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    Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program

Frequently Asked Questions

We welcome your interest in learning about our program anytime throughout the year. Don't see your question below? Feel free to contact us at any time for further information.

Project Partner FAQs

Q. What is the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program?
Q. How can the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program help my project?

Q. Who can partner with the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program?
Q. What are the skills and specialties of Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program staff?
Q. What is a facilitator and why is one crucial to a project's success?
Q. How can I tell if the National Park Service could help my local group with a conservation or recreation project?
Q. How do I apply for assistance?
Q. Does the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program give financial grants?
Q. Do National Park Service staff decide which rivers, trails, or other special places should be conserved or have improved recreation opportunities?
Q. Will the National Park Service own or manage the land?
Q. Why does the National Park Service encourage local groups to add as many partners as possible for each project?
Q. How does the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program work with national parks?
Q. What work is the National Park Service doing near me?


Project Partner FAQs

Q. What is the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA)?

A. The Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program extends and expands the benefits of the National Park Service throughout the nation to connect all Americans to their parks, trails, rivers, and other special places. Our staff helps community groups, nonprofits, state and local governments, and tribes plan parks and trails, conserve and improve access to rivers and natural areas, and create recreation opportunities through locally led partnerships.


We provide a National Park Service employee to help
organize, strategize, build public participation, and help implement a conservation and/or recreation project that is important to your community. We do this by listening to your project needs, helping you identify the next steps to make your project successful, and helping you find the resources to make your project a reality.

The Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program measures its success by its ability to achieve on-the-ground results. Each year, we help local partners conserve more than 1,000 miles of river corridor, develop nearly 1,800 miles of trail, and protect more than 50,000 acres of park land, wildlife habitat, and open space.

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Q. How can the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program help my project?

A. Each project is organized differently based on individual project needs. Depending on the status and needs of your project, we can help you:
  • Recruit a strong local group of project leaders
  • Define your project’s vision and goals
  • Identify and analyze issues and opportunities
  • Engage partners and stakeholders
  • Define partner roles and responsibilities
  • Inventory and map community resources
  • Build consensus and set priorities and achievable goals
  • Identify funding sources
  • Develop a sustainable organization
  • Design community outreach and participation strategies
  • Plan (trails, parks, open spaces, river access points, etc.)
  • Record progress and celebrate successes

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Q. Who can partner with the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program?

A. Project partners may be nonprofit organizations, community groups, tribes or tribal governments, and local, state, or federal government agencies. Federal agencies may be the lead partner only in collaboration with a nonfederal partner.


National parks may also partner with the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program by supporting partner organizations who want to apply. For example, in the case of a community that wants to construct a trail to its neighboring national park, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program can facilitate the initial community-park dialogue, help the two parties create a consensus vision, guide the planning process, help identify funding sources for the trail, and provide recommendations for trail design and management. By working with parks, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program helps connect communities to the national parks in their backyards.

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Q. What are the skills and specialties of the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program staff?

A. As diverse professionals, our staff has background in outdoor recreation planning, community planning, landscape architecture, trail planning and construction, natural resource management, environmental engineering, and more. An active communication network among National Park Service staff around the country helps share the best known skills and knowledge available for each project. All have the following core skills:
  • Partnership development
  • Public outreach
  • Meeting process facilitation
  • Organizational development
  • Capacity building

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Q. What is a facilitator and why is one crucial to a project's success?

A. A facilitator helps groups with diverse interests reach consensus on a plan of action. Since most projects involve numerous landowners and interest groups, they tend to be complex and need a good facilitator, especially as a project is just getting started.


National Park Service staff is trained in facilitation and other techniques. As "outsiders," we are uniquely poised to assume the role of neutral facilitators, to ensure that as many people from different parts of the community as possible are involved in helping reach consensus on a plan of action.

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Q. How can I tell if the National Park Service could help my local group with a conservation and outdoor recreation project?

A. We are always available by telephone, mail, or e-mail to discuss your project ideas and challenges to determine if there might be a good match between your group's needs and our ability to help. Please contact us before applying for assistance. Inquiries must be received no later than July 1. We welcome your interest in learning about our program anytime throughout the year.

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Q. How do I apply for assistance?

A. Check out our application page for guidelines and to download an application. Project applications are due annually on August 1. Prospective applicants should contact their local office by July 1 to start the dialogue about a potential project application.

As part of your application, we will ask for letters of support from key stakeholders. These could include other project partners, local businesses, government organizations, or nearby national parks, and should identify the type of commitment, cooperation, and cost-sharing that each partner will offer the project.

Assistance is provided for one year, and partners may apply again for continuing assistance.

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Q. Does the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program give financial grants?

A. No, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program does not award monetary grants or loans. Instead, one of our staff with extensive experience in community-based outdoor recreation and conservation will work with you and your partners to get your project on the ground. If funding is necessary to achieve project goals, we can often assist partners in identifying and securing sources of financial assistance.

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Q. Do National Park Service staff decide what rivers, trails, or special places should be conserved or have improved recreation opportunities?

A. No. Local groups select the trails, rivers, and other places where they want to improve conservation or recreation opportunities. These local groups then ask National Park Service staff to join them to work on their projects. You lead your projects, and we provide guidance along the way.

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Q. Will the National Park Service own or manage the land?

A. No. The Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program does not own or manage any of the resources it helps local groups protect; that is the job of the local organization. Our staff can help your organization develop management goals and find partners and funding sources for management activities.

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Q. Why does the National Park Service encourage local groups to add as many partners as possible for each project?

A. We define partnerships as any group of individuals, communities, parks, governments, or organizations that collaborate and work together toward a common goal. Generally, the more partners involved in a project, the more perspectives, ideas, interests, and resources available for a successful final result. Dissenting opinions and perspectives are especially important to consider and resolve, as our staff have found that community consensus produces the most successful projects. The Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program supports those local groups whose projects offer extensive public involvement. In addition to local partners, National Park Service staff can help your group partner with our national partners for additional support.

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Q. How does the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program work with national parks?

A. National parks benefit from the collaborative partnerships that the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program works to build between parks and their surrounding communities, public, private and nonprofit entities. Often, these strong relationships lead to greater park support and sustained community commitment to public lands. Because it works beyond park boundaries, the program serves as a neutral entity able to convene and facilitate meetings, coordinate partnership efforts, and allow parks to participate in a project as a partner or stakeholder.


The Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program can help facilitate a successful collaboration between community partners and park staff, giving these groups the tools and resources necessary to define and achieve a shared outdoor recreation or conservation vision. Program staff will not take on the role of a park planner or exercise decision-making authority over a project. We work with park staff and community partners to identify project goals and outline individual roles and responsibilities with sensitivity to park's need to comply with federal acts and agreements, and management policies.

We encourage national parks to participate in the application process for Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program support as long as the primary applicant is a nonfederal partner. National parks may assist their partners with the application process, submit letters of project support, and are encouraged to be fully integrated collaborators from the project outset.

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Q. What work is the National Park Service doing near me?

A. National Park Service staff work in communities across the country. Learn more about current projects the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program is supporting by clicking on your state on the map.

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