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Congressional allies champion Recreational Trails Program

By Derrick A. Crandall, Co-Chair, Coalition for Recreational Trails

 

An integral part of connecting people with their Great Outdoors in a fun and healthy way is America’s wonderful system of trails. A key resource for building and improving trails for all enthusiasts is the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). Tens of thousands of trail projects have been supported since the creation of the program under ISTEA in 1991.

The RTP applies the “user-pay/user-benefit” philosophy of the Highway Trust Fund, which uses federal gasoline taxes paid by motorists to fund the nation’s highways. Similarly, the RTP returns a portion of the federal tax on fuel used for non-highway recreation to the states for trail projects.

 

Each year, $85 million is available to state trail programs. It is the foundation for state trail programs, and unites all trail interests by requiring states to have representative trails advisory committees and assuring funding for both motorized and nonmotorized trail activities.

When Congress last enacted major transportation legislation, the RTP was retained despite major efforts to reduce the number of federal surface transportation programs by three-quarters. This success was due not only to strong congressional champions, but also to the efforts of trail enthusiasts and advocacy organizations united through the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT).

In letters, calls, emails, and meetings, the trails community explained to Members of Congress how the RTP supports a wide variety of trail uses, enhancing access to the outdoors, and improving the health and well-being of people in their districts and states.

The 114th Congress has now begun its work, which includes a new national surface transportation program. Many of the elements discussed will be divisive along party and geographic lines, but the RTP will continue to enjoy broad, bipartisan support.

Proof of that support came in June 2014 at the CRT Annual Achievement Awards. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and from across the country expressed their strong support for RTP projects in their districts and states.

Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA)– Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee— praised an RTP-funded project in his district saying, “This beautiful structure... provides access for people with disabilities and is sure to enhance trail use in the area by all who enjoy the great outdoors.”

Senator David Vitter (R-LA)— Ranking Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee— hailed RTP-funded improvements made to trails in the Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area saying, “Sawyer Trail is important because it provides over 2 miles of ATV and UTV access for the northern part of the area... all of these improvements will enhance accessibility for people with disabilities and assist in the maintenance and rehabilitation of Sawyer Trail.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)— Ranking Member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee— praised the RTP’s contributions to her home state saying, “Alaska is home to considerable natural beauty, and recreational trails afford Alaskans and those visiting our great state the opportunity to appreciate Alaska’s many scenic phenomena.”

Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) described the positive effects of the RTP on her district saying, “...the trails have become an instant hub for outdoor activity... I applaud the efforts of the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Merrimack County to make some of the beauty more accessible to those living in and visiting the region.”

Other key Members of Congress also expressed their support for the RTP, including Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); as well as Representatives Lou Barletta (R-PA) and Dan Benishek (R-MI).

The RTP— from its inception— has benefited all trail interests and unified the trail community at both state and national levels, and our Congressional allies are well aware of those outstanding benefits. As we work with the new Congress, allies both old and new will be needed to ensure the RTP is included in any new national surface transportation legislation Congress enacts.

New information about the future of the RTP will be posted at www.funoutdoors.com as it becomes available. To access the database of over 20,000 RTP-funded projects, and to find one near you, visit www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org. See more information on the RTP, including funding for each state, at www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails.

 

arrow See Current legislation, issues, and action as the transportation funding reauthorization debate heats up on Capitol Hill.

arrow Read about nationwide benefits of RTP funding in the 2014 Recreational Trails Program Annual Report

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