The Recreational Trails Program, the funding program that has sustained state trail programs for two decades, has been reauthorized as part of the transportation bill approved by the U.S. Congress on June 29 and signed by President Barack Obama on Friday, July 6. Under the new legislation, which will fund transportation programs through Sept. 30, 2014, the RTP will receive $85 million in annual funding for the next two fiscal years.
RTP applies the "user-pay/user-benefit" philosophy of the Highway Trust Fund, which provides funding for transportation programs and projects, returning federal tax on fuel used for non-highway recreation to the states for trail projects. Since the RTP was first authorized in 1991, the program has become the foundation for state trail programs nationwide, providing essential funding for tens of thousands of trail projects and fostering effective partnerships among diverse trail enthusiasts, government officials at the federal, state and local levels and national organizations in the conservation, recreation and transportation fields.
Leaders of the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT), the federation of national and regional trail-related organizations whose members have supported the effective implementation, enhancement and extension of the RTP since 1992, spoke enthusiastically about the RTP success and its Congressional champions, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine).
"We are very grateful to Senator Klobuchar, whose strong commitment to the RTP and ability to build a bipartisan alliance to support the program ensured that dedicated funding for RTP was included in MAP-21, the Senate's reauthorization bill, and then made part of the final bill approved by the conference committee," said CRT co-chair Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition.
Marianne Fowler, CRT co-chair and senior vice president of the Federal Relations for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, noted that the RTP's success was also rooted in the strong, bipartisan support that it enjoyed in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Congressman Petri has been with us since the RTP's beginning," Fowler said, "making sure the program survived -- and then thrived -- through reauthorization after reauthorization. And the leadership that he and Congressman Michaud brought to this latest, very difficult reauthorization effort was absolutely essential to the program's success in the House and eventual inclusion in the final bill."
The CRT co-chairs also thanked the coalition's members and thousands of grass-roots advocates, who contacted their Congressional delegations repeatedly during the years-long reauthorization process to express their support for the RTP and explain the importance of RTP-funded trail projects to their communities.
"They called; they wrote letters and e-mails; they held meetings -- whatever it took," Crandall said.
"The CRT and its members are really a wonderful team," Fowler added, "and they made sure that the U.S. Congress continued to embrace a wonderful program."