The National Recreation Trail Revitalization Program: Summary of Recommendations

Background -- January 1999

National Recreation Trails (NRT) were authorized in the 1968 National Trails System Act. In the following 30 years, over 800 trails were designated on federal, state, municipal and private lands. However, interest in the program from trail managers on the state and local level has diminished in recent years. Surveys have indicated that trail managers see little long-term value affiliated with the program. Designations tend to be forgotten about after the initial excitement of the formal designation.

In November, 1996, the National Park Service National Trails Advisory Team (NTAT) formed a subcommittee to develop recommendations for revitalizing the NRT program. The committee felt that NRT designation could be a valuable tool for promoting and protecting trails and highlighting state-of-the-art practices in trail development and management.

A white paper was developed to initiate the discussion with members of the Interagency Council on Trails in September, 1997. Based on those discussions, a National Recreation Trail Roundtable was convened in February, 1998 to refine and guide implementation of the Revitalization Program. Members include representatives from the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Federal Highway Administration, American Trails, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, American Hiking Society, National Association of State Trail Administrators, and the American Recreation Coalition. In November, 1998, the Roundtable endorsed an NPS proposal to begin implementation of the Revitalization Program.

Goals for Revitalization

-- Develop a public-private partnership to implement and manage the Program in collaboration with the administering agencies.

-- Develop and implement an NRT Benefits Program that serves the needs of trail users and managers.

-- Retain the simplicity of the existing program while enhancing its prestige and benefits.

-- Make the NRT Program a useful tool for developing, promoting and protecting trails.


The National Recreation Trails Program will recognize, inventory, and promote Federal, State, local and private trails through the designation of these trails for the purpose of creating, connecting, protecting and marketing a national network of trails. This Program will provide a registry that will recognize and encourage the use of existing trails, provide the opportunity for their promotion, and stimulate and enhance future trail development -- to realize the long term goal of a "trail for all Americans," within 15 minutes of their home or work.


-- Establish a baseline definition of what constitutes a trail for the NRT program.

"A trail is a travel way established either through construction or use and is passable by at least one or more of the following, including but not limited to: foot traffic, stock, watercraft, bicycles, in-line skates, wheelchairs, cross-country skis, off-road recreation vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and 4-wheel drive vehicles." Roads and highways suitable for passenger car travel would not be eligible for NRT designation as there are other programs that are more appropriate for their recognition, such as Scenic Byways.

-- Simplify the application process for the trail manager and the administering agency.

-- Announce new NRT Designations on National Trails Day to increase public visibility and involve National Trails Day organizers and sponsors.

-- Secure private funding and support for implementing a comprehensive package of benefits for designated National Recreation Trails.

-- Eliminate the cumbersome recertification requirement with a simplified procedure requiring trail managers to submit, at minimum, a 5-year update on their NRT, including "no change". The update can be done on-line directly to the developing web page.

-- Develop a comprehensive package of benefits for designated National Recreation Trails including: NRT Signage, effective public outreach and promotional materials, an informative and searchable web site database featuring National Recreation Trails, and managed by American Trails, technical assistance and networking to promote state-of-the-art trail practices, and support for fundraising from public and private sector sources.

Updated May 30, 2002

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