The people of Tennessee are today expressing their gratitude to Governor Bill Haslam for ensuring their state, famous for its rural and wilderness areas and open spaces, continues to take part in the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). Trails projects across Tennessee last week received more than $1.6 million in RTP investment, unlocking much more in private matching funds and volunteer contributions.
A federal grant program funded largely by gas taxes paid by off-road vehicles, RTP is one of the only funding sources dedicated to the construction and maintenance of trails. Such federal investment is critically important to states like Tennessee in their effort to attract more interstate tourists, provide outdoor recreation opportunities for locals, and build trail systems that encourage healthy living and directly combat the obesity epidemic.
Gov. Haslam gets it. "The health and wellness of our residents is a top priority and these amenities provide another step to make our state healthier," he said last week.
These funds represent a direct investment in Tennessee communities of all sizes. From the town of Surgoinsville to the communities of the Cumberland Plateau to the state's biggest city in Memphis, RTP continues to make great things possible.
Committing to this federal program is one of the reasons why Tennessee enjoys an outdoor recreation economy that generates $8.2 billion each year in consumer spending, and directly supports 83,000 in Tennessee jobs. This is exactly what federal funding programs should do - stimulate investment.
Last year a RTP grant enabled Friends of Beaman Park, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and promote this much-loved natural and cultural resource in Nashville, to build a handicap-accessible trail and boardwalk at the Beaman Park Nature Center. This wonderful group (right) was subsequently honored in Washington, D.C., as an example of how RTP funds can be used to greatly enrich the places we live and make the outdoors more accessible to all Americans.
That RTP grant of $85,000 leveraged the significant "sweat equity" investment of 13 Nashville volunteer organizations, which provided more than 1,500 hours of volunteer labor valued at over $25,000. That's a great story, and a terrific example of what RTP has been able to do for Tennessee over the past 21 years.
I am tremendously proud of Gov. Haslam and the Tennessee's Greenways and Trails Program. They continue to administer RTP with great effectiveness and a flair that highlights much that is unique about Tennessee.
As co-chair of the national Coalition for Recreational Trails and as a native Tennessean, I particularly want to thank the Governor for not "opting out" of the program, a device included by Congress in the last transportation bill that allows states up usurp gas taxes paid by off-road recreational trails vehicles for other uses such as road building.
Tennesseans, take a moment to thank Gov. Haslam for his support of Tennessee's trails -tweet this quick message and let him know his support is appreciated.
A full list of this year's RTP grant awardees in Tennessee can be found at the Tennessee Press Room.