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Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a trail?
- What is a "national trail?"
- Why is the Federal Government involved in trails?
- What is the difference between administration and
management of National Scenic and National Historic
- What Federal agencies are responsible for administering
- Do States get involved in the national trails?
- Who builds and manages trails?
- Where can I get funds for my trail?
- Where can I get additional information?
1. What is a trail?
There is no universal legal definition
of a trail in the United States. One of the best, used for national
recreation trails, is: ... a travel way established either through
construction or use which is passable by at least one or more of
the following, including but not limited to: foot traffic, stock,
watercraft, bicycles, in-line skates, wheelchairs, cross-country
skis, off-road recreation vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles,
ATVs, and 4-wheel drive vehicles.
2. What is a "national trail?"
National trails are officially established
under the authorities of the National Trails System Act (16 USC
1241-51). There are several types:
National scenic trails
are 100 miles or longer, continuous, primarily non-motorized
routes of outstanding recreation opportunity. Such trails are established
by Act of Congress.
National historic trails
commemorate historic (and prehistoric) routes of travel
that are of significance to the entire Nation. They must meet all three criteria
listed in Section 5(b)(11) of the National Trails System Act. Such trails
are established by Act of Congress.
National recreation trails,
also authorized in the National Trails System Act, are
existing regional and local trails recognized by either the Secretary of
Agriculture or the Secretary of the Interior upon application.
3. Why is the Federal
Government involved in trails?
Until 1968, the only Federal role in trails was to build and maintain
those on Federal lands. The National Trails System Act of 1968 made
it Federal policy to recognize and promote trails by providing financial
assistance, support of volunteers, coordination with States, and
other authorities. As a result, 11 national scenic trails (NSTs)
and 19 national historic trails (NHTs) have been established by
law (and are administered by the National Park Service, the USDA
Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, depending on
the trail); over 1,250 national recreation trails have been recognized
by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior; and six side-and-connecting
trails have also been certified. In addition, other Federal statutes
support and fund trails through programs such as FHWA's Recreational
Trails Program and Transportation Enhancements programs, HUD block
grants, and the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance
4. What is the difference between
administration and management of National Scenic and National Historic Trails?
Trail-wide coordination -- Each National Trail, established by law, is assigned for
administration to one or two Federal agencies by either the Secretary of the Interior
or the Secretary of Agriculture, as designated by Congress. Subject to available funding,
the administering agencies exercise trail-wide responsibilities under the Act for that
specific trail. Such responsibilities include coordination among and between agencies
and partner organizations in planning, marking, certification, resource preservation and
protection, interpretation, cooperative / interagency agreements, and financial assistance
to other cooperating government agencies, landowners, interest groups, and individuals.
On-site jurisdiction -- Various government and private entities own or manage lands
along each National Trail. Management responsibilities often include inventorying
of resources and mapping, planning and development of trail segments or sites, compliance,
provision of appropriate public access, site interpretation, trail maintenance, marking,
resource preservation and protection, viewshed protection, and management of visitor use.
5. What Federal agencies
are responsible for administering trails?
Every land-managing Federal agency has
trails that provide access to their lands and waters. The 30 NSTs
and NHTs created as part of the National Trails System cross numerous
jurisdictions, with various segments managed by a variety of land
owners or agencies. Each NHT and NST, however, is officially administered
by the following agency or agencies:
|Pacific Crest NST
|Continental Divide NST
|Mormon Pioneer NHT
|Lewis and Clark NHT
|North Country NST
|Ice Age NST
|Potomac Heritage NST
|Natchez Trace NST
|Nez Perce (Nee-me-poo)
|Santa Fe NHT
|Trail of Tears NHT
|Juan Bautista de Anza
|Pony Express NHT
|Selma to Montgomery
|El Camino Real de
Tierra Adentro NHT
||NPS & BLM
|Ala Kahakai NHT
|Old Spanish NHT
||NPS & BLM
|El Camino Real de
los Tejas NHT
|Captain John Smith
|New England NST
|Pacific Northwest NST
(1) Includes both overland and water routes between Tennessee
6. Do States
get involved in the national trails?
States vary widely in their interest in
and support of national trails. Some have statutes modeled on the
National Trails System Act; many have statewide trail plans and
state trail coordinators. Most Federal NSTs and NHTs have ongoing
cooperative agreements with States for the provision of motor tour
route signs, law enforcement services, land protection, and other
areas of common interest. Some States have dedicated revenue sources
for trails and others subsidize trail maintenance because of the
proven economic benefits these trails bring the State. For example,
every State along the Lewis and Clark NHT organized a state
council to help commemorate the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in
the years 2003-6.
7. Who builds and
Most trails in America are publicly built
and managed. However, most of the enduring ones occur in a partnership
between agencies and concerned citizens. A classic of this kind
is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail where thousands of volunteers
each year contribute hundreds of thousands of hours to keep this
trail clear, safe, well-marked, and well-monitored. The recent trend
of converting abandoned railroads to recreational trails has been
fostered by the largest national trails organization -- the 75,000-member
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy -- linking citizen advocacy with state
and county projects that have captured over 10,000 miles of former
railbeds for trails.
8. Where can I get
funds for my trail?
Funding for trails is now available from
many sources. Some of the operating funds for each of the NSTs and
NHTs can be made available through cooperative agreements to trail
partner organizations. Many national trails have access to challenge
cost-share project funds for trail projects.
The largest investment in trail projects
since 1992 has come through the Department of Transportation through
Federal transportation funding programs. For example, the Transportation
Enhancements Program provided well over $1 billion for bicycle and
pedestrian transportation projects (including many transportation
trails), and the Recreational Trails Program provided $200 million
for all kinds of recreational trails. There are many other potential
funding sources for trails, including charitable foundations, corporations,
permits and fees, local excise taxes, and dedicated funds.
9. Where can I get additional information?
Click here to
get contact information for national program staff.