Apply for The Trails Capacity Program

Interested in Applying for Funding from The Trails Capacity Program?

On this page:

The deadline has passed for 2023 funding. View the awarded projects for 2023.

The Trails Capacity Program will be administered by the Trails Move People Coalition, a diverse coalition of trail user groups, led by American Trails, and will support grants for trail maintenance, research, and stewardship training all across the country, serving all types of trail users. The amount of funding available and number of grants we can offer will vary year by year, pending funding.

The Trails Capacity Program is a collaborative program of American Trails (a private 501(c)(3) charitable organization) launching in 2022 with a generous gift of $50,000 from the Ford Corporation (plus additional funding in smaller amounts from individuals from the trails community and ongoing support from the Waterford Press and Rhino Marking and Protection Systems). With this gift, Ford, through the Bronco Wild Fund made clear its commitment to support all trail users across the country and ensure that high-quality trails are available to all. We are continuing to accept sponsorships and donors for this program.

Our Mission

To protect and restore America’s trails.

Our Vision

The Trail Fund’s vision is to engage the trail, outdoor recreation, and conservation industry giving community to partner with critical stewardship organizations to save our trails.

Our Values

  • We connect. Providing a link between foundations, businesses, and the trails community, we enable and inspire our colleagues to work together to protect the trails that are vital to their business.
  • We are collaborative. We recognize that our greatest strength is our collective nature. Our partners are trail industry leaders who come together around a common need of saving our trails from neglect.
  • We get results. We strive to put 90-95% of all funds collected in our inaugural year directly into trail maintenance, research, and stewardship training projects. We strive to find the best trail partners from across the trails spectrum, and we measure that success in terms of measurable, on-the-ground maintenance of trails and increased capacity of trail stewards to do the job effectively.
  • We are responsible. As a group of trails industry representatives, we have a responsibility to invest in protecting the trails that are a critical part of the American experience.

With this being our inaugural year and as we figure out exact requirements, adjustments might be made on the program. Please review this page for the most updated information prior to applying. Email [email protected] if you have any questions.

Watch the Webinar!

Watch the recording of our March 31 webinar to learn more about this funding opportunity (and two other trail stewardship funding opportunities via our sister fund, National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance).

Download the recording...

How to Apply

Applications are not currently open.

We anticipate applications will be open in the fall, with awards made for the following year's building season.

Preparation Materials

Below is a list of preparation materials needed in order to apply. All items must be submitted in order for your application to be considered for funding. The online form does allow you to save and continue at a later date, if need be, and will allow you to print your completed details before you submit.

To prepare, below is a list of questions asked in the application process:

  • Contact Information:
    • Organization
    • Contact Person for Application
    • Contact Person Email
    • Contact person Phone
    • Organization Address
    • Organization Website
    • EIN
    • Annual Budget
  • Project Information
    • Confirm Type: Maintenance, Research, and/or Stewardship Training
    • Amount Requested (between $2k to $15k)
    • Project Name (to help identify and for promotion)
    • Project Location (include city and state, as well as trail name or area, if applicable)
    • Approximate Number of Volunteers Involved
    • Approximate Number of Staff Involved
    • Project Synopsis (used for promotion) (no more than 99 words)
      • If maintenance, include approximate miles of trails
      • If stewardship training, include approximate number of volunteers/staff to train
    • Project Timeline
      • Include length of project as well as acknowledgement that funding will be used by or before December 31 of this year.
    • Project Description (no more than 2 pages) (upload files)
      • Include specific desired accomplishments, who/what this project would benefit. If maintenance, include approximate miles of trails. If stewardship training, include approximate number of volunteers/staff to train.
    • Project Budget Narrative & Financial Match Information (upload files)
      • Include an outline of items that the funding will be used for with approximate dollar amounts for each item.
      • No match required: No in-kind or cash match required, but some match preferred.
    • Letter of Support (minimum 2) (upload files)
    • IRS Letter of Determination of Nonprofit Status (upload files)


  • Tax-exempt organizations under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(7), including public charities as described in IRC 509(a)(1)-(4) and 170(b)-(c). Federal, State, regional, and local government units, school districts, and tribes are also eligible to receive grants from the Fund.
  • These grants are for work on motorized or nonmotorized trails/project that are open to the public anywhere in the United States. We will focus our funding on state and local lands, and Federal lands will be accepted. For trails located on US Forest Service land we suggest you first approach our sister fund, the Trail Partner Funding, which focuses their funding on USFS trails exclusively (learn more under What is ineligible for funding section? below).
  • Funds must be used before the end of the year in which they were awarded (i.e. awarded projects any time in 2022 must be used by December 31, 2022).
  • No match required: No in-kind or cash match required, but some match preferred.

