The Coalition for Recreational Trails members are very pleased to recognize the Illinois Greenways & Trails Council for outstanding use of RTP funds for a state Recreational Trails Advisory Committee.
By law, every state must have a recreational trails advisory committee with diverse representation in order to receive RTP funding. But there is a big difference between having a committee and having an engaged, active body of enthusiasts who work in partnership with state officials and others to provide good trails for all.
The Illinois Greenways & Trails Council is the state’s official RTP State Trails Advisory Board. Council members include all major statewide trail user organizations, including biking, equestrian, hiking, OHV, snowmobiling, mountain biking, and paddling. Statewide associations representing local agencies that acquire, develop, and manage trails, such as the Illinois Association of Park Districts and the Illinois Association of Conservation Districts, also serve on the Council.
When significant RTP funding became available in 1996, the Council spent considerable time discussing how to mesh RTP funding with existing State and federal trail and related funding programs. This holistic approach ensured all trail users have fair access to funding. Illinois’ RTP places priority on equestrian, hiking, and mountain biking trails, since these trail types are not eligible or as high a priority under the other trail and related funding programs. Further, since the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is the state’s largest provider of equestrian, hiking, and mountain biking trails, the Council agreed to an annual 25% set-aside of RTP funds for projects at DNR sites to ensure these trail types are funded. Of course, all types of trails and all providers are eligible and, depending upon demand, can be and have been funded over the years.
The Council helped develop Illinois’ RTP priorities, grant project eligibility criteria, and grant project evaluation criteria. Each year, the Illinois DNR calls for and accepts applications for RTP grant projects, and then reviews, scores, and ranks the grant projects. The DNR also identifies and ranks projects at DNR sites. These two lists are combined into the annual RTP Project Listing. The Council then reviews and approves the Project Listing. This formal process, comparable to other DNR-administered recreational grant programs, ensures the RTP is a predictable program, allowing grant project sponsors and the DNR to plan and phase their trail projects, knowing the program’s priorities and process will be consistent from year to year.
By meeting regularly for many years, as well as through other efforts such as sponsoring and participating in workshops and conferences, Council members have developed professional and often personal relationships that enhance the group’s effectiveness.