The Recreational Trails Program was first established in 1991, later reauthorized under the name ISTEA (Inter-Surface Transportation Equity Act) and most recently reauthorized as TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century). This law mandates that a portion of federal gasoline taxes generated by non-highway recreation be returned to the states for trail-related purposes. Currently, the program receives $50 million in annual funding.
A recent report shows that, nationally, trails servicing hikers receive 56% of the funds, mountain bikers 43%, walkers (don’t ask us why they are in a separate category from hikers) 38%, equestrians 28%, cross country skiers 27%, snowmobiling 24%, runners 24%, bikers 19%, ATVs 19%, ORV 15%, and so on. Trails that service multiple-uses are clearly benefiting the most, as these percentages demonstrate overlap.
For the current fiscal year, the Maryland Department of Transportation allocated about $600,000 in funding. Both equestrian groups which applied received monies: $15,640 to the Pasadena Horse & Pony Association for equipment rental and trails construction at the Lake Shore Athletic Club, which is part of the Anne Arundel County Park system; $21,480 to the Carroll County Equestrian Council for equipment purchases for existing trail maintenance in Carroll County Parks.
Groups must work through their park systems in order to apply. Unfortunately, if that particular park system does not consider your equestrian trail project a priority, it won’t get funded. Yet another reason why it is so important to be involved with your park management and to foster good relationships. It is also important to vote carefully, because the legislators will appoint the park directors, so obviously, the policies of those directors will reflect the administration. To put it more bluntly, if the administration leans more towards preserving passive use wilderness areas, than projects that encourage active use of park lands (such as trails) will not be a funding priority.
So, although there were only two park systems that submitted proposals for equestrian trail funding, there may have been other equestrian groups which attempted to apply, but their park system did not consider the equestrian project to be a priority, and thus did not submit it. So, unfortunately, the potential exists for this to be a very political process.
Nevertheless, we urge you not to give up, to press on, to keep working with your park managers. After all, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
It is never to early to start working on your proposal.
To be eligible for funding, an organization must be able to document that they have done some of the following types of projects already:
- maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails;
- development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages;
- purchase and lease of recreational trail construction equipment;
- construction of new recreational trails;
- acquisition of easements or property for recreational trails or recreational trail corridors;
- operation of educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection as those objectives relate to the use of recreational trails.
- negotiations should be underway if property and/or easement purchases are needed
- real property needed for the project must be secured by the project sponsor by the projected construction advertised date
- matching funds must be committed and documented (this can be in the form of man-hours, donation of equipment, funds from a local park service)
- a detailed schedule for completion of design, beginning of construction activities within two years from the date of the award, and expected project completion date is required when the proposal is submitted.
The Recreational Trails Advisory Committee will then consider the proposals merits based on the following:
- Does the project have broad-based community support?
- Does the project provice linkages or complete existing trails?
- Does the project provide for the redesign, reconstruction, nonroutine maintenance, or relocation of recreational trails to benefit the natural environment or to mitigate and minimize the impact to the natural environment?
- Projects that will be accomplished wholly or partially with qualified youth conservation or service groups to perform trail construction and maintenance will be given preference.
- Any use of funds for a project on privately owned land must be accompanied by an easement or other legally binding agreement that ensures public access to the recreational trail improvements funded under the Recreational Trails Program.