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Recreational Trails Program: Report on State Trail Projects


Prepared as a cost-share project under FHWA Order Number DTFH61-99-P-00132, Requisition Number 62-10-9040/0000 r


Initiating the Recreational Trails Program Database
Database Analysis
Recommendations for future CRT/FHWA Cooperation, Including On-going RTP Database
Statistical Executive Summary of the Initial
Database Findings
Recreational Trails Program Trail Project
Information Sheet

Appendix A:

Appendix B: Agenda for June 1999 Coalition for Recreational Trails Event
Appendix C: Samples of Database Contents
Appendix D: Listing of Coalition for Recreational Trails Members



A federal assistance program for recreational trail construction, renovation and maintenance was created under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. Under the program, funds were distributed to the States and certain other qualifying jurisdictions during three of the legislation's initial six years (a total of $37.5 million) as well as during the transitional period of October 1997 to June 1998.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century amended the program, most notably by significantly increasing funds apportioned to the States (rising to $50 million annually for years 3-6 of the legislation) and providing contract spending authority for such expenditures for the entire term of the legislation.

The legislation establishes requirements for project eligibility but provides substantial flexibility to the States on project selection. Presently, there is no unified reporting process from the States to the FHWA on use of the funds. As a consequence, answers to Congressional, media and other inquiries about the program's benefits and spending are not readily available. It should be noted that most States have substantial, though not uniform, information available on use of RTP funds, and that this information is available to the public.

The Coalition for Recreational Trails, representing all major national trail interests, has taken an active role in the trail program since its inception and shares FHWA's interest in ensuring that the program is efficient, operating in full compliance with the law and understood by all interests. Because of the current dearth of aggregated data on the RTP program, CRT proposed in early 1999 to:

  • work in cooperation with FHWA and the States to compile certain basic information on projects funded under RTP;
  • use this database for the development of one or more reports on the accomplishments of the program, and
  • recommend to FHWA a means to maintain and expand a database on RTP projects to assist in evaluating the program's accomplishments and to improve the quality of funded projects.

CRT proposed to undertake this project on a shared-cost basis, providing both in-kind and direct contributions to the project.

CRT regards it as essential that RTP projects can be readily identified and evaluated by the Administration, the Congress and program advocates. The increase in funding for RTP provided under TEA-21 demonstrated the support for trails programs in the Congress, but this support will be sustained only if sufficient accomplishments can be demonstrated. Moreover, FHWA has a need to monitor projects for compliance with statutory direction: this will become readily possible as the database becomes established.

Initiating the Recreational Trails Program Database

The Coalition for Recreational Trails, FHWA, the National Association of State Trail Administrators (NASTA) and leading and diverse national trails organizations have developed collaboratively a base-level means for collecting information about RTP funded projects and a structure for the data. Each project listing includes more than 30 data fields, for example, project name, name and organization of key contacts, project location and description, amount of RTP funding and of other funding, types of trail activities benefitting from the project, Congressional district(s) in which the trail project is located and a summary of the specific accomplishments of each project.

Beginning in March 1999, CRT and FHWA developed the mechanism for compiling the information into a database and initiated the solicitation of data from the States. State trail agencies submitted project information in a variety of formats, including e-mail, fax and mail. The information ranged from very detailed to very basic, and much more interpretation of the responses was required than initially anticipated. CRT then entered the information into a database allowing a variety of reports to be generated. A preliminary analysis of the data was completed for a well-attended briefing of FHWA staff, Members of Congress and their staffs and trail community leaders in June 1999 on the accomplishments of the RTP program. This report includes additional information compiled subsequent to that briefing as well as recommendations based on CRT's experience in developing the initial database, producing two exhibits on the RTP program and further discussions with state trail program administrators.

The collected information was supplied to those submitting data, both to allow states to review and correct information and to encourage those states supplying incomplete data to note the comprehensive information supplied by other states. Reaction was prompt from several states, leading us to believe that a regular database collection effort will enjoy an improvement in the quality and quantity of information supplied. Moreover, CRT has initiated conversations with organizations collecting information regarding other TEA-21 programs ranging from CMAQ to transportation enhancements to improve the ease and effectiveness of data collection. CRT was forced to enter all data manually; a permanent database operation may be able to create a way by which data can be submitted electronically by the states in a manner similar to that used by the National Scenic Byways Program for submission of nomination and grant applications.

Database Analysis

CRT's review of the information compiled in the database generated the following conclusions:

(1) federal dollars are being matched at least 1:1 nationally by state, local and trail enthusiast funding for projects;

(2) trail and bridge construction and reconstruction were the leading category of trail projects funded under the program;

(3) thirteen different trail activities were identified as beneficiaries of funded projects, with the preponderance of projects benefitting non-motorized activities;

(4) projects appear to be benefitting specific trail activities generally proportionate to overall public participation in each activity;

(5) the sources of matching funds are diverse and include federal and state land management agencies, specialized state trail funds and private sector contributions;

(6) the size of the projects varied tremendously in scope and cost. The average project received approximately $25,000 from the RTP program;

(7) the number of projects reported by the states varied tremendously, with Arizona reporting just five and Vermont reporting more than 150;

(8) the projects incorporated into the CRT database represent a substantial portion of the total funding distributed under ISTEA ($37.5 million total) and TEA-21 ($30 million for FY98 and a portion of the FY99 monies, which total $40 million).

Recommendations for Future CRT/FHWA Cooperation, including On-going RTP Database

The Coalition for Recreational Trails believes that the Recreational Trails Program will have a dramatic and positive impact on the quality of life in America. It has already produced improvements through more than 2,500 projects nationwide and through catalyzing communication and cooperation among diverse trails enthusiasts, agency administrators at the federal, state and local levels and national organizations in the conservation, recreation and transportation fields. It has done this with very limited federal funding - funding highly leveraged by volunteer work and state and local trail funds.

However, specific information regarding accomplishments of the Recreational Trails Program have not been readily available to government officials, the interested public and the media. The 1999 cooperative venture by the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) confirmed that information on these accomplishments can be collected, integrated and made available. Further, this effort has proven that the information is regarded as valuable by Members of Congress, who welcomed the June briefing and the information provided. Moreover, Members of Congress indicated that information of the type available from the newly-created database would be valuable in TEA-21 oversight efforts and in the crafting of the next surface transportation legislation, now anticipated in 2003.

The CRT/FHWA undertaking also underscored that those supplying the needed data are busy and will provide information only (1) if the requests allow flexibility in the format data is supplied; (2) if the resulting database is available to them and is useful; and (3) the process supports the long-term operations of the program nationally. Achieving data receipt from all 50 states was a challenging experience with direct and indirect benefits.

Based upon the 1999 undertaking, the Coalition for Recreational Trails recommends that the Federal Highway Administration take the following steps:

1) agree to create and maintain a database on Recreational Trails Program-funded projects, and that this effort be done in a cooperative manner with CRT and the National Association of State Trail Administrators. Further, information from this database should be available to program partners and the public through a website;

2) increase its outreach efforts to trail enthusiast organizations, again in cooperation with CRT and other organizations, and highlight accomplishments of the program through appearances and displays at appropriate forums, including Great Outdoors Week, National Trails Day events and the National Trails Symposium;

3) convene at least once each two years a meeting of state and federal trail program administrators and national trail organizations to review the accomplishments of the program and consider program revisions which might improve the program's effectiveness; and

4) prepare and disseminate in various forms an annual report or reports on program accomplishments. Especially cost-effective means for disseminating this information include publications of national trails organizations and a national program website.

Statistical Executive Summary of the Initial Database Findings

50 States in the RTP Database as of July 31, 1999

Total trail project funding provided by the Federal Highway Administration in RTP program (data was not obtained for all program years or for all States) $52,557,997

Total trail project funding provided by other sources (data was not obtained for all program years or for all States). Sources of other funding ranged from Federal agencies such as USFS and BLM to States, towns and counties to trail clubs such as mountain biking groups, equestrian councils and snowmobiler associations. $53,647,256

Total number of trail projects obtained from the States listed above 2,524

Description of work done on trail projects (represented by a percentage of work done on all projects from which description data was obtained) included building new trails and adding trail connections, building restrooms, providing water fountains, developing and implementing educational programs, maintaining trails, resurfacing trail treads, providing accessibility to mobility impaired persons, etc. A categorical sample of some of the uses of the funding on trail projects is as follows:

Description of Work Done

Percentage and number of all projects that reported trail project description
  • Trail construction or development 569
  • Bridge construction or renovation 245
  • Trail maintenance 100
  • Sign purchase or installation 163
  • Trail renovation, relocation 147
  • Trail equipment purchased 98
  • Trail grooming 84
  • Trailhead work 107
  • Parking lot work 77
  • Restrooms 31
  • Education 16

Trail users on trails that received funding from the RTP program represented every category of trail recreation. (Data on trail use was not obtained on all trails projects.) A categorical sample of some of the trail groups that were represented is as follows:
Type of trail use Percentage # of all projects that reported types of trail usage
Hiking 56% 625
Mountain biking 43% 474
Walking 38% 427
Equestrian 28% 307
Cross Country Skiing 27% 298
Snowmobiling 24% 266
Road biking 19% 217
Running 21% 230
All terrain vehicle riding 19% 214
Off road motorcycling 15% 163
Four wheel driving 8% 88
Snowshoeing 5% 57
Paddling (canoeing, kayaking) 1% 14

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