shop   |   eNews   |   find a trail Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity
Share this page:

Including trails in municipal, regional and state comprehensive plans helps establish continued support for trail systems in the community.


Comprehensive Plan – Local government plan that meets state statute requirements, and thus contains the guidelines, principles and standards for the orderly, coordinated and balanced future economic, social, physical, environmental and fiscal development of the area.

Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) – A group that oversees the policy and funding of its region's transportation system through a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive planning process

Regional transportation plan (RTP) – A long-term outline that specifies and evaluates the different needs of the region's transportation system. It plans for 20 to 30 years into the future and is updated every five years by the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

RTC Resources

Urban Pathways Initiative: Connect with advocates and professionals working on the challenges of obesity, congestion and scarcity of open space in low-income urban neighborhoods. The initiative provides a space to share innovative resources and best practices that encourage physical activity through trail use in America's cities. Interested? Sign up to participate!

Ask Our Listserv: Learn about trail development from the experts! Join our listserv to be connected to more than 1,000 trail managers, advocates and builders across the country.

Go to RTC's Trails and Greenways Publication Library

For more information, please contact the appropriate regional or national office.

Additional Resources

Oregon Statewide Trail Plan

Wisconsin State Trails Network Plan

OKI Regional Bicycle Plan

New York Metropolitan Transportation Council

Seattle Bicycle Master Plan


Plan, Design, Build

Including Trails in City and Regional Planning

Explore the latest resources on this topic:

Planning in RTC TrailBlog
Planning in the Library

City, County and State Comprehensive Plans

A comprehensive plan is a long-term outline for community development goals and projects regarding transportation, utilities, land use, recreation and housing in a given region. Including language about trails in municipal, regional and state comprehensive plans is an important way to establish continued support for trail systems in the community. It can also help trail advocates leverage funding for the maintenance of existing trails and raise money to extend and connect fragmented trails.

There are several different areas within a comprehensive plan where trail language can be included. Some plans contain language aimed at supporting specific local trails, while others have broader language aimed at supporting trail systems in general.

Each jurisdiction's comprehensive plan is structured slightly differently. Determining the best place to incorporate trail language will require some knowledge about your region's policies and current comprehensive plan.

In Pennsylvania, most counties have incorporated an Open Space & Greenways Plan as a stand-alone amendment to their county comprehensive plan. These are usually detailed plans for future trails, including their expenses, locations, amenities, funding options and priority. Most often, however, trail language is incorporated as part of another section within the comprehensive plan, such as the transportation or park plan.

Washington and Venango County, Pa., both have stand-alone greenway plans within their comprehensive plans. The plans outline what greenways are, their benefits, an inventory of current trails, and a plan for future trail systems and how to implement them. Washington County also includes an inventory of active and/or unused railways and legally abandoned rail lines and the desire to preserve out-of-service rail lines for future trail and railroad use. Venango County includes a brief outline on what procedures to follow to create a trail from a former rail line.

In addition to having a Greenways and Trails Plan, Beaver County, Pa., encourages trail development and the preservation of rail lines in its Transportation Action Plan:

"Transportation Policy 4: Rail and Water

  • Encourage the use of rail and water as alternative modes of transportation.

Action Strategies:
Support the preservation of the Darlington Township rail line to service existing and future industrial sites or if feasible, its conversion to alternate trail uses if not maintained as an active rail corridor."

Regional Transportation Plans

Every urban area with more than 50,000 residents is federally mandated to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The MPO oversees the region's transportation system, facilitating collaboration of governments, interested parties and residents in the planning process. Each MPO creates a Regional Transportation Plan—a long-term outline specifying and evaluating the needs of the regional transportation system.

Urban areas have already begun to include trails in their regional transportation plans, and some have created "bike plans" for the region. These bike plans include existing and future trails for the area, as well as proposals for how to accommodate the growing number of cyclists and needs of the trail system. There are similar benefits to advocating for trail's inclusion in a regional transportation plan as there are for comprehensive plans; these documents can provide support for future trail systems and assist trail advocates in finding funding for the construction and maintenance of trails.

Return to Toolbox >>

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037