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Covering recreation and environmental issues within California
John Stewart

Recreational Trails Program

Recreational Trails Program

What is the Recreational Trails Program?

The U.S. Congress first authorized the Recreational Trails Program in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. It was reauthorized in 1998 under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

The Recreational Trails Program 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 motorcyling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or using other off-road motorized vehicles.

Who administers the program?

The Recreational Trails Program 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.

How much money is available?

Under TEA-21, the Congress authorized the Recreational Trails Program $30 million in 1998, $40 million in 1999, and $50 million annually for 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Previous funding in 1996 and 1997 was $15 million each year.

Half of the funds are distributed equally among all States, and half are 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.

What projects are eligible?


Recreational Trails Program funds may be used for:

maintenance and restoration of existing trails;
development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages;
purchase and lease of trail construction and maintenance equipment;
construction of new trails (with restrictions for new trails on Federal lands);
acquisition of easements or property for trails
State administrative costs related to this program (limited to 7 percent of a State's funds); and
operation of educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection related to trails (limited to 5 percent of a State's funds).

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.

Which projects are not eligible?

Recreational Trails Program funds may not be used for:

property condemnation (eminent domain);
constructing new trails for motorized use on National Forest or Bureau of Land Management lands unless the project is consistent with resource management plans; or
facilitating motorized access on otherwise nonmotorized trails.

These funds are intended for recreational trails; they may not be used to improve roads for general passenger vehicle use or to provide shoulders or sidewalks along roads.

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 maintenanace, facility development, or construction project.

Who can sponsor a project?

States may make grants to private organizations, or to municipal, county, State, 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.

How does project funding work?

Project amounts vary by State, but most range in value from $2,000 to $50,000. Some States set minimum or maximum allowable dollar values.

In general, the maximum Federal share for each project from Recreational Trails Program funds is 80 percent. 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. States also 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.

How do I obtain Recreational Trails Program project funding?

Each State has its own procedures to solicit and select recreational trails projects for funding. A project sponsor should develop its proposal sufficiently so that the project may move quickly into implementation 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:

* Develop a workable project. What are your trail needs? What can you do realistically?
* Get public support for your project. How does your project benefit your community? Are there other potential project sponsors?
* Find other funding sources. The normal Federal share is limited to 80 percent. Some State or local governments may provide some matching funds, but usually the project sponsor has to provide most or all of the match.
o Consider donations of materials and volunteer labor.
o Consider how to involve youth conservation or service corps in your project.
* Develop a good project design.
* Consider the project's natural environment. Consider user needs, including use by people with disabilities.
* Consider potential problems:
o Environmental impacts - these must be documented and minimized.
o Permits - you may need to obtain various permits prior to submitting your proposal.
o Possible opposition - some people may oppose your project for various reasons, including concerns about property rights, liability, safety, or historic or environmental impacts.
* Complete the project application.

If your project is approved, get to work! States may withdraw project approval if a sponsor does not begin work within a reasonable time frame.

For more information on the Recreational Trails Program, see the Recreational Trails Program-State Trail Administrators contact list:
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/rectrails/rtpstate.htm

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