The Recreational Trails Program directly addresses our desire to put young people to work, provide equitable access to nature, and provide resilient responses to natural disasters
Trails and outdoor spaces are seeing major spikes in use across the country, as individuals and families look to these assets for daily physical activity and mental respite in the wake of COVID-19. As America’s business, social, and cultural hubs shuttered their doors to weather the coronavirus pandemic, many public health experts have discussed the importance of being active in the outdoors—as long as we maintain a safe physical distance.
The RTP serves as a resource to agencies across the country for developing public outreach campaigns and funding the staff needed to maintain and repair trails damaged through this incredible surge in use. This program helps to build our workforce, improve equitable access to nature, and helps to provide resiliency in the face of increasing natural disasters due to climate change.
Across the country, young people are exploring opportunities in the trail building and management industry to find long-term careers in resource management and outdoor recreation. Youth and conservation corps are important programs for teaching many of the needed skills, from familiar hand tools to heavy mechanized equipment. Corps members learn valuable lessons in working with different agencies and learning the skills required to be quality employees. In particular, corps organizations work to recruit and train economically and educationally disadvantaged young adults.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, Section 1524, requires the DOT to encourage the States and regional transportation planning agencies to enter into contracts and cooperative agreements with qualified youth service or conservation corps to perform appropriate projects. These projects include pedestrian and bicycle, transportation alternatives, and recreational trails.
Many RTP-funded projects involve young adults in entry-level positions. Besides construction techniques, those working on trail projects learn many other valuable skills, such as crew leadership and supervision, project management and logistics, environmental review requirements, and tracking accomplishments, materials, and future needs.
The Monadnock Trail Improvement Project worked with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) NH AmeriCorps to complete five 11-day hitches to address high priority maintenance issues, as outlined in the Monadnock State Park Management Plan, on the most trafficked trails within the park. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Forest Society) commissioned a trails assessment that identified areas of highest need, and from that came the project priority list that informed the need for RTP funding and the SCA’s scope of work.
There is a great deal of wear and tear on trails within Monadnock State Park as it is claimed to be one of the most hiked mountains in North America. The majority of the 100,000 annual visitors begin their journey at park headquarters and head up the White Dot Trail before descending the White Cross Trail back to the parking lot. This high use has led to a very wide and eroded trail corridor that reaches 20 feet in width for stretches and has user-created braided side-paths that weave around challenging and high congestion spots. Hikers on the two trails must navigate exposed tree roots, slippery steep rock slabs, and jumbled rocks resembling a dry stream bed created by the heavy erosion of soil. These trail conditions have led to hiker injuries and recurring medical evacuations. With this concentrated use, the impetus of this work was to improve hiker safety and overall visitor experience.
Shovel Ready Trail Project Research
Throughout 2020 and 2021, American Trails conducted a survey identifying nearly 1,300 trail projects that are waiting for infrastructure funding to help put Americans back to work and meet the burgeoning trail use numbers coming out of the 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. Then, 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 via map or a detailed report on the American Trails website at https://www.americantrails.org/shovel-ready-trail-projects.
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.
The RTP has significantly contributed to a long-term trend to make communities, trails, and recreation facilities more available to all Americans. This means improving trails for persons with disabilities, but also understanding the needs of older people, families with children, and those who are new to trail activities or lack affordable access to trail opportunities.
As the demographics of residents and visitors evolve over time, public land managers are seeking ways to make trails more available to the public. Many RTP projects are seeking to connect with underserved populations, provide opportunities for public input on parks and facilities, and to involve a variety of disciplines in larger corridor planning.
The new Waterloo Valley Trail Bridge was funded by RTP and connects one of Warren County’s largest population centers (Hackettstown and the surrounding area) to one of the State’s finest parks. At over 9,000 acres in size, Allamuchy Mountain State Park includes a 2,400 acres Natural Area containing mature mixed oak and hardwood forests, along with numerous maintained old fields that display various stages of succession and forest development. Trails traverse this Natural Area and provide access to the beautiful and secluded Deer Pond, which is centrally located within the area and an enjoyable escape for many locals. Additionally, this magnificent state park has more than 14 miles of marked trails and more than 20 miles of unmarked trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Not only is Allamuchy Mountain State park located at the convergence of three counties (Warren, Morris, and Sussex) with a total combined population of nearly 750,000 people, but it has become a central hub for connecting to hundreds of miles of long-distance trails. For example, this extensive network of trails within the state park includes a 3-mile section of the 21-mile Sussex Branch Trail that starts at Waterloo Road and goes northwest to Cranberry Lake, providing easy access from Waterloo Road through Kittatinny Valley State Park to Branchville, New Jersey. Additionally, a 10-mile section of the 168-mile Highlands Trail runs from the northern boundary of Allamuchy (off Route 206) through Stephens State Park, which is home to a popular picnic area and campground. Additionally, a 13-mile section of the 52-mile Warren Highlands Trail extending from the Delaware River in the west to the Musconetcong River in the east passes through Allamuchy Mountain State Park, as does this new 5-mile Waterloo Valley section of the 102-mile Morris Canal Greenway Trail stretching from Phillipsburg on the Delaware River in the west all the way to Jersey City on the Hudson River in the east.
2020 saw a variety of dramatic natural disasters across our country. Whether unprecedented flooding in the midwest, wildfires in the west, or hurricanes in the south, our lands are under unprecedented natural pressure. Trails in general, and the RTP in particular, have proven to be powerful tools in mitigating these disasters. Trails projects have been implemented to provide badly needed new emergency evacuation routes, access corridors for fire fighting and emergency crews, tools for controlling the flow of water and sediment over fire-denuded landscapes, and focusing impact on sensitive and recovering habitats.
Friends of Cow Mountain is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, based in Ukiah, California, that works to improve the recreation experience at South Cow Mountain off-highway vehicle (OHV) area, a 25,000 acre property managed by the Bureau of Land Management out of the Ukiah Field Office. South Cow Mountain is home to headwater streams that flow west to the Russian River watershed and east to Clear Lake. The Russian River is home to steelhead and salmon which are listed on the Federal threatened and endangered lists. Clear Lake is home to the Clear Lake Hitch, a fish listed on the State endangered list, which spawns in creeks flowing out of South Cow Mountain. The trail maintenance work performed by Friends of Cow Mountain supports work to save these vital species by reducing sediment discharged into streams where spawning takes place. South Cow Mountain was heavily damaged in the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire which burned 460,000 acres. The work of Friends of Cow Mountain has supported the goal of reducing sediment discharge into streams due to vegetation loss in the fire.