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Title: health and fitness
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HEALTH COMMUNITY: What You Should Know About Trail Building

As we seek ways to improve public health, trails are receiving more attention as a way to increase physical activity.


"The development of a trail in a neighborhood makes it easier for people to incorporate exercise into their daily routines."


Individuals must choose to be active, but the way a community develops its built environment can ease or impede the desire to be active. Lack of time or access to convenient outlets for human-powered transportation and recreation opportunities are reasons commonly cited by all populations as barriers to regular exercise.

The development of a trail in a neighborhood makes it easier for people to incorporate exercise into their daily routines, whether for recreation or non-motorized transportation. This is particularly true if the trail is developed and designed so that it connects people to places they want to go, such as schools, transit centers, businesses and neighborhoods.

The most popular trail and greenway projects are those that grow out of community desire and effort rather than those that are imposed on a community. Many trails have formed advocacy organizations, referred to as "Friends of the Trail" groups. The most important functions of a Friends organization are to promote it at all times and defend the trail when necessary. Find out if your existing trail or trail project has a Friends group by contacting the trail manager (if it is open for use) or the developing agency (if the trail is still under development). If no advocacy group exists, you might want to work with your local commissions, bicycle/walking/equestrian organizations, and neighbors to start one.

In order to maximize the potential use of individual trails, they need to connect to each other and should be part of a larger network of on-road and off-road bicycle and pedestrian transportation systems. Just as roads are useful because they connect, so too with trails. Regional trail planning efforts are underway around the country including in Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio and St.Louis, Missouri, just to name a few. Like individual trails, trail systems need broad-based public and private partnerships, which include the health community. Trail systems are created through a planning process that includes community input throughout each stage of development. This community involvement generates support for the trails and ensures that the system will address the community's needs.

The success of a trail is also dependent upon good design. Design of a whole trail system as well as its compo-nent parts must meet the needs of the anticipated users, which include people of all ages, socio-economic status, abilities and activities (bicycling, walking, running, wheelchair, equestrian, in-line skating). Design elements such as making trails aesthetically pleasing and easily accessible, with multiple points of entry, will also encourage use of the trail. More information about trail design can be found in Trails for the 21st Century, Planning, Design, and Management Manual for Multi-use Trails, by Charles A. Flink, Kristine Olka, Robert M. Searns and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Just like any other public project, trails do run into some opposition, especially NIMBY opposition (not in my backyard). The concerns shared by many people include safety, vandalism and liability. Many studies have examined these issues and have found that these concerns rarely materialize and can be addressed by creating a solid design and management plan. It is also important to build a strong support coalition from the outset, inform the public about the trail project, listen to their concerns and keep them involved in the planning process.

There are three primary sources of federal funding for trails, Recreational Trails Program, Transportation Enhancements (TE) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ). All are derived from federal gas taxes, legally administered through the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA21, earlier ISTEA), but each has a specific purpose and criteria for eligibility, which trails meet. Each state gets a certain allotment based on a formula. Other federal agencies provide funding that may address specific parts of your trail project, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development and the Forest Service. Many states provide funding through sources including state gas tax, bonds, sales tax, license plates, lottery revenue. Learn more about trail funding sources on the Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse Web site and your state trail Web sites.

The RECREATIONAL TRAILS PROGRAM funds the development and maintenance of recreational trails and trail facilities for both non-motorized and motorized recreational trails. Trail uses include: hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, equestrian use, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, off-road motorcyling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or using other off-road motorized vehicles. This program is administered by your state's park and recreation department. Learn more on the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Web site:

TRANSPORTATION ENHANCEMENTS money can be used to fund twelve different community focused transportation activities. Trail projects funded through this program must be linked to surface transportation. In this case, a scenic hiking trail leading you through pristine wilderness would probably not qualify. However, if it serves as a place to recreate and connects a neighborhood to a commuter station or business district, then it may qualify for TE funding. In addition, project sponsors (usually a unit of state or local government) must provide a local match of approximately 20% of these federal funds, depending on the state's requirements. This program is administered by state departments of transportation. Learn more from the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse at

CMAQ funding may be used for trails, however projects must meet certain criteria for mitigating air pollution and areas with good air quality are not eligible. When applying this to trails, think about how your trail might help reduce automobile trips in your community. For example, children could use the trail to get to school instead of being driven. The CMAQ program is managed by your state's department of transportation or local air quality management office. Learn more on FHWA's Web site at

Each state has a state trail coordinator, within the state parks and recreation department, who administers the Recreational Trails Program and who can help with general information about building and managing trails in your state. The state transportation enhancements coordinator works within the state transportation department. The state bicycle and pedestrian coordinator also works for the state transportation department and is the point person for on-road bicycle facilities (such as bicycle lanes) as well as pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks. Town/city planners are good local contacts, make good partners for projects, and can lead you to additional partners for your project. See your state contacts at

Start by contacting your state trail coordinator. Many state recreational departments have information available on their websites, which can be found at . In addition, non-profit trail organizations keep track of trail locations. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has an on-line database of all open rail-trails in the United States. American Trails also has links to trail Web sites. You may want to provide links from your Web site to these others to help people who are looking for trail information.

Partnerships between the health and trail communities are forming around the country. Partnerships include promoting the location of trails, promoting exercise along trails, encouraging businesses to promote the use of trails for commuting, conducting studies about the relationship between health and the existence of trails, building trails, and sponsoring programs such as safe routes to school. A few examples include the Texas Department of Health Trail Registry (, Redding Walkabout for Wellness, California Trail Connection ( and Indiana Walk to School Day (


Backcountry Horsemen of America

National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program

Land Trust Alliance

International Mountain Biking Association

Trails and Greenways

National Center for Bicycling and Walking

American Trails

Alliance for Biking & Walking


Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 1100 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036 - 202-331-9696 -

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