TrailNationTM Playbook

Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail | Photo by Jason Cohn

TrailNation Playbook color logo

Strategies for Building Trail Networks

The practices, strategies and collaboration needed to build the nation’s 40,000 miles of multiuse trails are the foundation of efforts across the country to connect this infrastructure into regional trail and active transportation networks, delivering countless benefits to communities of all sizes.

Efforts to advance trail networks require a comprehensive approach that accounts for partnership, mapping and analysis, public and stakeholder engagement, and funding. Across all strategies, the priority needs to be on equitable approaches that ensure the benefits of the trail network are realized by the communities that live nearby and that the trail network is accessible to everyone—especially people living and working in under-resourced and under-represented neighborhoods.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) developed the TrailNation™ Playbook to leverage the lessons learned from building trail networks across the country as resources for the trail planners, municipalities, states and regions that are seeking to advance their own regional trail network projects. The Playbook curates case studies, best practices and tools to accelerate trail network development nationwide.

Explore the Playbook

Each element of the playbook to build trail networks is integrated. While the process is not linear, each aspect plays an important role.

Project Vision icon

Establishing the vision for a regional trail network is the initial step in determining its scope and the primary impact it will deliver. The visioning process is fundamental to the overall success of any trail network.


Coalition Building icon

Coalitions are critical to the success of trail networks. Designing an inclusive process to engage a broad network of partners can help to channel the energy, expertise and influence needed to grow support for and implement regional trail networks.


Gap-Filling Strategy icon

Converting trail network gaps—whether they are identified planned trails or more conceptual desired connections—into well-supported projects that attract investment requires strategies that leverage political, natural and economic capital.


Mapping and Analytics icon

The process of defining the trail network with geospatial data to identify open trails as well as undeveloped segments is critical to understanding the scope of a trail network, prioritizing projects within the network and developing an implementation plan that will accelerate trail network completion.


Investment Strategy icon

Developing and implementing a strategy that considers a variety of sources—including state, local, federal and private dollars—is essential to accelerating the completion of a regional trail and active transportation network.


Engagement icon

Engagement is fundamental to trail network planning. It could be considered the glue that holds many of the pieces of the Playbook together—occurring at every stage of the project to build the internal cohesion, political will and public enthusiasm needed to develop trail networks, activate them and realize their potential as hubs of thriving communities.


Learn More about TrailNation

At RTC, we believe that communities are healthier and happier when trail networks are central to their design. That’s why we’re committed to connecting trails and building comprehensive trail systems that bring people together and get them where they want to go. Our TrailNation work is redefining what it means to build trail networks and what trail networks can mean for people and places. These TrailNation projects take an innovative approach to how trails and active transportation systems are built—from concept to implementation—proving the power of trails to create healthy, thriving communities.

TrailNation Summit

When trail networks are embraced as vital community assets, they bring powerful solutions for addressing issues as far ranging as chronic disease, resiliency, mobility, social equity and economic growth. RTC’s TrailNation Collaborative is a peer-learning community designed to harness the energy and knowledge that is fueling the national movement to connect communities and regions by trails.

While there are dozens of trail networks emerging across the country, RTC has hand-picked those trail networks that are bringing innovative strategies and leadership to the work of connecting the nation’s trails.

In 2018, RTC convened these leaders at the TrailNation Summit, where we explored strategies and opportunities to accelerate trail network development.

Project Vision: Creating a Vision and Defining the Purpose, Goals and Outcomes of a Trail Network

This first edition of the webinar series provides an overview on how to create and promote a common vision of a trail network that connects people’s imaginations with their communities, their neighbors and their environment.

Coalition Building TrailNation Summit Webinar

In this edition, RTC staff and partners highlight TrailNation case studies that provide insight on how to manage an inclusive process to create a broad-based network of partners in the public, for-profit and nonprofit sectors across the defined region to jointly create political will and implement the vision.

Mapping, Analysis and Gap Filling

Learn from RTC’s D.C. TrailNation project manager on how to create a geospatial dataset to identify open trails as well as gap projects in each of the networks through mapping, and then analyze the current and future network to identify the highest level priorities for gap filling. Additionally, hear from RTC’s Baltimore TrailNation project manager on his experience in developing strategies for engaging communities and leveraging political, natural and economic capital to complete gaps in the network.

Investment Strategy: Designing a Funding and Financing Strategy for a Trail Network

RTC’s policy team and partners provide an overview on tactics to develop and implement a strategy to accelerate network completion by securing federal, state and local public funding to fill the gaps in each trail network, depending on which streams are accessible and complementary.

Branding and Engagement TrailNation Summit Webinar

RTC’s Vice President of Communications shares 30,000-foot-level concepts on how to develop and implement a communications and marketing strategy to raise awareness and build political will, as well as the grassroots support, needed to advance a trail project and encourage use.

Revolutionizing Places: A Strategy for Putting Trails at the Center of Our Communities

There is a mobility shift, driven by the sharing economy, happening all across the country, and people of all ages are seeking to live in walkable bikeable communities where they no longer need a personal vehicle to get to the places that they need and want to go. Learn more about RTC’s vision of a transportation revolution where the 30,000+ miles of existing multiuse trails, and biking and walking infrastructure, could serve as key elements to healthy thriving communities.