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Program that Helps Fund Volunteer Vacations on the Chopping Block

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Jan 31, 2012 04:20 PM |

Dueling federal Surface Transportation Funding bills create uncertainly for the Recreation Trails Program that helps fund Washington Trails Association's Volunteer Vacations, Backcountry Response Teams and Youth trail work.

Did you know that maintenance on many of your favorite trails is funded by a little known grant program in the federal transportation funding bill? The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides essential support for trail maintenance all over Washington state. If RTP is not reauthorized or extended by the end of March 2012, those funds will go away and likely never return.

The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is housed in the Transportation budget. The Federal Department of Transportation sends RTP money to the states, who then disburse funds to non-profits and land management agencies as grants. WTA has a long history of receiving RTP grants, and we use these dollars to do trail work. This year, we applied for and were awarded $175,000 in grants to fund our Volunteer Vacations, Backcountry Response Teams and Youth Program. Without RTP dollars, WTA would have to seriously curtail its trail maintenance work.

The re-authorization of the Surface Transportation Funding Bill has been delayed for nearly three years now. In order to keep our infrastructure working, transportation funds have been reauthorized for brief periods. The last was in September and runs out at the end of March. WTA's grants have been funded for the next year, but if RTP is not reauthorized or extended by the end of March, a huge amount of work that WTA would lead in 2013 is going to be in jeopardy.

But there is good news. The House Transportation Committee is releasing their version of the Surface Transportation Funding Bill, called the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, or H.R. 7. The bill would extend RTP for four years, funding the program at $85 million per year, which is consistent with the last several fiscal years. That's great news, and we applaud the House effort.

Of course, there is also bad news. The Senate version of the bill does not include RTP funding, instead giving states the option of dedicating a portion of their transportation funds to enhancements programs like RTP. That lack of certainty makes it very difficult for us and our non-profit and agency partners to plan effectively.

What can you do? Call Senators Murray and Cantwell. Thank them for their support of RTP over the years and ask them to fight for a four-year fully funded reauthorization of the RTP in the Senate's Surface Transportation Funding Bill. Senator Murray's number in DC is (202) 224-2621 and Senator Cantwell's number is (202) 224-3441. Be sure to speak from your own experience as a hiker who benefits from the critically important recreation funds. Thank you!

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