President's Message: Shaping a Future Where Trails Connect Everyone, Everywhere

Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail in Ohio | Photo by Renee Rosensteel

The world has fallen in love with the outdoors once again. Whether we’ve discovered a new favorite pathway that connects us to where we want to go, or journeyed on an epic long-distance trail that inspires us with its breathtaking vistas … millions and millions of people—longtime trail users and newcomers alike—have connected with trails in new and meaningful ways over these recent years.

As our community of trail users has grown, so has the movement of advocates, partners and leaders who are working alongside Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) to build a nation connected by trails. Because of our work together, 2021 marked a year of momentous victories for the movement. Our impact was felt deeply as we made progress toward a future where trails connect everyone, everywhere.

Years of tireless advocacy paid off in transformative ways in 2021. The passing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act more than doubles federal funding for trails and active transportation. States across the country joined in making unprecedented investments in trails, resulting in $1.35 billion in state funding across the country. These victories are thanks to longstanding collaboration; hundreds of partners joined in these victories, and more than 51,000 people sent messages to their local, state and federal elected officials on behalf of trails.

These policy changes will make it possible for significantly more money to be invested in projects that connect trails and other active-transportation infrastructure. RTC is working to channel these resources toward trail network development while driving work on the ground to connect 11,000+ miles of trails through our signature projects: the Great American Rail-Trail® and TrailNation™. Alongside our partners, we unlocked hundreds of millions of dollars to accelerate this trail development in 2021.

At the same time, we’re connecting millions of people to enjoy all the benefits of America’s trails. We’re providing the information and inspiration to encourage them to make trail use part of their everyday lives.™ connected more than 10.5 million people to trails in 2021, and we’ve collected thousands of stories from people about the #TrailMoments that are making a profound difference in their lives.

The pieces are in place to transform the landscape of our nation in ways that make it possible for more people to choose trails more often. By connecting trails and active transportation infrastructure, we can make walking and biking accessible, equitable and central to people’s daily lives—and we can make it safe and convenient for people to swap car trips for trail trips. Together, we can create a culture where trails are prioritized as essential to the well-being of people and the planet. 

As life returns to more of the routines of everyday life, it’s up to us to stay just as engaged and continue to choose and advocate for trails whenever we can. This participation is a powerful form of collective action—demonstrating in real terms and in real time that this infrastructure is essential. Our love of the outdoors will only grow as we have more and more trails to take us there, right in our own communities.

Ryan Chao | Courtesy RTC
Ryan Chao | Courtesy RTC


Ryan Chao's signature

Ryan Chao
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy