The Trail Fund is a joint initiative of the Trails Move People Coalition, led by American Trails.
Interested in Sponsoring or Donating to The Trail Fund?
Your donation will enable us to build a fund dedicated to maintaining and enhancing America’s trails through maintenance, research, and stewardship training projects. With your help, we can save America's trails for every generation, and work toward our goal of having more and better trails within a 10 minute walk of every home and workplace.
We welcome donations in any amount, from individuals or organizations, starting at $5 and going up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. The more funding we receive, the more trail projects and organizations we can help. It is our intention to offer funding and have an annual application process for projects every year, pending funding.
*If donating a larger amount and need certain paperwork to accompany your sponsorship, please send an email to [email protected].
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.
The funding received is dispersed between trail maintenance, research, and stewardship training, and a portion is also set aside for administration of this program. (Please Note: The percentages are approximate as it will depend on the applications received and their needs.)
Priority #1: Trail Maintenance Backlog on State and Local Lands
We support trail maintenance projects that offer valuable benefits to broad segments of the communities served, with emphasis on collaborative and public/private initiatives featuring multiple funding sources. The Trail Fund is dedicated to sustaining our vast trail networks and beginning to solve the trail maintenance backlog on State and local public lands.
When you’re hiking on a trail, you often focus on details: the crunch of gravel beneath your boots, the wind whispering through the trees, the purr of your dirt bike as you negotiate a technical section of trail. In all likelihood, you aren’t thinking about who maintains the trail, much less who provides the dollars to do so.
Well, the reality is that our trails are necessary infrastructure, and they need your help.
While there are Federal, State, and local agencies playing an important role in management of public lands, their bandwidth is limited and their funding is squeezed. A 2012 General Accounting Office study found that the trail maintenance backlog on U.S. Forest Service lands alone exceeds $5.2 Billion. Amplifying the backlog is decreased budgets at Federal, State, and local agencies for programs that support recreation. Both the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service show dips of more than 15% since 2012—tens of millions of dollars our trails and rivers have sorely missed.
As the Department of the Interior acknowledged, “years of increased visitation and use” make these financial and preservation realities all the more urgent. One snapshot of this: the Pacific Crest Trail Association in 2018 issued 289% more long-distance permits than 2013.
The irony is all of this outdoor recreation generates billions of dollars in spending and millions of jobs, which foster healthier communities and economies. Yet public lands themselves have an uncertain fate.
These two diverging trends—more visitation, less money—create problems for our trails.
When trails aren’t properly maintained, they can become overgrown, washed out, or simply blocked by obstacles like fallen trees. It starts a ripple effect. Hikers get creative to bypass rough spots—a safety risk itself—but forging a new path causes braiding and greater erosion. This can overwhelm local watersheds, disturbing the homes and health of wildlife.
Thankfully, we are empowered to protect our gateways to adventure. The Federal outlook may seem bleak, but we can affect change starting at the local level.
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.
Recent data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calculated that outdoor recreation generated $734 billion in economic activity in 2016, surpassing other sectors such as agriculture, petroleum and coal. Outdoor recreation makes up 2.2% percent of U.S. GDP, supports 5.2 million jobs and is growing faster than the economy as a whole. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, trail centered activities directly generate over $594 billion and nearly 3.5 million jobs. We know that on federally managed land, outdoor recreation contributes more than $64.6 billion to the national economy and supports more than 623,000 jobs annually, but we don’t even know the economic impacts of State and local trail-focused outdoor recreation. It could be huge!
The Trail Fund will establish a robust and collaborative trail industry research capacity with a focus on the development and understanding of how trails create value and impact at the community, state, and federal level. We will utilize the data and knowledge from research initiatives across the country to inform and grow this critical trails knowledge base.
Priority #3: Stewardship Training
The management of our nation’s trails is largely supported by trail organizations and citizen volunteers who leverage government resources to maintain and expand our trails. On the National Trails System alone, since 1995, hundreds of thousands of citizen volunteers have contributed more than 19 million hours to build and maintain National Scenic and Historic Trails, and nonprofit trail organizations have contributed more than $200 million toward trail stewardship projects, a total value of $577.4 million. This historical and ongoing public “sweat equity” investment has led to an increased recognition of the importance of adequate federal funding for our public lands and trails to maintain quality visitor experiences.
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.
Albert Arline Jr.
Crystal Hanson Dajnowski
Elizabeth Mortenson Winlock
Nevada All-State Trail Riders Inc.
The Corps Network
Thank you to our anonymous donors as well!