With Little Backing From Municipalities, Volunteers Build Stunning Rail-Trail in Idaho

Posted 08/15/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Building Trails, Success Stories

Photo © Friends of the Weiser River Trail

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's new report, Community Built: Stories of Volunteers Creating and Caring for Their Trails, contains inspiring examples of everyday Americans across the country using their community strength to create incredible trails.

With resources for trail development and maintenance often limited or nonexistent, it can be disheartening for volunteers and advocates who face seemingly insurmountable planning challenges and multi-million dollar estimates.

But Community Built gives trail champions a reason to take heart, because across the country, stories abound of trails getting developed, extended and cared for with minimal resources.

In rural Idaho, Friends of the Weiser River Trail (FWRT) has been able to build and maintain an 85-mile rail-trail with no significant municipal or county backing. FWRT did all of the hard work themselves, encountering opposition from both county governments and private property owners along the way, several of whom filed lawsuits against the friends group.

FWRT also had no meaningful way of enforcing trail regulations since they were not backed by ordinances. Despite the adversity, they wisely leveraged equipment and volunteer operators to help create and maintain a trail so beautiful that it was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2010. Much of the credit goes to the hard-working FWRT board of directors, which represented many different user groups and helped involve those groups in the trail-building process. Strong membership, support from multiple growing events, and an endowment will keep FWRT strong in its pursuit of improvements on the Weiser River Trail.

This organization took title to the railbanked corridor in August 1997 through a donation by Union Pacific Railroad with an appraised value of $12 million. The corridor contains 60 trestle bridges, crossing the river, roads and highways numerous times.

Photo © Friends of the Weiser River Trail

FWRT earns about $7,500 a year sponsoring a number of yearly events, including an annual relay run at the end of April between Council and Midvale. Events are used as an opportunity to recruit new members and introduce the trail to a wider audience.

Each of the three local chambers of commerce supports the trail due to its economic benefit, and the few sponsored events during the year do bring in significant local investment. The trail development and maintenance budget is approximately $125,000 a year, most of which is spent on local vendors, businesses and contractors.

Ridley grocery stores' Home Town Advantage program donates $6,000 a year to the trail, and all trestle repairs and most trail development have been funded by grants from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). Other than grants, membership fees are the largest consistent sources of revenue. The trail has been paved through the towns of Weiser, Cambridge and Council, using Transportation Enhancement (TE) grants.

To learn more about how FWRT, and trails groups elsewhere, have been able to do incredible things with limited resources, read or download Community Built at www.railstotrails.org.

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