Submit Your Trail Infrastructure Projects for CARES Act Funding

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on March 27, 2020, provides the Economic Development Administration (EDA) with $1.5 billion for economic development assistance programs to strengthen communities.

by Liz Thorstensen, Vice President of Trail Development, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC)


Iron Ore Heritage Trail - Marquette County, Upper Peninsula of Michigan; Photo by J. Birdie

The team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and American Trails is closely tracking relief and funding opportunities related to COVID-19 that may be appropriate for trail development.

On May 7, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced the availability of $1.5 billion in CARES Act funds in response to the pandemic. This funding will provide investments that support construction, non-construction, planning, technical assistance and revolving loan fund projects under EDA’s existing Public Works program. The funds are intended to aid regions across the country experiencing severe economic dislocations and hardship brought about by the pandemic.

The EDA’s funding announcement encourages “initiatives that present new ideas and creative approaches to advance economic prosperity in distressed communities.” While EDA programs are not a traditional source of trail funding, we believe trail and active transportation applications that make a strong economic impact and recovery case could very well be competitive in this program. EDA will accept applications for grants to support a wide variety of assistance, including:

  • Planning and technical assistance.
  • Capitalization and recapitalization of revolving loan funds, which provide access to capital for businesses.
  • Construction of infrastructure and other economic development projects.

We encourage you to explore this funding opportunity by:

  1. Reviewing EDA’s frequently asked questions and their funding addendum to determine eligibilities and requirements.
  2. Review your regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) to ensure your project can articulate the economic development needs and objectives outlined in the CEDS or equivalent EDA-accepted regional economic development strategy. We would also encourage you to reach out to your local or regional economic development organization and discuss how your project idea supports the CEDS.
  3. Reach out to your state’s EDA representative to educate them about your project and seek their input before going through the steps of formally applying. Please note that EDA is encouraging this step.

While the submission timeline is on a rolling basis, our expectation is that these funds will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Similar to other programs implemented under the CARES Act, demand will likely be very high. We encourage you to explore this opportunity as soon as possible.

If you do decide to formally apply, please email RTC to let us know so that we can track the success rate of trail-related applications and share that information with the trails community.

Published May 13, 2020

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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