The newsletter of AMERICAN TRAILS -- SPRING 1998

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American Trails works with NPS to revitalize NRT program

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

The National Trails System Act includes National Recreational Trails (NRTs) along with historic and scenic trail designations. The National Park Service has been looking at ways to improve (or end) the NRT program. Here's the latest on that discussion:

Some trail managers and activists have never heard of National Recreation Trails (NRTs), but others proudly display NRT signs on designated trails. The Bureau of Land Management and some states have sought and gained new NRT designations in recent years. Others have not submitted a new NRT request for a decade.

The fading of NRT interest is largely due to two reasons:

-- No perceived benefit to the trail manager;

-- No publicity or promotion of the NRT program

In February the National Park Service convened a roundtable to discuss the status of NRT designations. American Trails joined other trail groups and several federal agencies to suggest ways to improve the program. Participants brainstormed a new vision for the NRT program and identified points included in the following draft vision statement:

The NRT Program will inventory, recognize and promote Federal, State, local and private trails through the designation of these trails for the purpose of creating, connecting, protecting and marketing a national network of trails. This Program will provide a registry that will recognize and encourage the use of existing trails, provide the opportunity for their promotion, and stimulate and enhance future trail development -- to realize the long term goal of a "trail for all Americans," within 15 minutes of their home or work.

Other recommendations being discussed include:

** Tie the NRT Program to National Trails Day

Announce the new/revitalized NRT program at the 1999 National Trails Day celebration, and the first new designations on the 2000 National Trails Day.

** Establish a baseline definition of what constitutes a trail for the NRT program.

"A trail is a travel way established either through construction or use and is passable by at least one or more of the following, including but not limited to: foot traffic, stock, watercraft, bicycles, in-line skates, wheelchairs, cross-country skis, and motorized recreation vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATV's. Roads, defined as paved routes generally accessible by regular passenger cars, should not be eligible for NRT designation as there are other programs that are more appropriate for their recognition."

Some feel the designation criteria should not be tightened up or used to judge a trail's significance, if a local community values its trail enough to designate it an NRT. Others feel that without any criteria, as the program now exists, there will still be little or no incentive for new designations.

** Involve states in the application process.

State trail coordinators and/or State Trails Advisory Boards should be encouraged to play a significant role in operating the program in their states. NRT applications could be routed through the State Trails Programs and/or State Trails Advisory Board for initial review and recommendation, with the possibility of expanding roles in certification of NRTs, site inspections, and other areas of the program. There has also been discussion on states setting their own criteria for the program.

** Form a partnership with other agencies and non-profits to coordinate support for the NRT program

Create a "standing committee" of agency, nonprofit, and corporate representatives to oversee the implementation of the NRT Program. Explore private funding opportunities to staff a dedicated NRT Program Administrator.

** Develop a benefits program which makes the NRT designation valuable to trail managers

** Benefits should be developed by the public private partnership convened for the NRT program and could include:

1. Increased public awareness - an annual press release on National Trails Day announcing new NRT designations, and an inviting and informative NRT Directory both published and as a web page;

2. Access to technical assistance from NPS and program partners, an NRT newsletter, newsworthy activities, technical information, networking opportunities at conferences;

3. Access to any appropriate federal or non-federal funding opportunities, and letters of support for grants.

-- Seek delegation of signature authority from the Secretary's Office to the Director of the NPS

-- Simplify processing and establish an annual deadline for new designation applications.

-- Simplify the process for the trail manager

For more information on the National Recreation Trails Program, contact Donna Kostka, USDI - National Park Service, P O Box 37127, RM 3606, Washington DC 20013; Fax (202) 343-4018.

April 1998 -- AMERICAN TRAILS --