Beyond the DOT - the Three Federal Departments That Will Define Our Trail-Building Future

Posted 02/28/13 by Kevin Mills in Building Trails, Policy

Over the past few weeks, the trails, walking and biking community, including Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, has been very focused on what the impending departure of U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will mean for federal policy and funding of investments in active transportation.

But while another visionary leader like LaHood at the USDOT will certainly move us in the right direction, when it comes to the trail development work that RTC does there are other major departments that have a significant impact on whether trails get built.

The Department of the Interior has been in the news lately, with the nomination of REI CEO Sally Jewell, to replace Ken Salazar at the top post. As the executive department responsible for the management of most federal lands, the department's leadership of  the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, to name but a few, has a significant impact on opportunities for trail development.

Although Jewell's conservation credentials and support of outdoor recreation opportunities are well known, as Secretary of the Department of Interior (often referred to as "the Department of Everything Else" because of its broad range of responsibilities) she will have to balance the needs and demands of a wide range of interests, notably energy.

The third leg of the trinity in terms of national trail development is the Department of Health and Human Services. With a relatively large pot of money to spend, the HHS, directed by secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has been in the forefront of promoting that the built environment encourage physical activity through its Community Transformation Grants program. Administered by the rock star of health agencies, the Centers for Disease Control, this stream of funding is recognition of the importance of providing safe, practical and attractive places to be active in daily routines. Trail networks within communities are a key part of the solution. Ensuring the leadership of the HHS can make the most of the role that trails, biking and walking play in the nation's public health strategy should also be a focus of active transportation advocates.

It's certainly a focus of ours. As is ensuring that policies and programs that allow for the development of trails is firmly in Sally Jewell's mind as she heads to Washington. Keeping a dialogue open with all these agencies, not just the DOT, is how Rails-to-Trails Conservancy aims to lead from the front in promoting active transportation as a key part of America's future.

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