Supporting the Nation’s Trail-Building Community

D&H Rail Trail in Pennsylvania | Photo by Eli Griffen

As part of our commitment to connecting the nation by trail, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has distributed nearly $2.4 million in Trail Development Grants to support communities in building strategically designed projects that meet their unique economic, health, social, environmental and active transportation goals. These investments have been especially crucial for providing the leverage to advance projects with limited funding sources.

Since 2008, RTC has provided 332 trail development grants to 243 organizations across the country.

In 2021, RTC intentionally invested in grants that had an impact on creating equitable, safe connections for walking and bicycling in America's communities.

RTC supported 55 projects in 19 states with an emphasis on bolstering community-led organizations in generating local engagement and creating equitable access to trails. Funding included support for the development of key projects within our TrailNationTM portfolio—designed to establish model trail networks that prove what’s possible when you equitably connect people and places by trail. Grants also funded gap-filling projects along the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail®.

Our Commitment to Equity

In 2021, we defined our approach to building equitable trail networks in a logic model that outlines the inputs and outputs that will redefine trail development and bring the benefits of trails to everyone, everywhere.

Key to this success is establishing equity principles as fundamental to trail network planning and development. RTC packaged its expertise and experiences working in under-resourced and under-represented communities to provide new tools and resources to support equitable trail development nationwide.


Photo courtesy West Virginia State Parks
Photo courtesy West Virginia
State Parks

Resources for the Trail-Building Community

Providing trail builders, managers and advocates with the resources and tools they need to create successful trails in their communities is of paramount importance to what we do. Last year, RTC hosted 13 webinars viewed by more than 1,900 attendees. Our Trail Expert Network, which facilitates peer-to-peer learning, has also grown to more than 6,650 participants.


Rails-with-Trails Report Released

In May 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation released “Rails-with-Trails: Best Practices and Lessons Learned,” which provides guidance for the creation of trails within active rail corridors—a growing trend in the United States, which currently has some 400 rails-with-trails open in 47 states. RTC staff served as lead authors for the study, bringing our expertise to shape the practice.


Courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Protecting Trails in Our Courts

RTC provides legal counsel to protect and advance the rail-trail movement, participating in more than 60 cases to date. Our team participates in cases and legal proceedings that have implications for rail-trail conversions with a simple objective—protecting the legal and policy framework for railbanking, which has helped make an estimated 193 rail-trails possible since 1983.


Related: UTHealth School of Public Health Receives Rails-to-Trails GranT | CBS 4/NBC 23

Related: City of Fairmont Extending Multistate Walking, Biking TraiL | 12 WBOY-TV

Legal Victory for Mass Central Rail Trail-Utility Corridor Partnership

Mass Central Rail Trail | Photo by Milo Allerton Bateman
Mass Central Rail Trail | Photo by Milo Allerton Bateman

In February 2021, RTC voiced its support via an amicus brief for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, which manages the Mass Central Rail Trail—a route that will span 104 miles across the state and is a key segment of the developing 1,100-mile New England Rail-Trail Network. An upcoming 7.6-mile segment within a transmission line corridor of the energy company Eversource was opposed by the Town of Sudbury and a group called Protect Sudbury, who together challenged the approval of the transmission line’s construction in a case brought before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

RTC backed the state’s efforts as Eversource would undertake the underlying preparation for the corridor, including environmental remediation—resulting in an estimated $6 million to $10 million in cost savings. In June, the court affirmed the approval of the Eversource route, a victory enabling the trail project to move forward within the utility corridor.

Related: Powerful Partnerships: Utility Companies + TrailS | Rails to Trails Magazine