building and resource protection.
Another significant project partner was the Bristlecone Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Nevada. This group helped with trail maintenance, installed all of the signs, and provided volunteer pack stock support for the trail crews with both Great Basin Institute and Spring Mountains Youth Camp. The Backcountry Horsemen also work with the Future Farmers of America from a local high school. These students learn horsemanship, packing skills, and trail work. These efforts have added 50 miles of quality trails that improve sustainability of recreation resources, and protect important cultural and natural resources. The result is a safer, high quality recreation system for a variety of user groups.
The project brought together a wide array of interest groups who pulled together to support a common vision and bring it to reality on the ground, learning new skills along the way. Photo from the USDA Forest Service, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
Category H: Payment of costs to the State incurred in administering the program.
In addition to Staff time to administer the program and grants, other activities related to recreational trails are eligible under this category, including:
A State may use up to seven percent of its apportionment each fiscal year for State administrative costs in that fiscal year. Any funds not used for administration within a fiscal year must be used for on-the-ground trail projects.
State Recreational Trails Committee, Colorado
An excellent example of effective citizen involvement with policy for trails is Colorado’s State Recreational Trails Committee. The nine members represent the full spectrum of trail interests and act as the State’s principal liaison with trail user groups. The Committee oversees all of Colorado’s motorized and nonmotorized trail grant application review processes—not just the RTP.
The Committee has fostered many partnerships with Federal, State, and local agencies, nonprofits, and volunteer organizations to promote trails in Colorado. It also coordinates trail development among local governments.
The Committee is also involved in Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s efforts to adopt a new Strategic Plan. The Committee identified three critical initiatives for trails in Colorado:
Colorado was a 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award winner for Outstanding State Recreational Trails Advisory Committee.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
Data collection and validation for the RTP Database is an ongoing effort. Data will be regularly entered into the Database as it is received from the States, District of Columbia, and other sources.
|A. Maintenance and Restoration||12,702|
|B. Trailside and Trailhead Facilities||10,022|
|Other Trailhead and Trailside Facilities||867|
|C. Equipment for Construction and Maintenance||2,329|
|D. Construction of New Recreational Trails||7,522|
|E. Acquisition of Trail Corridors||346|
|F. Assessment of Trail Conditions||158|
|G. Education for Safety and Environmental Protection||2,311|
|Publications (Maps and Brochures)||477|
|Other Educational Programs||213|
----- NOTES -----
RTP funds may be used for projects within eight permissible use categories. The table shows the number of projects funded within each category since the inception of the program. Some categories are broken down further to specify the project type.
Many projects qualify under more than one category. Maintenance and restoration projects are the most common projects, followed by trail facilities, and new trail construction.
The source for the data in Tables 3 and 4 is information that the States provided for the RTP database (http://www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org).
A review of RTP-funded projects reveals the many benefits of providing quality trails in our communities and across our public lands. Some important benefits are identified along with examples of how trails support larger goals for maintaining the health of people as well as the environment, encouraging economic activity, providing jobs and education, and improving communities across America.
RTP funds have been used in every State to improve the accessibility of trails for persons with disabilities to make communities, trails, and recreation facilities more available to all. These projects have also highlighted the needs of older people, families with children, and those who are new to trail activities.
The “Final Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas” under the Architectural Barriers Act provide specifications for accessible recreational trails and other components of outdoor developed areas on Federal lands or constructed by a Federal agency. Although the guidelines do not necessarily apply to Federal-aid projects (unless on Federal land), they provide best practices that States may adopt to ensure equivalent compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This recently opened trail in Clarksville, Tennessee is the first fully accessible trail in the Montgomery County Park system. Located within the only natural park in the system, it has multiple surfaces including concrete, composite decking boardwalks, and graded chert. Updating the parking lot to improve accessibility was also an important part of this trail project.
* 2015 Coalition for Recreational Trails Award Winner
A significant amount of RTP funding is used to help build transportation networks in cities across America. The term “active transportation” refers to bicycling, walking, and other nonmotorized transportation modes. Often these trail and sidewalk networks are well integrated with public transit. Trails can be both efficient modes of transportation as well as linear parks and habitat corridors.
Active transportation networks can also enhance recreation, and people will use attractive and safe trails as a way to get to school, work, or shopping instead of driving. The ultimate benefit is in increasing physical activity to reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic health conditions across the United States.
In Asheville, North Carolina, paved trails are an important aspect of providing transportation alternatives. The City’s “Greenway Master Plan” includes 24 trail corridors and reports that “greenways consistently rank high on the public’s list of infrastructure priorities.”
In “Strategic Issues Facing Transportation,” the Transportation Research Board states that “Climate change presents a fundamental challenge to engineering and planning practice given that transportation infrastructure has traditionally been planned and designed based upon historical climate data under the implicit assumption that the climate is static and the future will be like the past. Climate change challenges this assumption and suggests that transportation professionals might need to consider new kinds of risks in facility design and system operations.”
