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Why You Need to Fight for the Recreational Trails Program

What's fast, fun and federally funded?

A chance to pilot Air Force 1 would probably fit the bill, but that's not what we have in mind.

Spend a few hours on the FATS trails, a popular IMBA Epic in South Carolina, and we're sure you'll agree that "fast" and "fun" are accurate descriptors. But what about the last part — how does federal funding fit into this story?

It turns out that FATS received significant support from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). RTP constitutes a tiny part of the massive federal Transportation Bill, but it's vitally important to mountain bikers across the United States. It's a program worth fighting for, which is why IMBA is calling on all of its chapters, clubs and individual members to take action and urge Congress to protect RTP and other Transportation Enhancements.

Tell your elected leaders to protect RTP!

Not sure if RTP funding pertains to trails you ride? All of these great rides were built with RTP funds, and this is just a small sample of the thousands of trails that RTP monies have provided for mountain bikers:

  • Brown County State Park, IN (IMBA Epic)
  • Bull Mountain, GA
  • Coldwater Mountain, AL
  • Forks Area Trail System (FATS), SC (IMBA Epic)
  • Fountainhead, VA
  • Highbridge, NYC
  • Jackrabbit Mountain, NC
  • M-Hill, Rapid City, ND
  • Oak Mountain, AL
  • Raystown Lake, PA
  • Stubb Stewart State Park, OR

This is a very effective, user-pay/user-benefit program and a proven success story. It serves as the foundation for state trail programs across the country, leverages hundreds of millions of dollars of additional support for trails and boosts economic activity in hundreds of communities.

If you're still not convinced, check out the info that leading advocates from around the nation sent us about why RTP is worth fighting for:

The CAMBA trails in northwest Wisconsin received a RTP grant this past year. The $19,000 grant has helped fund the construction of a 5.1-mile singletrack trail, Seeley Pass. The project is not yet complete but will conclude next season with a comparable amount of construction. It was our intent to again apply to the program for funding for the next phase of our construction, a new connector trail that will link two of our trail clusters.

— Ron Bergin, Executive Director of the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association

There are many, many many examples of how Recreation Trails Program funding has benefitted mountain bike trails here in VT. The funds have been used on the following trails:

  • Pine Hill Park in Rutland: 16+/- miles of singletrack, in downtown Rutland, visited by many thousands of riders per year
  • Hinesburg Town Forest: 15 miles of trails for all levels, a very popular destination in Vermonts most populous county (Chittenden County)
  • Perry Hill in Waterbury: 15 miles of singletrack, one of VTs most popular mountain bike trail systems, known as a significant economic engine in the area
  • Camels Hump State Forest, Fayston: 15 miles of technical singletrack, very popular in the Mad River Valley area, and adjacent to Sugarbush Ski Resort, which operates a lift-serve mountain bike program
  • Leicester Hollow, Goshen, VT:  part of a major VMBA project in the Green Mountain National Forest, which was opened in fall 2011, and instantly saw increased usage
  • Adams Camp, Stowe, VT: a component of the Vermont Ride Center, which includes Adams Camp, Trapp Family Lodge and Stowe Town Forest. $40,000 in Recreation Trails Funding has been used here in 2010-2011

There are lots more too! Check out the photos on the VMBA Facebook page, most of these projects have included Rec Trails Funding.

— Patrick Kell, Executive Director of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association

Brown County State Park, which just got IMBA epic status, has 10 miles of trail that were built with a 2005 RTP grant. The trails built with the RTP grant elevated Brown County State Park from a good Indiana trail system to a national destination.

— Paul Arlinghaus, President of the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association

Here are some of the trails and trail systems in Idaho that have been funded with RTP grants: Ponderosa Park (McCall, Idaho), Bear Basin (McCall, Idaho), McCall Pathways (McCall, Idaho), the Weiser River Trail (Weiser, Idaho to Council, Idaho), Crooked River Trail (Idaho City, Idaho) and the Lakeshore trail (Priest Lake, Idaho). As a fundraiser for mountain bike trails, I know how important it is that we don't lose this funding.

— Geoff Baker President of Mountain Bike Idaho

GHORBA has used the RTP grants to great effect over the last few years:

  • Carl F. Barton Jr. Park, City of Conroe, TX, with GHORBA support
  • Double Lake Trail (Sam Houston National Forest), near Coldspring
  • Huntsville State Park, a new trail on National Forest Land adjacent to State Park (effectively doubling its size)
  • Funds to provide support for upgrade of Houston regional MTB trails
  • Sugarland River Park Trail — grant provides trailhead infrastructure for a GHORBA volunteer-constructed trail

Additionally, GHORBA provide a representative for the Texas State Trails Advisory Board who recommend worthy projects for RTP funding. In the last 3 years, every natural surface trail project grant application was approved for funding, scoring near the top of the list of projects, bringing new trails for bikers, hikers, equestrians and OHVs. The RTP program has been vital to providing major trail mileage to our inventory.  The grants have been very effective and provided excellent value for money.

