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Trails Funding

  • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
    The FHWA is the largest single source of funding for shared use paths, trails, and related projects in the United States. Until 1991, Federal highway funds could be used only for highway projects or specific independent bicycle transportation facilities. Now, bicycle transportation and pedestrian projects and programs are eligible for nearly all major Federal highway funding programs. Recreational trails are eligible under the Recreational Trails Program.

  • Federal Surface Transportation Program
    The Federal Surface Transportation Program is codified in U.S. law and is generally reauthorized every four to six years. Congress made a major policy shift in surface transportation legislation through the Inter-modal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991. For the first time, trail projects became eligible for Federal highway program funds. Under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), enacted in June 1998, Congress broadened eligibility for trails and other related projects that benefit recreation. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in August 2005, continues these programs, and also added a new Safe Routes to School Program. More information available on-line.

  • Funds Available for Trail Projects through the Recreational Trails Program
    What is the Recreational Trails Program?
    The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides funds to the States to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonmotorized and motorized recreational trail uses. Examples of trail uses include hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, equestrian use, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or using other off-road motorized vehicles.

    Who administers the program?
    The RTP is an assistance program of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Each State administers its own program, usually through a State resource or park agency. Each State develops its own procedures to solicit and select projects for funding. Each State has a State Recreational Trail Advisory Committee to assist with the program. In some States, the committee selects the projects, in others, the committee is advisory only. See the State contact list.

    How much money is available?
    The Congress authorized the RTP for $60 million in 2005, $70 million in 2006, $75 million in 2007, $80 million in 2008, and $85 million 2009. FHWA may use up to $840,000 annually for program administration and trail related research, technical assistance, and training. The remainder of the funds is distributed to the States. Half of the funds are distributed equally among all States, and half are distributed in proportion to the estimated amount of off-road recreational fuel use in each State: fuel used for off-road recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, and off-road light trucks. See for previous funding and how much each State received.

    What projects are eligible?
    Recreational Trails Program funds may be used for:

    • Maintenance and restoration of existing trails.
    • Development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages.
    • Purchase and lease of trail construction and maintenance equipment.
    • Construction of new trails (with restrictions for new trails on Federal lands).
    • Acquisition of easements or property for trails.
    • Assessment of trail conditions for accessibility and maintenance.
    • Development and dissemination of publications and operation of educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection related to trails (including supporting non-law enforcement trail safety and trail use monitoring patrol programs, and providing trail-related training) (limited to 5 percent of a State’s funds).
    • State administrative costs related to this program (limited to 7 percent of a State’s funds).
    States are encouraged to enter into contracts and cooperative agreements with qualified youth conservation or service corps.

    States must use 30 percent of their funds for motorized trail uses, 30 percent for nonmotorized trail uses, and 40 percent for diverse trail uses. Diverse motorized projects (such as snowmobile and motorcycle) or diverse nonmotorized projects (such as pedestrian and equestrian) may satisfy two of these categories at the same time. States are encouraged to consider projects that benefit both motorized and nonmotorized users, such as common trailhead facilities. Many States give extra credit in their selection criteria that benefit multiple trail uses.

    Which projects are not eligible?
    Recreational Trails Program funds may not be used for:

    • Property condemnation (eminent domain);
    • 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
    • Facilitating motorized access on otherwise nonmotorized trails.

    These funds are intended for recreational trails. RTP funds may not be used to improve roads for general passenger vehicle use. RTP funds should not be used to provide shoulders or sidewalks along roads unless the shoulders or sidewalks are necessary to complete a trail link.

    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, facility development, or construction project. States may allow some project development costs to be credited toward the non-Federal share.

    Who can sponsor a project?
    States may make grants to private organizations, or to municipal, county, State, Tribal, 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. See for more information.

    How does project funding work?
    Project amounts vary by State, from $200 to more than $1 million, but most range in value from $10,000 to $300,000. Some States set minimum allowable dollar values (perhaps $1,000, $10,000, or $25,000); some States set maximum allowable dollar values (perhaps $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, $150,000). Some States do not have minimums or maximums.

    In general, the maximum Federal share for each project from RTP funds is 80 percent (higher in States with large amounts of Federal lands), but some States require up to a 50 percent match. 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. RTP funds also may be used toward the non-Federal share for some other Federal programs. States 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. Also, States may allow prior planning and environmental assessment costs to be credited toward the non-Federal share (limited to costs incurred less than 18 months prior to project approval). Special note: 23 U.S.C. 132 allows Federal highway funds to be transferred to another Federal agency as an advance.

    How do I obtain Recreational Trails Program project funding?
    Each State has its own procedures to solicit and select RTP projects. A project sponsor should develop its proposal sufficiently so that the project may be implemented quickly after project approval.

    If you have a trail project proposal, first contact your State to find out the program requirements and criteria for project selection. As a project sponsor, you should:

    • Prepare a project development plan. What aspects need to be addressed? Identify issues and steps which are critical to the project development process.
    • Develop a workable project. What are the trail needs? What can be done realistically?
    • Get public support for the project. How does the project benefit the community? Are there other potential project sponsors?
    • Find other funding sources. Some State or local governments may provide some matching funds, but often the project sponsor provides most or all of the match.
    • Consider donations of materials and services, including volunteer labor.
    • Consider how to involve youth conservation or service corps in the project. See for information on youth corps.
    • Develop a good project design, keeping safety and security in mind.
    • Consider the natural environment in which the project is located.
    • Consider community benefits.
    • Consider user needs and desires, including use by people with disabilities.
    • Consider potential problems:
    • Environmental impacts - these must be minimized and mitigated, and may require some documentation.
    • Permits - various permits may be needed prior to submitting the project proposal.
    • Possible opposition - some people may oppose a project for various reasons, including concerns about property rights, liability, safety, security, noise, historic or archaeological impacts, or environmental impacts.
    • Complete the project application.
    If your project is approved, get to work! States may withdraw project approval if a sponsor does not show evidence of project progress within a reasonable time frame.

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

    Program Applications

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