Advocating for Trails

Photo by Getty Images

RTC is the top advocacy voice in the United States dedicated to trails and active transportation, unwavering in our commitment to grow and safeguard trail funding at every public levelfederal, state and local—to secure robust investment in connected active-transportation systems for people of every age and ability across the country.  

As Congress continues to debate the next federal transportation bill, and states and local communities seek innovative strategies to meet the growing demand for trails and walking and bicycling infrastructure, our goal remains constant: to establish the investment needed for the creation of a truly transformative 21st-century active-transportation system.


On the Way to Visionary Transportation Reauthorization


With the FAST ACT set to expire in September 2020, RTC is urging Congress to take bold steps to transform America by carving out critical funding for a robust, modern transportation system that serves America’s fast-evolving transportation needs. This includes:

  • Continued advocacy on Capitol Hill for the support and expansion of critical federal programs like Transportation Alternatives (TA) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which have provided $15+ billion for projects to date, including $880 million in FY 2019.
  • New, focused investment in connecting trails and active-transportation networks, including closing key infrastructure gaps within communities and across state lines, which has the potential to unlock billions of dollars annually for the U.S. economy.
$15+ billion in Federal TA + RTP funds dedicated to date

Trails Transform America


In 2019, RTC’s Trails Transform America campaign served as a central rallying point for the national trails community to urge Congress to pursue a visionary transportation bill in 2020. We made our voice heard through 54 visits to Congressmen and Hill staff, and 25 federal agency interactions—and collaborated with a broad range of partners to make sure our message was heard by key decision-makers (e.g., check out this letter we sent to the House T&I Committee in May 2019.) Throughout the year, we also elevated transformative trail and active transportation projects that, with the right public investment, would unlock enormous economic, health, transportation and environmental benefits for communities.

$880+ million in FY 2019

Senate EPW Bill Kicks Off Transportation Reauthorization

In July 2019—transportation reauthorization was off and running with the passage of a bill by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) following months of discussion and anticipation by RTC and the national trails community. Two key highlights: 1) unanimous bipartisan support to restore TA funding to former heights; and 2) for the first time, proposed dedicated federal funding to address the transportation-related causes of climate change.

America’s Largest Data Exchange on Federal Trail Spending

RTC’s TrADE data exchange is the nation’s go-to transportation funding data source for trails and active transportation, tracking TA spending for tens of thousands of projects. Key findings of our 2019 report (analyzing FY 2018): While $197 million were transferred out of the program; lapsed funds were reduced from $18.4 million in FY 2017 to $3.5 million. Additionally, off-road trails and rail-trails accounted for 44% of all funding through to FY 2018—a recognition by the states of trails as vital active transportation infrastructure.


A State Advocacy Voice for Trails


RTC’s state policy arm is focused on strategies aimed at building  public investment for trails at the state level, long-term support for trails  and walking and biking infrastructure, and the creation of advocacy infrastructure that will lay a foundation for innovative active transportation policies and programs for years to come.

In FY 2019, our state-level advocacy voice—which extended to 14 states and included more than 6,200 actions by trail supporters—yielded some major funding wins for trail network development.

5 Major State-Level Funding Wins in FY 2019
$160+ Million in New Funds for Trails Secured in FY 2019

How We Elevated State Trail Advocacy in FY 2019


Hudson River Valley Greenway in New York | Photo by Scott Stark
Hudson River Valley Greenway in New York | Photo by Scott Stark

We stood with our partners in New York through our Trails Across New York campaign to help secure passage of a statewide trail plan that was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November. The plan harnesses the power of the 750-mile Empire State Trail as a massive spine to connect and expand trail networks in New York, with a goal to spark new economic, public health and active transportation options statewide.

Eisenbhan State Trail in Wisconsin | Photo by TrailLink user jfjbjl
Eisenbhan State Trail in Wisconsin | Photo by TrailLink user jfjbjl

We built major momentum in the Badger State, along with our partners on the ground, with the launch of the Wisconsin Legislative Trails Caucus, formed to ramp up state investment and unlock vital federal funding for impactful trail network development. This would help complete projects like the 700-mile Route of the Badger in Southeast Wisconsin, which will one day connect people, places and new opportunities across seven counties.

Ryan Chao and Dr. Rose Gowen along a trail in Brownsville, Texas | Courtesy RTC
Ryan Chao and Dr. Rose Gowen along a trail in Brownsville, Texas | Courtesy RTC

We helped secure a new funding source for parks and trails in the Lone Star State via Proposition 5/Senate Joint Resolution 24, which was passed by a statewide vote in November 2019—and paved the way for dedicated funds for state parks and trails generated by Texas’ existing sporting goods tax. The money could help support major trail networks like the 428-mile Caracara Trails, which will promote healthy lifestyles and active tourism across the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Great Miami River Trail in Ohio | Photo by TrailLink user benkretz
Great Miami River Trail in Ohio | Photo by TrailLink user benkretz

We took big steps toward a statewide trail network in the Buckeye State with the establishment of the Ohio Trails Vision. The Department of Natural Resources and trail advocates, including RTC, presented the plan in May 2019 to the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus, which has committed to its prioritization moving forward. Highlight: A focus of the plan includes the buildout of connected trail networks such as the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition and the Great American Rail-Trail.

Skunk Train along the Willits Rail-with-Trail corridor in California | Photo by Laura Cohen, courtesy RTC
Skunk Train along the Willits Rail-with-Trail corridor in California | Photo by Laura Cohen, courtesy RTC

We provided technical support to 15 disadvantaged communities in pursuit of funds to construct critical trails and walking and bicycling infrastructure through California's Active Transportation Program, which allocated $139 million in FY 2019 to dozens of trails and separated bikeway projects. Historically, RTC has helped lead advocacy efforts to secure dedicate funds for ATP, which to date has authorized more than $1.4 billion for active transportation projects statewide.