Maintenance can be a challenge for trails of any size. After construction of the path, maintenance is an ongoing task that requires significant resources, including volunteers, staff and funding. Fortunately, maintenance and restoration of existing trails is one eligible activity under the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP). RTP funds can be used for both motorized and non-motorized trails, although the conversion of non-motorized trails for use by motorized vehicles is explicitly prohibited. The RTP is administrated by each state; for more information on how to apply, contact your state RTP administrator.
Securing funding for trail maintenance can be a difficult task, especially in times when budgets are tight. The following methods for financing and fundraising are reflected in the real-world examples provided below.
- Fundraising Events
- Grant-based Program
- Membership Dues
- Regional Property Tax Levy
- Savings through Volunteer Engagement
- User Fees
For information about funding trail corridor acquisition or construction, please visit our Acquisition: Financing and Funding toolbox page.
Kennebec River Rail Trail - Cumberland, Kennebec, and Sagadahoc Counties, Maine
The Friends of the Kennebec River Rail Trail group has been dreaming up and putting on creative events to raise funds for the trail’s necessary maintenance since the first section of the trail opened in 2001. The Kennebec River Rail Trail is a 6.5-mile paved rail-trail running from the small city of Gardiner north to Maine’s capital city of Augusta along the Kennebec River. While management of the trail is in the hands of a Board of Supervisors composed of appointed members from the towns the trail passes through, the friends group is primarily responsible for raising money for ongoing maintenance.
Fundraising events on the trail include foot races, such as half marathons and 5K runs. The events are primarily staffed by friends-group volunteers, ensuring that the majority of the race registration fees go toward trail maintenance. These races don’t only attract participants from Maine who already love the trail; in fact, 2009’s half marathon saw 30 percent of the runners come from outside the state. For those who dislike or are unable to run, Friends of the Kennebec River Rail Trail have hosted a Walk for the Trail and an “anything goes” Trail-A-Thon event in the past.
The friends group also participates in the Whatever Family Festival and Kids Day held in Augusta’s Capitol Park, where the sale of raffle tickets and refreshments helps support the upkeep of the trail. In 2011 and 2012, Friends of the Kennebec River Rail Trail also coordinated with the Capital Area New Year’s Eve Committee to host a celebration on New Year’s Eve at Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta. Proceeds from the event were pledged in support of the Kennebec River Rail Trail.
Perhaps most important in terms of maximizing the amount of funds that can be raised for trail maintenance is that Friends of the Kennebec River Rail Trail does not rely exclusively on these creative fundraising events for their required financial support. As with the Katy Trail, the friends group collects membership dues for ongoing maintenance funds. The group also sells memorial benches for $2,500 a piece, which serves the dual purpose of raising money for trail maintenance and enhancing the trail through the addition of an appreciated amenity for all trail users.
Greenways Maintenance Pilot Project - Detroit, Mich.
The Conner Creek Greenway is planned to be nine miles long, running from Maharas Park on the Detroit River to 8 Mile Road. It follows the historical route of Conner Creek, which is now enclosed in storm sewers. The corridor, managed by the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative with support from Nortown Community Development Corporation, passes through industrial and commercial areas. Currently, five miles have been completed, featuring a 10-foot-wide walking and biking path.
Like the construction of the trails themselves, the Greenways Maintenance Pilot Project was funded by a grant from the GreenWays Initiative of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. The program, operated by the nonprofit group The Greening of Detroit, organized its first season in 2010 with the goal of creating a long-term maintenance plan and using educational programming and service days to engage the community.
For this program, The Greening of Detroit hired, trained and managed a four-member crew to provide routine maintenance between April and October. Duties included litter collection, trail sweeping, grass cutting, mulching, watering and weeding. The crew also addressed more specialized maintenance needs such as installing new plant material, tree pruning, graffiti removal and illegal dumping.
The pilot program was expanded in 2011 to include the Southwest Detroit Greenlink and the Lyndon Avenue Greenway, and the program was made part of the city-wide Detroit Greenways Coalition. An additional part-time maintenance crew was also added.
Katy Trail - Dallas, Texas
The Katy Trail is a 3.5-mile trail through the heart of Dallas. More than 300,000 people live or work within a mile of the trail. The trail is anchored at its northern end by Southern Methodist University and at its southern end by the American Airlines Center, home to NBA and NHL team, as well as hundreds of other events each year. Since Friends of the Katy Trail formed in 1997, this trail has become a civic point of pride in Dallas. The trail, though a public park, is privately maintained.
