Feature Article - July 2016
Find a printable version here

A Beautiful Vision

Funding & Planning Are Keys to Success With Trails & Greenways

By Deborah L. Vence


Obtaining Funding, Grants

Many opportunities exist to gain funding to help get trail and greenway projects off the ground.

For technical assistance, "the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program is an outstanding resource," Thorstensen said. "While RTCA does not give out grants or loans, the program 'supplies a staff person with experience in community-based outdoor recreation and conservation to work with partners on the ground."

The program is run by the National Park Service. Those who are interested can apply for assistance at: www.nps.gov/orgs/rtca/apply.htm.

Moreover, Thorstensen said the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) of the Federal Highway Administration is a common source of funding, a program managed by trail administrators in each state, and a grant program designed to be competitive.

"Therefore, only projects that meet certain criteria may be funded," she said. "These include the maintenance and restoration of existing trails, development or rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and linkages, acquisition of necessary easements, associated administrative costs, and new trails and educational programs. At least 30 percent of all RTP funds must be used for non-motorized trails."

To boot, the federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds 10 different types of transportation-related activities.

"Through activity 3, known in law as Conversion of abandoned railroad corridors to trails, helps expand travel and recreational opportunities within communities. Rail-trails, as these types of trails are called, help to encourage physical activity and reduce air pollution," Thorstensen explained. "Since the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program began in 1992, approximately 9 percent of available TE/TAP funds have been programmed for rail-trail projects. Working within Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidelines, each state Department of Transportation (DOT) determines the eligibility of TAP projects for funding."

Examples of projects that may be considered eligible include:

  • Planning, designing and constructing multi-use trails along a railroad right-of-way.
  • Major reconstructions of multi-use trails along a railroad right-of-way.
  • Developing rail-with-trail projects.
  • Bike parking and bus racks.
  • Purchasing unused railroad property for trail conversion.

"Some states have their own dedicated funding pots for trail development. They are most often administered through the state's parks, recreation, conservation, natural resources or environmental protection department or agency," she said. "A variety of programs are available, including those that provide grants, matching funds and low-interest or interest-free loans."

Searns added that seed money from a city council or community can fund initial visioning and planning of an idea. On the public side and on the private side, an NGO (non-governmental organization) can help community leaders and advocates raise philanthropic money. Historically, on the federal level, there have been some programs in recent years.

"The other part," he said, "is encouraging land developers to see the light when it comes to proving these types of amenities."