1,626 views • posted 06/18/2020 • updated 07/18/2023

1,300 Trail Projects Can Put Americans To Work

Nearly 1,300 trail projects are waiting for infrastructure funding to help put Americans back to work and meet the burgeoning trail use numbers coming out of the pandemic.


“Shovel-ready” Definition

Shovel-ready trail projects are projects that, if funding is available and working conditions are safe, could be providing jobs between the summer of 2021 and 2025. A project can be "shovel-ready" in any phase of development (e.g., acquisition/ROW, planning, design, construction, maintenance), as long as jobs would be created starting in the summer of 2021 if the project were funded now.

The purpose of the American Trails “Shovel-ready” Trail Project Survey was to document the contribution the trails community can make to the American economic response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This project has been completed in two phases. The first phase took place between May 13 and May 21, 2020 in cooperation with Penn State's Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management Department. The responses for this phase can be seen on the map below in red dots. Starting in March of 2021, American Trails opened up a new survey that allowed the gathering of more information that project sponsors could choose to make public. The results of this ongoing effort can be viewed in the black dots on the map below if they have indicated that they would like to make project details available to the public. Survey respondents were recruited using a purposive snow-ball approach via the membership and email lists of American Trails, the Trails Move People Coalition, and the formal and informal networks of their members.

This map identifies most of the projects submitted for this effort. Zoom in on your region and click on any dot to view the key details of individual projects. (Project locations only show one location on a trail, are not necessarily exact, and should not be relied upon for navigation.)

Red Dot = Anonymous project details (like description, cost, and job specifics) to preserve contracting integrity.

Black Dot = Project details made public by managing representative.

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Synopsis from 2020 survey analysis only. Updates will be made soon to include 2021 data. (Click on the image to download the PDF)

Synopsis from 2020 survey analysis only. Updates will be made soon to include 2021 data. (Click on the image to download the PDF)

Trails have been an established economic driver for some time, with the outdoor recreation industry contributing over 800 billion per year to the economy. Now there are nearly 1,300 trail projects in the United States waiting on funding to help put Americans to work building, maintaining, and improving our nation’s trails, and this number reflects only a fraction of the estimated need that exists in our nation.

This study found data for nearly 1,300 “shovel-ready” trail projects. This means that if funding were provided immediately they would be ready to break ground by summer 2021. Combined, these projects will provide over 83,000 months of work. Not only would these trail projects improve our nation’s trail infrastructure, and provide an essential need for many communities, but they will also help spur our economic recovery after COVID-19.

Through these projects over 2 billion dollars would be put back into communities through wages, supplies, and other trail spending. Trails have been consistently shown to be an excellent investment, with return on spending far exceeding even that of road infrastructure, yet often trails are overlooked in infrastructure bills.

These trails will serve a diverse cross-section of recreational enthusiasts, including hikers, cyclists, equestrians, paddlers, and motorized trail users.

Respondents were asked to provide location, budget, employment, and other project characteristic information about “shovel-ready” projects under their management.

"Employment Months" Definition

Employment months is a measure of the ability of a trail project to create or continue employment if funding is available and working conditions are safe. Trail projects have many phases (e.g., planning, construction, maintenance), each of which likely will employ different numbers of workers for different amounts of time. Trail jobs are also inherently seasonal positions. So, in order to represent them more accurately, we needed a shorter time frame than a year on which to measure true employment through 2025.

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