Rails to Trails Conservancy's TrailNation™ Playbook

Strategies for Building Trail Networks

Rails to Trails Conservancy's TrailNation™ Playbook brings the decades of experience building trail networks across the country to a resource of case studies, best practices and tools for trail network development on a local and national level.

by Rails to Trails Conservancy

With more than 24,000 miles of rail-trails in the nation, RTC's TrailNation initiative curates case studies, best practices and tools to accelerate trail network development nationwide. Explore each section for lessons learned that can support trail planners, municipalities, states and regions working to advance trail network projects.

  • Project Vision: Establishing the vision for a regional trail network is the initial step in determining its scope and the primary impact it will deliver—be that transportation, recreation, tourism, quality of life, etc.
  • Coalition Building: Coalitions are critical to the success of trail networks. Designing an inclusive process to engage a broad network of partners can help to channel the energy, expertise and influence needed to grow support for and implement regional trail networks.
  • Gap-Filling Strategy: Converting trail network gaps—whether they are identified planned trails or more conceptual desired connections—into well-supported projects that attract investment requires strategies that leverage political, natural and economic capital.
  • Mapping and Analytics: The process of defining the trail network with geospatial data to identify open trails as well as undeveloped segments is critical to understanding the scope of a trail network, prioritizing projects within the network and developing an implementation plan that will accelerate trail network completion.
  • Investment Strategy: Developing and implementing a strategy that considers a variety of sources—including state, local, federal and private dollars—is essential to accelerating the completion of a regional trail and active transportation network.
  • Engagement: Engagement is fundamental to trail network planning. It could be considered the glue that holds many of the pieces of the Playbook together—occurring at every stage of the project to build the internal cohesion, political will and public enthusiasm needed to develop trail networks, activate them and realize their potential as hubs of thriving communities.

Explore the Playbook

About the Author


Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. RTC’s mission, and its value, is magnified in urban areas, where one mile of trail can completely redefine the livability of a community. Where trails are more than just recreational amenities, creating opportunities for active transportation and physical activity—improving our health and wellbeing—as they safely connect us to jobs, schools, businesses, parks, and cultural institutions in our own neighborhoods and beyond.

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