Each year, Friends of the Katy Trail runs an Annual Support Campaign to solicit donations for the trail. In 2007, the capital campaign (which raised funds for both ongoing trail maintenance and trail expansion) netted a high of more than $2 million, while in other years it has fluctuated closer to $1 million. Although private donations are a major source of support for trail maintenance, they are complemented by government and foundation grants. For instance, to cover the costs of lighting the trail, Friends of the Katy Trail combined funds from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Communities Foundation of Texas and a challenge grant from the Hoblitzelle Foundation.
Since Friends of the Katy Trail’s founding in 1997, the group has raised $6.3 million from private sources, which has been augmented by $8.8 million in government funding. The government funding, however, is primarily used for trail extensions and connections; according to the friends group, “95 percent of the annual cost of the trail’s upkeep must come from private sources.” In the Katy Trail's case, membership dues to the friends group make up much of the private maintenance funding. According to its 2008 annual report, Friends of the Katy Trail had 1,200 dues-paying members, and the number has grown since then. Membership dues help pay for trail amenities, such as electricity for trail lighting and water for drinking fountains, as well as covering the cost of police bicycle patrols and regular maintenance such as graffiti removal.
Regional Property Tax Levy
Central Ohio Greenways - Columbus, Ohio
The city of Columbus, Ohio, has an extensive and growing trail system. Connecting parkland, watersheds, population centers and commercial districts, the trails serve both as popular recreation amenities and transportation connections. Central Ohio Greenways (COG) is a collaborative in central Ohio whose mission is to help communities build and expand their trail and greenway networks. The group is run by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), Franklin County Metro Parks, the city of Columbus and RTC’s Midwest Regional Office.
The property tax levy that funded Metro Parks, the regional parks authority for Franklin County, was set to expire at the end of 2009. In May 2009, voters passed Issue 1, which increased the property tax dedicated to Metro Parks for the next 10 years. As a result, the amount of the park district’s revenues generated by property tax levy increased from 54 percent to 70 percent. With these new resources, Metro Parks has the capacity for improved maintenance of park facilities, including trails.
As part of the regionalization promoted by the Central Ohio Greenways initiative, the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department signed a 25-year lease and memorandum of understanding with Metro Parks for maintenance of much of the city’s current and future trail network, including the Olentangy Trail, Scioto Trail and Alum Creek Trail. Metro Parks is now responsible for mowing, plowing and creating a volunteer program to assist with trail operations, as well as providing signage, law enforcement patrols, litter and graffiti removal, and much more.
Savings through Volunteer Engagement
Ferry County Rail Trail - Ferry County, Wash.
Nearly every trail with a friends group uses volunteers to host fundraising events or perform basic trail maintenance and cleanup. The friends group for the Ferry County Rail Trail in rural Ferry County, Wash. (close to the Canadian border), however, takes this principal to a whole new level. The trail, which runs for about 26 miles through a rugged terrain of mountains and forests, opened in 2010 for non-motorized use and has quickly become one of the most popular rail-trails in the state of Washington.
While the Ferry County Rail Trail is managed by the local rail corridor committee, the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners nonprofit group does much of the legwork on the ground. This includes clearing downed trees off the trail after bad storms and grooming cross-country skiing tracks on the trail surface. Eventually, the friends group plans to add material to the existing railroad ballast surface to better level the trail.
Like the previous two examples of friends groups, Ferry County Rail Trail Partners makes use of a variety of tactics to raise money for trail maintenance, including volunteer work, fundraising events and membership dues. This illustrates the unique power of friends groups; their ability to leverage their membership base for a wide range of fundraising activities makes them one of the best solutions for raising funds for ongoing trail maintenance.
Raccoon River Valley Trail - Dallas, Green and Guthrie Counties, Iowa
The Raccoon River Valley Trail, located just west of Des Moines in rural Iowa, has been a work in progress since 1989. The project’s final phase was completed in 2013, making the total length of this impressive paved trail 89 miles. Like the trails discussed previously, the Raccoon River Valley Trail is supported by an energetic friends group, the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association. While the group is responsible for “banging the drum” and fundraising for the trail (and they do this quite admirably), the trail is actually managed by the conservation boards in Greene, Guthrie and Dallas counties. The conservation boards are responsible for acquiring, developing and maintaining public space in their respective counties, including the growing Iowan trail system.
In order to fund the ongoing maintenance of the Raccoon River Valley Trail, the Conservation Boards charge a user fee of $2 per day or $10 for the year. All proceeds from the user fees go directly toward trail improvements and regular maintenance. While payment of the user fees cannot be enforced, the conservation boards have made it as easy as possible to purchase trail permits: they are sold in businesses and offices along the trail, and there are several self-serve tubes in the many communities through which the trail runs. To prevent the unintended potential consequence of low use on the trail due to the fees, trail users under 18 years of age are not required to pay, and residents of the trail communities can use the Raccoon River Valley Trail for free within their city limits.