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Building Trails

Leveraging This Moment for Impact

By: Ryan Chao
February 6, 2024

Group on trail - Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

A once-in-a-generation moment. A landmark opportunity. Unprecedented enthusiasm.

Over the past several years, these are all ways we’ve described the momentum driving the national movement to connect the nation by trail. Fueled by a more than doubling of federal funding for trails, walking and biking; surging demand for trails by people and places; and hundreds of communities working to advance their visions of connected trail and active-transportation systems, the promise of this moment is unparalleled. In Fiscal Year 2023, we saw how this promise will be realized.

With your support, and working alongside hundreds of partners and agencies across the country, RTC helped elevate trails—and more importantly, connected walking and biking routes—as essential infrastructure to the well-being of people, places and the planet.

Federal grant programs that address transportation safety, equitable access to mobility, and the impact of transportation on climate made investing in trails, walking and biking a significant priority. In the FY 2023 cycle of RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity), for example, grants that support the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians were awarded in 48 states and Washington, D.C., and nearly $400 million was invested solely to fund bicycle and pedestrian projects. At the same time, states continued to prioritize investments in trails, walking and biking, with over $530 million in new and one-time funding made available in states across the country.

The TrailNation™ Collaborative was launched this year to create the peer-learning and collective action needed to accelerate the pace of trail network development nationwide. Engaging over 7,500 people—advocates, volunteers, planners, municipal leaders, agency staff and more from across sectors—the Collaborative is the third pillar in our TrailNation initiative. Along with model trail-network projects and a playbook for building trail networks, we are taking to scale the lessons and strategies we have gathered to connect trails across the country into seamless networks. The impact of this approach can be seen in the Great American Rail-Trail®, RTC’s signature project to connect 3,700 miles of multiuse trails between Washington, D.C., and Washington State, which crossed the 55% complete threshold this year.

The enthusiasm for trails—and the value they bring to people’s everyday lives—is contagious. We see how that enthusiasm spreads on days like Celebrate Trails Day, when thousands get outside in all 50 states to experience and lift up the joy and impact that trails deliver to people and places across the country. We can share in countless trail experiences through our Trail Moments stories, bringing to life the ways that trails show up for us, whether for a safe route to school or work, or just a breath of fresh air. Through TrailLink™, our national trail-finder app, millions of people found their perfect trail—whether right in their backyard or for a bucket-list adventure.

As we reflect on the progress made in FY 2023, it’s clear that this moment is unique, special and unprecedented. We will make the most of it to connect everyone, everywhere, by trail.

Onward together,


FY 2023 Impact Report

RTC’s Impact Report chronicles a year of momentum and victory for the trails movement. Explore the ways that, together, we are making a difference.

Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail | Renee Rosensteel

View Impact Report
Ryan Chao | Photo by Anthony Le
Ryan Chao

Ryan Chao is the president of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, responsible for overseeing the organization’s national leadership in trail development, policy advocacy and movement building. He brings to his role a long history in community and economic development and a passion for connecting people to opportunity and the outdoors.

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Everyone deserves access to safe ways to walk, bike, and be active outdoors.