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Recreational Trails Program

Recreational Trails Program

The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides funds to develop and maintain recreational trails, provide trail education and offer training programs.

RTP is an assistance program of the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration. The program provides funds to the states to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for non-motorized and motorized recreational trail uses. 

RTP funds are apportioned to each state, which then uses a mix of federal and state guidelines to determine its dispersal. Some states' requirements may be more stringent than others, but in general the federal RTP money is used to supplement other funding sources. State RTP websites often have specific information regarding their matching grants requirements.

The RTP program sets some common guidelines for all states to follow in determining matching grants and their amounts. However, it is best to check with your state's trail grant website or RTP contact to determine details particular to your state.

Visit the national RTP website to learn more.


How it works


RTP is an 80/20 program, so the applicant must match the federal funding with 20 percent from the local community. Funds come from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and represent a portion of the motor fuel excise tax collected from non-highway recreational fuel use: fuel used for off-highway recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles,
off-highway motorcycles, and off-highway light trucks.

Funds are distributed to the states by legislative formula: half of the funds are distributed equally among
all states, and half are distributed in proportion to the estimated amount of non-highway recreational fuel use in each state. 


Who Can Apply?


Make sure to check your state's RTP homepage. The criteria is very similar but does change slightly from state to state. Below are examples from four states:

Virginia: Grant funding may be provided to private organizations, city governments, county governments, or other government entities, but must consider guidance from the DCR Trails Board. Additionally, federal government entities may be eligible to participate if teamed with private trail groups and organizations.

Maryland: Administered by the State Highway Administration (SHA), this program matches federal funds with local funds or in-kind contributions to implement trail projects. Projects can be sponsored by a county or municipal government, a private non-profit agency, a community group or an individual (non-governmental agencies must secure an appropriate government agency as a co-sponsor). Federal funds administered by the State Highway Administration are available for up to 80 percent of the project cost, matched by at least 20 percent funding.

Mississippi: Grants may be awarded to nonprofit (501(c)(3)) conservation organizations, municipal, county, State or Federal government agencies, and other government entities. This includes public education institutions, public utilities, state universities, state tribal governments and more...

Wisconsin: Towns, villages, cities, counties, tribal governing bodies, school districts, state agencies, federal agencies and incorporated organizations are eligible to receive reimbursement for development and maintenance of recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both motorized and non-motorized recreational trail uses. Eligible sponsors may be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of the total project costs.


Tips for writing successful RTP applications


Read the application carefully. Provide answers to everything. Include letters of recommendation for your organization and letters of support for the project from government and elected officials. Consider a cover letter. Include anything that lends credibility to you or the project.

Talk directly with the RTP administrator. They can help you discover solutions you had not considered. For example, RTP funding does not typically cover design work. However, trail design is unique and not equal to architectural designs or road designs. Therefore, it is possible it could be funded.

Besides directly applying for funds for trail projects you initiate, consider partnering with other non-profit organizations or land managers associated with your trail project. Assisting land managers in developing RTP applications can double the funding a project receives.

Become or partner with a 501(c)3. Non-profit organizations get preferential status during the awards selection process. This is an advantage for bike club or a "Friends of..." a particular park type organizations.

Choose your words wisely. Carefully word your applications to try to maximize what you intend to do.

Take a grant writing workshop. You don't need to be a professional grant writer to apply for RTP funding. You just need to submit a clear, concise, and sound proposal by your state's application deadline. If you would like to learn more about applying for grants, many communities host grant workshops through local colleges and universities, chambers of commerce and small business administrations. IMBA clubs that have received the most RTP funding dedicate one member as the club grant writer. There are lots of helpful hints online.

Track your volunteer hours. If your group does volunteer hours in several parks, make sure you keep good records of the who, what, where and how many hours logged. This becomes evidence of the matching hours you will need for reimbursement.

Apply for more than one project. If you have several different pending trail projects, consider wording applications in a way that allows you to apply funds to more than one project. Projects can be delayed for any number of reasons. It helps to have a back-up plan. For example, your project title could be something like: "Trail Construction or Maintenance in (pick a state, or park)."

Be prepared for your project going to bid. Many activities require a three-bid process. However, there are exceptions when no other sources are available which meet your needs. With respect to professional trail building crews, there are relatively few with the knowledge and expertise that specifically ensures that bike issues are addressed. If you want your project to be bike friendly, find the appropriate language to say so in your application.

Read the fine print. Once you receive an award notification, and before you sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the RTP administrator, take a closer look at the MOU wording. Get an electronic copy that you can edit. Where appropriate, suggest changes that fit your particular circumstances. For instance, maybe your group simply does not have the cash on hand to start a project. Develop wording that allows you to submit either estimates or vendor invoices to meet reimbursement requirements.

Make sure you comply with NEPA. Do not be intimidated by some of the land review requirements as these responsibilities rest with landowners. However, make sure land managers are aware of the required NEPA reviews and talk about them. In some instances, land managers may have their own review processes that satisfy NEPA requirements


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