RTP funding can address concerns about climate change by building more durable trails that will withstand extreme weather events. In making efforts toward reducing greenhouse gases, new facilities and improvements to encourage bicycling and walking can reduce driving and emissions.
Trails also address climate change by preserving natural lands, which absorb and store carbon dioxide. Trail and greenway corridors provide an opportunity for replanting trees as well as enhancing wetlands and other habitats. Trails often traverse former industrial areas that present opportunities for new plantings to create cooling corridors through our cities.
FHWA provides publications and tools that may help trail managers perform vulnerability assessments and address climate change resilience; see https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/climate_change/.
Many studies show that trails and greenways promote economic activity through spending, employment, and tax revenues. Increased property values, tourism, and recreation-related spending on equipment, bicycles, food, and lodging are ways trails positively impact community economies. A major benefit of trail tourism is that visitors spend money in rural towns and economically disadvantaged areas.
Many towns have been successful at identifying their recreation resources, creating systems of trails, and making them more available through maps, signs, marketing, events, and tours. Communities adjacent to public lands benefit from trails on those lands. Much of the investment in maintaining and creating trail systems comes from volunteers and donations from businesses.
The Great Allegheny Passage, Maryland and Pennsylvania
The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) which links Cumberland, Maryland and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania sees almost a million users every year. The 2015 GAP survey found that that 62 percent of visitors were planning an overnight stay. Businesses reported a 41 percent increase in trail user traffic from 2014, while 40 percent of the businesses planned to expand, and of those planning to expand, 67 percent attributed their expansion to the impact from the trail.
The positive contributions of trails promote natural resource management strategies that help ensure environmental quality. Often the environmental mitigation work is done by volunteers and conservation corps crews through projects such as restoring degraded stream corridors and other habitats in the process of trail building, and guiding visitors away from sensitive wildlife habitat and into more sustainable settings.
RTP funding is also commonly used for projects involving acquisition of land for protection and reroutes to avoid habitat impacts.
Housatonic River Walk, Massachusetts
The Housatonic River Walk in Great Barrington, Massachusetts is an outdoor classroom for students from kindergarten through graduate school. The Great Barrington Land Conservancy offers tours on the river’s restoration, native plants, and biodiversity. College interns earn credits by assisting with development, performing maintenance, studying reclamation of riverine ecosystems, and learning about maintaining public spaces.Greenagers, a local organization that fosters the ethics of stewardship in area youth, trains volunteers in skills to perform trail maintenance and improvements.
The goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Ladders of Opportunity” initiative is to strengthen communities, create pathways to jobs, and improve the quality of life for all Americans. RTP funding can support trails that add to the success of these kinds of community projects:
RTP funds frequently are used for improvements that support multiple trail uses. Since diverse forms of transportation are often allowed on trails, this is an important and challenging part of trail management. The goals for land managers are maintaining user safety, protecting natural resources, and providing high-quality user experiences.
To address these challenges, managers employ a wide array of physical and management options such as trail design, information and education, user involvement, and regulations and enforcement. Specific project work includes trail sharing and etiquette signs, trailhead facilities, stream crossing improvements, and trail work to improve sight lines and maintain tread width.
Just as our communities and transportation systems are vulnerable to major damage, so are our trails and parks. Extreme weather events in recent years have provided more visibility of damaged trails and parks. Whether or not these events could be categorized under “Climate Change,” a significant amount of funding is being applied to weather-related repairs:
Val Riess Park in Chalmette, Louisiana was left in ruins after Hurricane Katrina. RTP funds were matched by a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant and funds from Murphy Oil Corporation. St. Bernard Parish and the City of Chalmette were then able to rebuild the trails and structures at Val Riess Park. The community once again has a center for gatherings and outdoor recreation.
Trails are an important part of our transportation infrastructure. Trails support the economy through tourism and civic improvement, and provide opportunities for physical activity to improve fitness and mental health. Cities, suburbs, and towns all benefit from trails and greenways that make our communities more attractive to residents as well as employers.
Trails also help our parks and open space by reducing crime and illegal activity through regular use and high visibility of users. Modest increases in property values near trails have also been documented.
Every State has used RTP funding for educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection. OHV safety training and educational materials have been the largest type of RTP expenditures for these activities.
New safety issues have emerged with the popularity of boating and designated water trails. Safety is a key part of the training and resources provided by States and organizations for planning, managing, and promoting water trail facilities.
Trail-related environmental education teaches about economic, social, and ecological interdependence while experiencing nature and the outdoors. Trails and the natural areas they pass through are outdoor laboratories for schools as well as adults. For children active in natural settings, research indicates a number of benefits in better understanding of the environment as well as improvements in physical and mental health.
For trails, sustainability may mean better route planning, mitigation of impacts, using recycled materials, and reducing erosion. To trail managers, sustainability is key to reducing expenditures on maintenance by better design of trails, and the use of appropriate materials and structures. Sustainable trails should also:
FHWA has been promoting sustainability in project development, through context-sensitive solutions, habitat restoration, ecological connectivity, and site vegetation.
