(from Maine Townsman, May 1999)
By Mike Gallagher, Manager of Grants & Community Recreation, Bureau of Parks and Lands, Maine Department of Conservation

If you enjoy a hike down a shaded, tree-lined pathway, if you think a perfect winter day is one spent riding a snowmobile over a foot or two of freshly fallen snow, or if your idea of a trail ride involves saddling up "Old Paint," you will probably be happy to know that the federal government and the State of Maine are cooperating to provide assistance to make your recreational trail activities more enjoyable and more available.

Through the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), a segment of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the Federal Highway Administration appropriates funds yearly to state governments for recreational trail development, maintenance and acquisition. Begun in 1993 under what was then know as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), federal funding for recreational trails in Maine exceeds $400,000 a year and is expected to continue through the year 2003. These funds are administered by the Bureau of Parks & Lands, Maine Department of Conservation.

Each year, following notification of the federal RTP appropriation, the Bureau of Parks & Lands provides the opportunity for state agencies, municipalities, and qualified nonprofit trail organizations to apply for project grants for eligible activities. Eligible projects may include:

• maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails;

• development and rehabilitation of trail side and trail heal facilities;

• construction of new recreational trails;

• acquisition of easements or fee simple title to property for recreational trails or trail corridors;

• operation of educational programs to promote safety or environmental protection as those objectives relate to use of recreational trails.

The federal program requires the Bureau and the Maine Trails Advisory Committee, a committee of citizens representing trail user interests, to ensure that funding is distributed equitably among user groups. Each year 30% of funds made available to Maine must be awarded for uses related to non-motorized trail recreation, 30% to motorized trail recreation use and 40% to recreational trail projects that facilitate diverse trail use (combination of motorized and non-motorized uses).

RTP grants are made on a matching basis with the federal government providing 80% of a project cost and the project sponsor providing a 20% match. In order to allow for as broad a base of support as possible, in Maine the maximum single project grant has been set at $25,000.

The Recreational Trails Program (known in the first 2 years of its operation as the Symms Act) has provided more than 90 grants throughout the State of Maine. Among the sponsors of these grants have been communities such as the City of Old Town (Riverfront Pathway Development), the Town of Skowhegan (Urban Trails Network), the Town of Fort Kent (Cross Country Ski Trail Expansion), the City of Auburn (Mt. Apatite Park Trails) and the Town of York (Mt. Agamenticus Trail Improvements). Other sponsors of trail projects have included snowmobile clubs, equestrian groups, hiking clubs, and organizations such as the Pine Tree State Arboretum in Augusta.

A secondary component of the RTP is the awarding of grants for educational programs that address either safety or environmental issues associated with trails or trail use. Projects submitted for funding under this segment of the program have included activities such as the production and distribution of written materials and signs promoting safe riding practices for mountain bicycle riders, instruction in "Leave No Trace" hiking practices, installation of signs advocating alcohol free operation of snowmobiles and development of instruction manuals advising trail developers on proper trail building techniques that address issues such as erosion control and trail design.

The process of applying for RTP fund begins with contacting the Bureau of Parks and Lands to request a copy of the information package and application. Generally applications are due on or before an established and advertised deadline. Proposals for projects are reviewed by the Maine Trails Advisory Committee and must then be approved by the Bureau of Parks & Lands and ultimately by the Federal Highway Administration.

Further information on the Recreational Trails Program is available by contacting the Bureau of Parks & Lands, Grants & Community Recreation Division, 22 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333; Phone: (207) 287-2163; or e-mail: