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Use of funds from the Recreational Trails Program

By Christopher B. Douwes, Community Planner, Federal Highway Administration -- Washington, DC

November 1999

Recreational Trails Program funds may be used for:

a) maintenance and restoration of existing trails;

b) development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages;

c) purchase and lease of trail construction and maintenance equipment;

d) construction of new trails (with restrictions for new trails on Federal lands);

e) acquisition of easements or property for trails;

f) state administrative costs related to this program (limited to 7 percent of a State's funds); and

g) 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 non-motorized trail uses, and 40 percent for diverse trail uses. Diverse motorized projects (such as both snowmobile and motorcycle) or diverse non-motorized projects (such as both pedestrian and equestrian) may satisfy two of these categories at the same time. States are encouraged to consider projects that benefit both motorized and non-motorized users, such as common trailhead facilities. Many states give extra credit in their selection criteria to projects that benefit multiple trail uses.

Recreational Trails Program funds may NOT be used for:

a) property condemnation (eminent domain);

b) 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

c) facilitating motorized access on otherwise non-motorized 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. Also, 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 maintenance project, facility development, or construction 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.

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.

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. For more information on the Recreational Trails Program, see the state contact list.

Mr. Douwes is a Community Planner with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in Washington DC. He is FHWA's Recreational Trails Program Manager, working with the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Team. He represents the US DOT on the Access Board's Outdoor Developed Areas Committee in developing accessibility guidelines for outdoor recreation areas. He manages several contracts for research, technology development, and technical assistance for trail-related activities. Christopher received his Master of Science in Transportation from Northwestern University in 1990.