The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) was first authorized by federal legislation back in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). Through the years, RTP has been reauthorized (refunded) through various federal legislation such as TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU. Throughout this period UFWDA has participated with Congress to support reauthorization and continued funding of RTP and held several grant writing seminars with UFWDA land-use chairs and UFWDA delegates. The RTP is funded by taxes on fuel used for nonhighway recreation.
Under RTP, each state is gets an apportioned amount of funds to spend on recreational trail projects. Of the money apportioned to the states, 30% of the RTP funds must be spent on motorized trail projects, 30% on non-motorized trail projects, and 40% for “diverse” recreational projects. Some states choose to spend a portion of the RTP money on educational material related to recreational trail use, such as user ethic materials like the Volunteer Trail Patrol program currently in use by UFWDA. The states are currently given the autonomy to choose whether to accept grant applications for educational projects or not. Similarly, states determine the process by which grant applications are given to their respective trail advisory committees for grant approval.
RTP has been a large benefit to the recreation community. Since 1991 more than 13,000 projects have received funding nationwide constituting nearly $780 million in available funding to states through RTP. However, motorized trail projects remain a very small percentage of the actual money spent on recreational trails. Whether motorized trail grants are low because few requests are made or because few grants are approved remains uncertain. However, RTP remains a great opportunity to help fund recreational trail projects nationwide.
Conversations across the county and throughout members of Congress have already begun regarding the next surface transportation legislation that will hopefully again fund the RTP. In February of 2011 UFWDA joined forces with 43 other national recreation organizations, through facilitation efforts by Coalition for Recreation Trails, to begin talks with Congress to promote reauthorization of RTP. As part of this national dialogue UFWDA supports the following actions regarding the Recreational Trail Program:
- Continue RTP funding, returning gas taxes paid by recreationists to recreational trails.
- Simplify funding provisions for projects on federal lands that allow up to 100% federal share (an increase from the current federal share of 80%).
- Recommit to and codify provision encouraging use of youth conservation corps and volunteers.
- Exempt RTP projects from review by Statewide and Metropolitan Transportation Planning processes for projects recreational in character and less than $100,00 in total cost that include a major volunteer effort.
- Allow credit for donated easements and rights-of-way as part of a project’s non-federal cost.
- Require states to pass on and promote all grant applications meeting the state’s RTP criteria, particularly for states who limit grant applications to those generated by a state agency.
- Require all states to consider education projects.
Now is the time for UFWDA members to also join the national dialogue. Talk to your elected officials in the US House or Senate to let them know your desire to protect continued funding of the RTP. Be sure to let them know where you recreate, how much money your family spends on outdoor recreation each year, and how much you value the trails, roads, and areas where you recreate. A form letter has been provided to you to help you impress upon your elected officials your hope for their support of legislation to reauthorize the next national surface transportation legislation.
Please share with UFWDA your experiences with motorized RTP projects, experiences working with state trails advisory committees, or problems and concerns you have with the recreational trails program. We’d love to hear from you. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
United Four Wheel Drive Associations
By Carla Boucher, AttorneyAttached are a 'Form letter' and a copy of a joint letter, along with a background of the Recreational Trails Program