The Results Are In: Rails-to-Trails’ 2019 Member and Supporter Survey

Posted 04/17/19 by Ben Carter in Taking Action

Opening Day for Trails 2019 on the W&OD in Virginia | Photo courtesy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Thank you to everyone who submitted a response to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s (RTC’s) 2019 member and supporter survey. In total, we received more than 8,000 responses—wow! This level of feedback demonstrates the passion and commitment of the national trail community. The invaluable insight collected in the survey helps RTC prioritize work for the coming year and into the future.

Let’s get right to the results!

Question 1: What do you think RTC's top priorities should be in the coming year? (Respondents were asked to select all choices that applied.)

Maryland's C&O Canal Towpath is a host trail for the 3,600-mile Great American Rail-Trail. | Photo courtesy TrailLink user dpg47

The leading priority identified in question #1 is “Defending trail funding and fighting for state and federal investment in trails.” No surprise there—as this work has been at the core of RTC’s mission for more than 30 years, and has led to billions of dollars being invested in trails in all 50 states. This will remain a primary focus of RTC to ensure the trails movement continues to thrive and grow.

We were also pleased to see that “Connecting trails into regional trail networks” and “Developing the Great American Rail-Trail” placed second and third, respectively. Trails and trail networks have the power to connect people and places and positively impact them in ways that few other community investments and assets can.

Through our TrailNation™ initiative, RTC is working with hundreds of partners on eight innovative trail network projects that will demonstrate the power of trails in creating healthy, thriving communities—and serve as national models that show what is possible when trails are ubiquitous to local and regional infrastructure. See this powerful TrailNation work happening in places like Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.

We couldn’t be more excited about the launch of the Great American Rail-Trail, the largest single trail project in the history of the United States, spanning 12 states and the District of Columbia. We can’t wait to share the preferred route on May 8 during a live reveal, which will take place in locations across the country! You can find all the details here!

It’s important to add that our legal program—which helped formed the strong foundation for the rail-trail movement—will remain integral to our work, as will expanding our partnerships and community outreach, now and in the future. We appreciate that so many recognize their importance to our larger efforts to accelerate trail development nationwide!

These vital activities will continue to help us grow and strengthen our efforts as we focus on trail network development across the nation.

Question 2: What do you see as the biggest threats that trails will face this year? (Respondents were asked to select all choices that applied.)

Supporters of the 140-miles-plus Rock Island Trail rallied at the state Capitol in Jefferson, Missouri in 2017. | Photo by Brandi Horton

It was great to see that our members and supporters recognized the importance of trail funding, with “Reduction in federal transportation funding available for trails, walking and biking” identified as the biggest threat to trails.

In fact, trail funding at all levels seems to be high on our member-supporter radar, with the top three responses to this question pertaining to trail funding at the federal, state and local levels. RTC has a long history of standing up to attacks on trail funding from all sources, and our policy team—based in Washington, D.C. as well as a couple other states around the countrycontinues to closely watch policy proposals and potential threats every day.

Protecting funding takes expertise and experience with a multitude of trail funding sources and programs, but it also takes grassroots activism from members and supporters. In 2018, more than 10,000 emails, calls and letters were sent to local, state and federal leaders through RTC-led advocacy actions urging the protection of trail funding. Find out how you can take action!

RTC is also vigilantly monitoring unused rail lines and other corridors falling into disuse. Our long-standing Early Warning System alerts trail advocates and community officials immediately when unused rail corridors become available for potential public use.

Most trails get built at the local level—and it often takes dedication and years of hard work to see them through to completion. RTC will continue to provide resources and technical support for local trail developers with the knowledge that this is absolutely essential in trail development. Each trail project is not without its challenges, and through our Trail-Building Toolbox, RTC provides in-depth information to help communities and trail builders navigate the many processes involved. RTC also provides direct funding to local trail development and improvement projects through the Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund.

Question 3: Which best describes your personal role in the rail-trail movement, or how do you hope to get involved in the future? (Respondents were asked to select all choices that applied.)

Volunteer cleanup on the W&OD in Virginia on the seventh annual Opening Day for Trails on April 13, 2019 | Photo by Amy Kapp

We are so captivated by the variety of ways members and supporters contribute to the trails movement—and we know they are all vital to our national trail-building efforts. 

Nevertheless, the responses to this question help RTC better understand the breadth of activities supporters are involved with, and we thank everyone who contributes to funding and maintaining trails—as well as the many other ways that individuals are showing their support.

Each and every contribution plays an important purpose to ensure trails continue to connect and transform communities.

Next Steps Moving Forward

We asked our members to share any comments and priorities for RTC that they’d like to see moving forward. Answers to this question help RTC look beyond the numbers and get in-depth feedback.

We received great written feedback on a wide variety of topics—and with thousands of comments to sort through, we are going to take some time over the next couple months to read through and process everything thoroughly.

We are so grateful for the time and energy people took to provide thoughtful answers. Thank you again to each and every person who filled out the survey!

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