TAKE ACTION TO SUPPORT TRAILS FUNDING
By Eric Troyer, Editor, Alaska Trails
One of the most important sources of funding for trails in Alaska and across the nation, is in danger and needs your help. Trail and trail-user groups need to show their support for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) by explaining to Congress that trails are an essential form of transportation, as well as being vital to our nation’s health, and therefore deserve a consistent and appropriate funding source.
What is the RTP and why is it important?
The RTP is part of the existing federal surface transportation funding program, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which was to officially expire at the end of 2010.
Funding for these transportation programs is typically approved for several years, which is why little lobbying for this particular program has been needed for the past few years. A new multi-year transportation funding program is being worked on but has not been passed. Because of the current economy and political gridlock, SAFETEA-LU funding has been extended only temporarily through continuing resolutions.
RTP funds helped Repair old bridge across Rock Creek in the
Chena River State Recreation Area
The major catch of continuing resolutions is that they don’t guarantee full fiscal year funding and the money comes in increments. Currently, Alaska's RTP funding has been allocated only $480,000 instead of the typical $1.5 million they program has received the for each of the past three years. If Congress does not act to extend funding of the bill before the end of this calendar year, then the $480,000 is likely what Alaska's Recreational Trails Program receives for all of 2011.
The threat to trails funding
Also, while political wrangling goes on to develop a new multi-year transportation bill, some groups and politicians have been trying hard to strip or severely cut back trails funding from transportation programs. Those groups and politicians argue that trails are not essential to the nation’s transportation.
Alaska Trails and many others think this is outrageously unfair and extremely short sighted. Funding for the RTP comes from federal taxes on that portion of gasoline purchased for off-road motorized vehicles. If trails funding is cut from this transportation funding legislation then those gas taxes will pay only for highway construction and maintenance. Those funds pay for a variety of trail projects, so non-motorized users will be affected, too.
RTP funds pay for important safety and education programs
Not only would taking the off-road gas taxes from trails be unfair, it would be bad for the nation. Trails get people outside and keep them active. Trails are a key factor in battling our nation’s obesity epidemic. Quite a few people commute via trails, so that’s less traffic and wear and tear on the roads. Trails allow people to get out in nature and take a mental break from life. The list goes on. If trails take a major hit, the nation takes a hit.
Does this program really help Alaska?
Yes! Every state gets RTP money and has a lot of say in how those funds are used. Alaska has received more than $1 million each year in RTP funding and distributed those funds to local groups and governments through the Alaska Recreational Trails Grant Program. To see a list of specific trail projects from across the state that have benefited from RTP funding, see the state’s RTP page (http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/grants/trails.htm). Scroll down to the bottom for a list of awards granted from 2006 to 2010.
How can you fight for the RTP?
If you believe that trails are an essential form of transportation and vital to our nation’s health then now is the time to speak up! Trail groups, trail user groups, individual trail users, trail managers, and anyone else involved with trails can influence this debate by letting their voice be heard loud and clear.
Here are some suggestions:
Call, write, or email our Congressional delegation:
Get local governments to pass resolutions in support of RTP funding and then make sure our delegation gets that information.
Get your group to support the Coalition for Recreational Trails: http://www.americantrails.org/rtp/crt.html
The Sitka Cross trail improved for cost-effective maintenance
Many people, including legislators, want the surface transportation funding bill to be passed soon. Many voices will be fighting for and against including RTP funding. If the bill is passed it likely will be in effect for several years. If we don’t save RTP funding now, we won’t have another reasonable chance to save this major trails funding source for several years. Please act quickly and loudly.
At last report an extension of SAFETEA-LU (with the RTP included) passed the House and is awaiting Senate action. Such action will probably not take place until the new Congress is seated. With the current mood of change, a lot can happen. Please don’t be complacent and assume it will get passed. Besides this extension will last only until Sept. 2011.
For more information on how you can help this essential program see this American Trails webpage: http://www.americantrails.org/rtp/index.html.