Will the Fund award grants to fiscal sponsors on behalf of applicants who are not eligible as 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations?

Yes, provided the fiscal sponsor meets our eligibility criteria. The grant application must be completed by the fiscal sponsor, who will provide all information required, in addition to including supplemental information on the sponsored applicant and the proposed project or program.

What is ineligible for funding?

  • Trails on US Forest Service land will likely receive lower priority in this funding program, because we will have a tendency to direct these applications to our sister fund via the National Forest System Trail Stewardship Partner Funding Program, a joint partnership effort between the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and the US Forest Service.
  • New trail projects are not eligible. Funding is only available for trail maintenance, research, and stewardship training, with a portion also set aside for administration of this program.
  • Completed projects.
  • Indirect costs
  • Budget deficits.
  • Debt reduction.
  • General operating expenses. Note: We understand that projects or programs being proposed in a grant, that expand the organization’s capacity to fulfill its mission, may impact operating costs. As such, those operating costs may not be considered ‘general’ in nature, may be eligible for funding, and should be identified in the budget submitted with the grant application so that they may be considered as part of the overall project or program costs.
  • Event sponsorships.
  • Contributions to individuals.
  • Contributions to political or labor organizations, candidates, or causes.
  • Contributions that facilitate religious mission, doctrine, or organization.
  • Proposals that would cause the Fund to be in violation of its Conflict of Interest Policy.

Our Funding Priorities

Priority #1: Trail Maintenance Backlog on State and Local Lands

Unfortunately, trails do not receive the ongoing maintenance support that they need through the Federal, State, and local appropriations process, resulting in a huge trail maintenance backlog. By current estimates in the US Forest Service alone, if nothing were to change in the current appropriations for trail maintenance, it would take over 1000 years to eliminate the current trail maintenance backlog. And that does not even take into consideration the additional miles of trail that will be added to the backlog in that same time.

Maintenance is not sexy, or easy to fund, but it is critical in helping our country, our citizens, and our communities maintain their connection to nature and to the enjoyment of our country’s most beautiful landscapes.

Priority #2: Research

Research and data on trails are critical to show the impact and benefits of trails. The trails community is witnessing unprecedented growth and a shift in leadership away from Federal agencies, toward foundation and private investment driving trail development. This highlights the need to develop the tools that allow a dynamic trail community to come together, professionalize and standardize, document our value and impact, and articulate this value and impact to public leaders, the outdoor industry, and other industries that unwittingly benefit from trails.

Our goal is to establish a robust and collaborative industry research capacity with a focus on the development and understanding of how trails and the industry create value and impact at the community, state, and federal level. Utilize the data and knowledge from research initiatives to inform and grow the trails knowledge base that would inform the needs in creating a professional development program.

Priority #3: Stewardship Training

Research informs us how to effectively engage trail stewards on public lands. By focusing on engaging younger, under-served, and diverse populations as active trail stewards, we can build a force of passionate individuals to tackle our nation’s trail maintenance needs.

The goal of developing high quality, consistent training opportunities is to preserve skills that have been developed over decades as well as teaching the newest technology. Top quality and readily accessible training will help all of us perform to the best of our abilities. By focusing on engaging younger, diverse populations as active trail stewards, we can build a force of passionate individuals to tackle our nation’s trail maintenance needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

photo credit: Eddee Daniel

How much funding is available?

While the Board may amend the amount of funding annually or by grant cycle, our current giving is as follows: we make grants in an annual cycle, currently contributing just over $50,000 in the inaugural year.

What are the Fund’s parameters for making grants?

Trail Fund grants range from $2,000 minimum to a maximum of $15,000 for the purposes described above.