Kevin Highfield, Board Member of the Greater Houston Off Road Biking Association

RTP funds have supported many great trails in my region, including Highbridge Park in Manhattan, Manorville Hills County Park in Manorville, NY and Hempstead Harbor's coastal trail in Roslyn, NY. A new mountain bike trail project has recently won an RTP grant for Coram, NY's Overton Preserve but we haven't started construction yet.

— Michael Vitti, President of the Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists

+ Comment On This Post



The comments I just read concern me. The Recreational Trails Plan is essential. Comments to the effect that we can just build trails without this funding overlook the profound reality of NEPA. The environmental laws required prior to construction is what is unaffordable to local clubs and individuals. These funds are necessary for the legal work and planning. Turning dirt and creating trails are just like putting the icing on the cake. The final product is the result of expensive processes and years of work.

If only it were just build it! But it is not.

Also, mountain bikers benefit by and must support paved trails. We need rail trails also. We cannot afford to pay the costs of planning and NEPA.

Also, we need to see the big picture of funding bicycle friendly communities. Not providing paved trails and pedestrian facilities is losing our culture of cycling. We need to support an urban cycling culture.


We really need to get funding not tied to the highway bill. I fail to see how a mountain bike trail has anything to do with transportation. I agree that these trails are great and deserve funding, but not from the highway bill.

Trails and Transportation

Great point! I know there are a lot of IMBA members that have the same question. And there is perfectly reasonable explanation.

The RTP funds come from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and represent a portion of the motor fuel excise tax collected from nonhighway recreational fuel use: fuel used for off-highway recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-highway light trucks.

States must use 30 percent of their RTP funds for motorized trail uses, 30 percent for nonmotorized trail uses (i.e. mountain biking among others), and 40 percent for diverse trail uses.


I've ridden a few of the trails mentioned in the article and many more not listed. When I travel I've learned to seek out the IMBA EPIC trails across the country because of their superb quality and consistent fulfillment of expectations of a great trail.
And although I'm not against working to get funding, I am concerned that a sport like mtn biking that has it's roots in local like minded folks getting together and working with local land owners (public and private) to push around dirt and make trails doesn't turn into a lobbying group that feels entitled.
What concerns me is what if RTP doesn't get the funding it wants or feels it needs or damn it.... deserves? Does IMBA and the rest of the mtn. bike community reduce its self to the stupid and bitter class warfare bickering that is common in today's political field or do we buck up and remember our roots and just do what we need to do to promote and expand our sport ourselves?
With todays social media what if a group of folks in NM, VA, or ND wanted to call a 2 week work "day" and invite the whole nation to donate $$ and then have a sign up sheet to come to their area and help build trail and a few dozen of us took a couple weeks vaca to build trail one week and ride on them the next? Wouldn't that be cool? Wouldn't that be satisfying? Wouldn't that be setting a great example that we aren't going to spend our time with our hands out rather than getting our hands dirty? Would that show so many other groups that the folks that use can pay for what they want with their own $ and sweat equity?
To me, something like this seems to be a better path forward than lining up at the public trough awaiting our entitled handout.

I think IMBA should mainly

I think IMBA should mainly focus on getting the laws fixed to *allow* mountain biking trails. I don't really feel like funding the actual trails is the biggest problem. Around here, trails spring up "magically" with zero funding... but tend to be illegal. Mostly it seems like regulations ban bikes off of existing trails and new trails (and prevent building specific bike trails).

I'd prefer to lower taxes and get federal government out of things it has no business doing. (But if you can't beat the system, we need to get our share...)

federally funded mt bike trails

I am unconfortable lobbying for federal dollars for something that is doable at the local level. This isn't national defense. If you multiple this concept times everything in the federal budget we will never get the federal budget in balance until it is forced on us.....see Greece and other countries to follow soon. I have been part of improving mt bike trails in a county park in California that were all improved with privately funded contributions paying a professional trails contractor and some volunteer labor. As mentioned by someone else, IMBA certainly has a role in promoting trail standards and lobbying for keeping and improving access to trails.

Federal funding for trails

I agree with some of the other comments regarding the federal governement funding trails. The federal governemnt currently borrows 43 cents of every dollar they spend from China. Everybody talks about getting the government to balance the budget before we become the next Greece but noone wants their project or passions effected. We can't have it both way. The trails are incredibly important to us but I am guessing the Cowboy Poet Society, or whatever the group is, thinks their getting their federal dollars to "preserve' there culture is just as important.

If the red tape is the most costly part of putting together trails then we should focus on changing the laws, as was stated above. When it comes to actually cutting the trails in than we need to step up, which many in our community already do, and put some sweat equity into getting it done.


please do not judge because our goverment messed it up.Greek people have the right to ride like any other nation in this planet so dont judge without knowing what is real going on .I am 16 and i am forced as soon as i finish college to Immigrant to another country because i have no future here , please do not judge