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States plan networks for legacy of trails and greenways

By Stuart H. Macdonald, Chair, National Association of State Trail Administrators

From Trail Tracks, the newsletter of American Trails, Summer 2000

Several states across America are working on new plans for trails and greenways. As times and resources change, more states will cycle through this important process. If the CARA bill passes, we will see a large increase in funding for parks, trails, and open space. Another outcome will be the requirement for more recreation planning, including trails, at the state level.

Many states have found it beneficial to produce a statewide trails plan instead of a general recreation plan. We'll take a look at some of these efforts to see what can be learned from them. And equally important is getting more people who care about trails to get involved in these planning efforts

Planning has the reputation of being what you spend time and money on instead of actually doing something. But good plans are the essential catalyst or blueprint for getting trails built. Effective plans also bring together funding, land issues, politics, and public support. In short, effective trail planning involves the art of mobilizing complex resources.

One of the frustrations, even with good plans, is that the expected actions often don't take place. The fact is, most greenways are extremely difficult projects and they involve many players. The real point of state plans is the amount of interest and cooperation they stir up. It is the process of talking to many dfferent interests and developing goals that is the most valuable outcome, not the paper product.

As states across America are very different in climate, geography, and land ownership, so their trail plans emerge differently. However, there are some key elements which most plans have in common. Some of these trails and greenways planning concepts are:

  • Linking trail and recreation planning with plans for transportation and community development
  • Relating trails to the land development process and land use regulations
  • Promoting cooperation with land trusts and open space advocates
  • Extending the greenway concept to include utility and transportation corridors
  • Cost sharing among many agencies, local governments, organizations, and business
  • Acknowledging the competing interests for land use as well as among recreationists
  • Identifying essential, and feasible, prospects for development as well as long-term dreams
  • Identifying the specific benefits of trails for local areas as well as the larger community

The process of creating a plan, which is the real work of statewide trail planning, also involves some critical tasks:

  • Identifying all the interests who may have a stake in trails and greenways
  • Asking the right questions and listening to the answers from diverse intersts
  • Inviting grass-roots trail groups as well as agency perspectives
  • Acknowledging the strong opinions of diverse groups without allowing one voice to dominate
  • Keeping the debate on trails instead of political agendas and ideology
  • Using the planning effort as a way to inform the public about the importance of trails and greenways

Iowa Trails 2000 updates 10-year-old plan

In 1990 the Iowa Department of Transportation completed the first Iowa Statewide Recreational Trails Plan. It took into account the existing trails in the state and used a variety of evaluation methods to identify and prioritize potential trail corridors. The Plan consisted of a "backbone system," which was the primary trail network, coupled with "support system trails," that allowed for local connections or shorter trail loops.

The updated Iowa Trails 2000 will re-evaluate the 1990 Plan with extensive public input to address:

  • Consideration of a variety of corridors, including rivers, road rights-of-way, railroad grades, and existing trails
  • Cosideration of a wide variety of user groups
  • Connection to population centers, cultural and natural resources, neighboring states, and public lands
  • Additional analysis of economic impacts of trails on local economies
  • Combining trail efforts with environmental protection
  • Offer local trail planning guidance to local communities
  • Trail design guidelines will be updated to current standards

Iowa Trails 2000 will will continue to build the framework for an extensive system of multi-use trails, greenways, and urban non-motorized facilities. For more information see the website at:

Colorado's strategic plan: On Nature's Trail

In Colorado, the last State Recreational Trails Plan was done in 1991. Instead of updating it as a plan for specific trails and corridors, it was clear that a Strategic Plan was needed to guide the actions and funding of the State Trails Program. The resulting plan is titled On Nature's Trail: a Guide to the Future of Colorado's Statewide Trails System. The planning effort involved a public random survey, a questionnaire for trail groups and managers, and a series of focus groups with many different interests. The strategic goals of the plan are:

  • Providing leadership in developing an integrated statewide trail system to meet the growing needs of our residents and visitors.
  • Encouraging community, county, state, and federal trail planning of an integrated statewide trail system that preserves critical trail access points, corridors, and links.
  • Promoting environmentally appropriate trail planning, design, construction, and management.
  • Increasing and improving the availability of trails information, education, and technical assistance.
  • Encouraging trail stewardship statewide through education, partnerships, volunteerism, and youth programs.
  • Promoting trail ethics and proper management of trail activity conflicts by facilitating cooperation among recreationists, trail planners, and managers.
  • Providing stable, long-term funding sources for trail planning, design, construction, and maintenance.

Read more about Colorado's Strategic Plan: On Nature's Trail.

Florida's Greenways and Trails System

The vision of a system of greenways connecting communities and conservation areas across Florida began in 1991 and led to the completion of Connecting Florida's Communities with Greenways and Trails. As a call to action,the key goal of the plan was to wed the concepts of recreation and conservation. As the plan states, "Greenways and trails multiply the benefits of conservation areas, parks, and open spaces by linking them together." The plan's strategies include:

  • Identify areas of ecological and recreational significance
  • Identify the most critical linkages in the statewide system
  • Create a formal mechanism to coordinate management between agencies involved in trails and open spaces
  • Help local organizations establish regional partnerships
  • Educate and inform Florida's residents and visitors about the value of the greenways and trails system.

For more information on Florida's statewide greenways and trails system, see the website at:

Plan underway for Minnesota Greenways

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has begun planning for a new statewide system of greenways. This new initiative resembles Florida's vision of"a network of natural areas, wildlife habitats, and open space interconnected by land and water corridors." The DNR would play a facilitating role by providing technical assistance and resource information, while helping with planning, design, and management of greenways. Much of the effort will focus on local planning and voluntary conservation iniatives.

With the appointment of a program coordinator, DNR is seeking legislative funding for educational materials, technical assistance, and matching funds for local government projects. Also proposed is develoment of a land resource mapping system and mapping support for towns and counties. The ultimate goal is to better coordinate resource protection, recreational use, and sustainable land use planning through the umbrella of the greenways initiative.

Montana finalizes new State Trails Plan

The result of a long process, begun in 1994, will be the completion of Montana's first statewide trails plan. The importance of interagency cooperation in developing the plan is underscored by the fact that close to 99% of the actual trail miles in Montana are managed by several federal agencies. Even though this is a trail-rich state, one of the most important identified needs is more trails in and around the cities and towns where most Montanans live.

The plan, being developed by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, includes maps to show both existing trails and proposed routes to stimulate public suport for what might be possible in the future. Increasing development is just one challenge. Access issues were the most frequently mentioned issue at the 18 scoping meetings held across the state. The final draft plan should be available for public comment by now.

For more information on Montana's State Trails Plan: Jeff Erickson (406) 444-3818; Bob Walker (406) 444-4585;

The process of creating a state trails plan

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