What trail types are eligible for funding?

The Trail Fund supports trails that serve ALL types of trail users, motorized and nonmotorized. This includes hiking, cycling, mountain biking, trail running, access routes, horseback riding, water trails, ATVs, snowmobiling, and more.

Can this funding be used to hire staff, or pay for staff time?

Yes, hiring or supplementing staff or contractor payroll is eligible if the funded portion of the staff's duties directly involves maintenance of trails, training of stewards, or research programs.

How often does the Fund review grant applications?

Currently, we review grant applications annually. Applications will be accepted starting in early Fall. Please subscribe to our email list to be the first to be notified when the application window opens for Fall 2023.

When are grants funded?

Grants will be funded in full via direct deposit within two weeks following the announcement of the award.

Are there restrictions on the length of time needed to complete projects or programs funded by grants?

Projects funded by Trail Fund grants must be completed by December 31 of the award year.

Do winning applications need to provide a report following completion of their project?

Yes, funded projects need to provide a report (including photos) following completion of the project and use of the funding provided by this grant no later than February 1 of the following year. Those who submit applications will be required to give permission for us to use these reports publicly on to promote this grant program for future sponsors and applicants.

What criteria does the Fund use for awarding grants?

We prioritize our giving based on criteria that includes but may not be limited to: alignment with our giving priorities as described above; perceived potential for the proposal’s success; breadth of impact on the community; the number volunteers engaged; cost per mile of trail maintenance; strength and stability of the applicant organization; availability of funding from other sources to fulfill the goals of the grant; balancing our giving by priority and region; the impact on low- to moderate-income, disadvantaged and/or marginalized persons or families; and the extent to which the proposal advances the Fund’s mission of protecting and restoring America’s trails through maintenance projects, stewardship training programs, or research projects.

Is there a limit to the number of grant proposals an organization can submit? Or the number of times an organization may receive funding?

Although we do not have a policy limiting the number of grant proposals an organization can submit, or the number of times an organization may receive funding, we anticipate receiving many more proposals than we can fund, and we may prioritize accordingly. Each proposal will be considered on its own merits.

Does the Fund consider multi-year grant proposals?

Preference will be given to annual grant proposals, but multi-year proposals may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Who makes grant award decisions?

American Trails is proud to coordinate a diverse group of representatives from the Trails Move People Coalition to ensure equitable distribution of funds amongst a broad and diverse swath of trail user types. This includes a collaboration of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, American Hiking Society, American Trails, Back Country Horsemen of America, International Mountain Bicycling Association, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, and the American Motorcyclist Association all participating in the rating and selection of projects.

The grant application asks for “specific and measurable outcomes.” What’s meant by that?

We want to know the extent to which the funding we provide makes a measurable impact, and the extent to which the specific goals and objectives of the grant were fulfilled. To that end, you are asked to state on your application the target population and number of people to be served, the breadth of impact of the project for which you’re seeking funding and the specific and measurable outcomes you intend to accomplish. If you’re awarded a grant, you’ll be required to report periodically on the specific intended outcomes of the grant and the progress made in delivering on them.

Who should author the Letters of Support?

We'd especially like to see letters of support from the following in priority order (as appropriate):
1) The entity(ies) that own and/or manage the land on which the project is taking place (if different from applicant).
2) Any partner organizations or agencies that will work with the applicant on accomplishing the project.
3) Any local, State, or Federal legislators that support the project.

To whom should I address the Letters of Support?

Address: The Trail Fund, PO Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797

To: Trail Fund Review Committee

Can I contact the Fund if I have additional questions?

Yes! Please feel free to email our Trail Fund staff, at [email protected]. Be sure to include a phone number where you can be reached.

Is funding available outside of the United States?

At the current time, funding is only eligible for trails and projects within the United States.

Important Dates

Assuming the program is funded, we anticipate applications will open in the fall, with awards made for the following year’s building season.

  • Application Deadline: TBD
  • Announcement of Winning Applications: TBD
  • Funding Provided to Winning Applications: TBD
  • Deadline for Funds to be Used: December 31 of award year
  • Report Deadline for Winning Applications: February 1 (of the following year)

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