Congressman Petri speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for Wisconsin's Shoreland 400 Rail Trail. — Photo Credit Sheboygan County Planning and Conservation Department

Developing a rail-trail takes the efforts of a wide variety of individuals and organizations. Advocates for conversion of a railroad corridor into a multi-use trail can and should develop and nurture relationships with local and state agencies and municipalities.

Building a Case Statement

It is critical to build a solid case for the development of a trail. Going before a town council or county commissioner and simply stating that the trail would be a “nice thing to have” will not help move your project forward. Public officials and local leaders must be provided with positive answers to questions such as: When developed, will the trail provide an economic stimulus to the municipality? Will it make it safer for children to walk to school, and can people use the trail to run errands?

Also be prepared to address more detailed questions: How much it will cost to develop and maintain the trail? Who will own, manage and maintain the trail? How will security be addressed? How do the adjacent property owners feel about the trail? What are the development steps ahead?

Keep in mind that for many municipal leaders, money will be the primary concern. Build a compelling case that the development of the trail will benefit many aspects of the community, add to the quality of life and even provide an economic boon to the area.

Use the Meeting in a Box and other RTC resources to support your case and develop presentation materials for meetings with local leaders and the community at large.

Organize Meetings

Once you have built your case, start reaching out to local officials and agencies. A good strategy is to make one-on-one contacts with local municipal leaders whom you or others in your organization know personally. This could be an informal get-together to introduce your project and the benefits it will provide to your community. These meetings will also help you refine your presentation by uncovering questions or concerns that you may not have considered.

Now you are prepared to make a more formal presentation on your project to a larger audience. This may be at the town council meeting or with the mayor and key members of his or her staff; participants in this meeting will vary based on the municipal government organization in your state and the agencies involved. If additional questions or concerns are raised at this meeting, develop responses and report back as soon as possible. Move on to meet with the governing body of each municipality along the entire corridor.

When you are confident that you have a solid base of support from the local municipalities, make your pitch to larger governmental subdivisions. This may be a town, township or county. You may want to ask local boards and commissions to adopt a resolution of support for the trail project; use RTC’s sample resolution of support as a guide.

Memoranda of Understanding

When trail projects travel through multiple jurisdictions, public officials will be concerned with dividing management and maintenance responsibilities and coming to a formal agreement with any other local or state department or agency involved. For more information on memoranda of understanding, take a look at the Management section of the Toolbox.

Identifying State and Regional Agencies and Officials

In many cases, state agencies will be sources of funding for the design and construction of your trail project. Be sure to identify state agencies and officials that will be instrumental in building your trail before the time comes to apply for funding. In all states, the department of transportation is charged with the management of Transportation Alternatives funds, a significant source of federal funding for trails.

Other agencies that may be involved include parks and recreation, conservation, environmental protection, tourism, economic development and natural resources. Metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) or other types of regional intergovernmental bodies may also be helpful in assessing how a trail fits into your region’s transportation plans. Contact each agency and determine which department is involved in the development of trails. You can find state and local contacts for these key agencies by visiting the website listings below:


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