This year’s awards are helping 11 trail projects across the country reach decades-long goals to complete trail networks and unlock larger grant dollars.
On March 16, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) announced the recipients of its 2021 Trail Grants Program, awarding a total of $145,000 to support 11 trail projects across the country that have been strategically designed to support local and regional economic, health, social, environmental and active transportation goals. Since 2008, RTC has awarded more than $2 million in grants to some 187 trail organizations, with a focus on investing in projects that are vital to community connectivity but may be too small in scale to be funded under traditional trail-funding streams.
This year’s recipients include five Trail Grants awardees and six grantees through the Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund, the latter of which has awarded well over a half-million dollars to nonprofits and government agencies to support critical trail development work in communities since 2015.
Through relatively small investments like these—RTC helps bring trails and trail connections to fruition and supports communities in their efforts to create meaningful walking and bicycling connections that have the potential to be extremely impactful in their local areas.
2021 Doppelt Fund Grantees
The Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund was created by New York philanthropist Jeff Doppelt and an anonymous donor in 2015 as a unique program to support critical trail development work at the community level. Jeff—who sadly passed away earlier this year—was a passionate advocate of the rail-trail movement who saw multiuse trails as powerful tools for historic preservation, and as a way to connect people to the beauty of the American landscape.
In honor of Jeff’s legacy, all of this year’s Doppelt Fund recipients are on or near the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail™, further accelerating the development of the 3,700-mile pathway and the connectivity provided by other rail-trails and multiuse paths along its route.
Each of the recipient’s projects will deliver benefits that extend far beyond their footprint, creating long-lasting connections that support the physical and mental, infrastructural and economic health of their communities. Here’s a brief overview of the impact this year’s Doppelt Fund awards.
Connecting the Olympic Peninsula in Washington
With 32 years under their belt and more than 135 miles of completed trails, the passionate volunteers of the Peninsula Trails Coalition are scaling up. Their $10,000 Doppelt Fund grant is supporting the work of a part-time consultant to accelerate the completion of the Olympic Discovery Trail, which serves as the western terminus of the Great American Rail-Trail. The Olympic Discovery Trail network links communities on the Olympic Peninsula, including two tribal areas, a national forest and three state parks. The expanded capacity will allow the coalition to dive deeper into community outreach—ensuring close collaboration with neighbors of the trail, including the Quileute Tribe, located in La Push, Washington.
Transforming Montana Communities
In Montana, two grantees are creating trails that will transform communities in and around Gallatin County. The Headwaters Trail System is just 0.8-mile away from the completion of their 12-mile network in Three Forks. Their $10,000 grant will be used as matching funds for state and federal dollars to complete their section the Great American Rail-Trail as well as their full network as they continue to see increased ridership.
In West Yellowstone, a broad coalition made up of community leaders, business owners and the U.S. Forest Service is working to create the Yellowstone Shortline Trail on a former rail line. The trail will ultimately stretch for 9 miles, from West Yellowstone and through U.S. Forest Service Land to inside the national park. The Doppelt Fund award has already played a role in the Shortline’s competitiveness in securing a larger grant from the Great American Outdoors Act and will assist in the conversion of this historic rail line into a family-friendly trail that connects year-round residents and park visitors to the West Yellowstone Historic District.
Completing a Cross-State Trail in Nebraska
For years, connecting to the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail was just a dream in Chadron, Nebraska, but with hard work and passion, that dream has become more and more of a reality. This year, the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association is the recipient of a $10,000 Doppelt grant that will support the completion of plans for the Cowboy Trail Connection, also a host trail of the Great American Rail-Trail and a much-needed connector from downtown Chadron to the cross-state trail—which will create new opportunities to safely access Nebraska’s incredible natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Enhancing Resiliency in Iowa
In Cedar Falls, Iowa, the Cedar Trails Partnership is working to rehabilitate an original 1.5-mile section of the Cedar Valley Lakes Trail. Featuring stunning vistas, this section of trail is now closed due to repeated flood damage. The $10,000 grant will contribute to the replacement and widening of the damaged section of trail, restoring a seamless connection between the Waterloo and Cedar Falls communities along the Cedar River, while ensuring the replaced trail is more resilient to future flooding.
Rails-to-Trails of Wayne County is the recipient of a $10,000 grant to support the completion of a 1.6-mile gap of the Heartland Trail in Orrville, Ohio. The trail connects to the 1,500-mile Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition network and is part of the Great American Rail-Trail. Completion of the trail will result in new connections for residents and visitors to local parks, Orrville’s downtown business district and thriving employment centers, including a world-class industrial park. The trail is already a heavily used path for recreation and commuting, and usage will only increase after its completion with the support of the Doppelt Fund and the large amount of matching grant dollars the fund will unlock.
2021 Trail Grant Recipients
Through its umbrella Trail Grants Program, RTC is supporting five additional projects with gifts totaling $85,000 intended to support transformative local trail projects.
Bringing Connections to Life in North Carolina
The North Carolina Downtown Greenway is the recipient of a $15,000 gift as they work to complete the last mile of their 4-mile loop. This final section will mean the completion of a rail-trail 15 years in the making. The contribution will help launch the fundraising campaign needed to bring the network to life and connect residents across Greensboro with the outdoors and each other.
Creating Gateways in New Hampshire
In New Hampshire, a $10,000 gift from JP Pest Services is supporting the development of the roughly 5-mile Salem Bike-Ped Corridor. The corridor, which connects Salem residents to amenities, transportation and recreational opportunities, acts as the southern “gateway to the Granite State Rail Trail” traveling across New Hampshire. The grant will be used to create a welcoming trailhead with new signage and surfacing with the support of the Town of Salem.
Supporting Rail-Trails in New Jersey
Another generous anonymous donor contributed $60,000 to support rail-trail work across New Jersey. Among the grantees are the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (NJBWC) and the Pennsylvania Railroad Harsimus Stem Embankment Preservation Coalition (The Embankment). NJBWC is leading community outreach for the development of the Essex-Hudson Greenway connecting six communities between Montclair and Jersey City. Their grant will be used to support these efforts. Also in Jersey City, the Embankment is working to preserve the historic Harsimus Branch rail structure while making it accessible to all, a project RTC has long supported. The grant is supporting the coalition's decades-long community engagement efforts to ensure any adaptive reuse plan is developed with consideration for the communities’ goals and needs.
Congratulations to all this year’s recipients, who are working to advance trails in their communities! In the words of our truly missed friend Jeff Doppelt, “We are thrilled to be able to support our grantees in their vital work to create impactful new connections across their communities and their regions, and we look forward to seeing how these projects transform communities and generate benefits for decades to come.”