A challenge in North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve is managing runoff from the 2,000-foot peak. Controlling erosion along the trails keeps them stable and safe for recreationists, while preventing sediment from impacting nearby wetlands.
Youth Service and Conservation Corps are Federal, State, and local programs that engage youth and young adults in service and projects. Corps members receive training and mentoring, a modest stipend, and opportunities for education and career preparation. Public agencies benefit because Corps provide cost-effective labor, and also provide training for a pool of potential employees to work in conservation and outdoor recreation.
Federal transportation law allows States to sole-source contracts and cooperative agreements to qualified youth service and conservation corps for recreational trail projects. Youth corps projects are usually administered through State resource agencies that have ongoing relationships with youth corps organizations.
The Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT), a federation of national trail-related organizations, hosts an annual achievement awards program to recognize outstanding trail projects funded by the Recreational Trails Program. The winners are recognized each year in Washington, DC during the American Recreation Coalition’s Great Outdoors Month in early June. The awards are part of the Coalition’s ongoing effort to build awareness of RTP accomplishments. Award winners are selected from projects nominated by public agencies, State administrators, organizations, or project sponsors.
Maintenance and Rehabilitation: maintaining, repairing damage to, or upgrading the quality of a trail.
Construction and Design: planning and building a trail, portions of a trail, or trail-related facilities.
Public-Private Partnerships Enhancing Public Lands Access and Use: facilitating and/or encouraging cost-effective partnerships between public and private entities, especially to increase access to and use of Federal, State, and local public lands, including parks, forests and wildlife refuges.
Community Linkage: providing and/or enhancing opportunities for trail-based recreation and transportation within or near local communities.
Education and Communication: enhancing trail use and enjoyment through increased environmental awareness, promotion of safety, and encouragement of trail-related outdoor recreation.
Multiple-Use Management and Corridor Sharing: facilitating and/or encouraging the use of a trail corridor by more than one type of trail enthusiast, particularly those enthusiasts that do not ordinarily share trails or trail-related facilities.
Accessibility Enhancement: facilitating and/or encouraging access to trail-related recreation opportunities for people with disabilities.
Youth Conservation/Service Corps and Community Outreach: making effective use of the services and skills of qualified youth conservation or service corps to construct and/or maintain trails.
State Awards: winners for Outstanding State Program and Outstanding State Recreational Trails Advisory Committee are chosen each year by the Awards Committee of the National Association of State Park Directors.
Read more about the CRT Annual Achievement Awards and see details of the projects that have been recognized since 2000: http://www.americantrails.org/rtp/crtawards.html.
The CRT members work together to build awareness and understanding of the RTP. The CRT formed in 1992 following the passage of the ISTEA to ensure that the National Recreational Trails Fund Act (now known as the RTP) established by that legislation received adequate funding.
To learn more about the CRT, visit their website at http://www.funoutdoors.com.
RTP funding has been an essential ingredient in creating and improving over 21,350 trail-related projects nationwide, including urban greenways, nature centers, and horse, hiking, mountain bike, and motorized trails, as well as snow and water routes. States continue to add miles of trails as well as needed maintenance and improvements through grants to local project sponsors each year.
A review of RTP-funded projects also reveals many benefits to employment, environmental education, health, resource conservation, and community development. The program has encouraged productive cooperation among agencies and jurisdictions, facilitated healthy outdoor recreation, and supported economic activity in communities.
Like other Highway Trust Fund programs, the RTP provides benefits to virtually every county in the United States. It is also the foundation for State trail programs across the country. Every State has established its own initiatives to develop and improve trails for all users. The RTP Database and Image Library have many examples of RTP-funded projects gathered from all States and the District of Columbia, categorized by State and by permissible use, that demonstrate the value of these projects.
RTP funding is highly leveraged by community and State funds, as well as contributions from organizations and businesses. Of the projects completed between 1993 and 2015, total RTP funding was nearly $1.1 billion with additional matching funds of $775 million, showing that RTP dollars were matched by 74 percent with other funds. Further program efficiencies are seen by the use of youth conservation and service corps working in cooperation with private contractors, agency or community staff, and volunteers.
In every State, equestrians and cyclists, hikers and snowmobilers, ATV enthusiasts and paddlers have joined in support of local as well as regional efforts to meet the trail needs of all users. Because the funds are distributed for both motorized and nonmotorized trail work, all trail interests have incentives to cooperate and learn from each other.
For more information on many topics related to RTP funding as well as technical resources on trails of all types, see the following resources.
Recreational Trails Program Database Website: www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org
Call the number or send an email to the address below.
RTP Database Technical Assistance Section
P.O. Box 491797
Redding, CA 96049-1797
Write to email@example.com.
The Recreational Trails Program Database project is funded by the Federal Highway Administration through the Recreational Trails Program under contract DTFH61-12-C-00029. The contractor for the RTP Database project and this Annual Report is KMS Enterprises, Inc., with American Trails as its subcontractor.