A major federal program that dedicates a small portion of the federal gas tax money to recreational trails across the country could get a notable boost if bipartisan legislation introduced recently gets enacted by the U.S. Congress.

Republican Rep. John Curtis of Utah and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch from Vermont reintoduced a bill that would more than double the amount of money that is dedicated the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) — which is a vital to the country’s trail networks.

Currently, the program is funded at $84 million per year, but the introduced legislation would boost annual support to at least $250 million. That would be a huge jump, but it would still be considered far less than what is taken in by the federal government in gas taxes for fuel used in snowmobiles, ATVs, UTVs and other vehicles that never see a paved road.

With the RTP program, the government gives some of those dollars back to the states in the form of grants to support the building and maintenance of trails. Admittedly, some of those dollars do go to non-recreational purposes, but they are still very vital to the trails we all use to recreate.

The money at this point certainly isn’t guaranteed – it still has to work through hearings and legislative committees before being put into larger bills. But the fact that it has vocal support from leaders in both major political parties is certainly a good start. We know – this lawmaking stuff is rather dull, but this one is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Here’s the press release from the two sponsoring lawmakers as posted, among other places, on the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conversation Council website.

Bipartisan bill makes critical reforms and provides at least $250 million to support recreational trails.

WASHINGTON – Representatives Peter Welch (D-Vt.-At Large) and John Curtis (R-Utah-3) reintroduced legislation that will more than double funding for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).  Since 1991, the RTP has provided funding to states to develop and maintain outdoor recreational trails, allowing millions of Americans and their families to enjoy activities such as hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and 4-wheel driving.

“Our nation has unparalleled natural beauty that provides year-round opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors,” said Rep. Welch. “The coronavirus pandemic has only increased Americans’ interest in getting outside to appreciate the recreational opportunities throughout the country. Boosting funding for this important program will ensure that future generations will experience the joy of hiking, riding, and exploring our scenic trails for many years to come.”

“The Recreational Trails Program has created countless opportunities for motorized recreation and human-powered experiences,” said Rep. Curtis. “This bill will ensure that future generations get to visit the great outdoors, while supporting local economies and jobs, especially throughout rural areas.”

“America’s large recreational trails community is grateful for the national leadership of U.S. Representatives Welch, Curtis and others to continue a great success story over the last 30 years – the Recreational Trails Program (RTP),” said Marianne Fowler and Derrick Crandall, Co-Chairs of the Coalition for Recreational Trails. “Every major trail organization supports expansion of RTP using federal fuel taxes generated through nonhighway recreational activities to deliver healthy, safe, diverse, and exciting trail opportunities and to empower a partnership of federal land managers, state and local park and recreation agencies and trail enthusiasts.  The serendipity is that the RTP is also proving to be a potent economic stimulus, supplying a vital base for the nation’s nearly-$800 billion annual outdoor recreation industry.”

The bill will more than double RTP funding to at least $250 million. The program is modeled after the Highway Trust Fund and is funded through taxes paid on gasoline used to fuel snowmobiles, ATVs, and other recreational vehicles that do not use highways. The program is currently funded at $84 million annually, which is substantially less than is collected in taxes on fuel used by these vehicles.

The Recreational Trails Full Funding Act of 2021:

  • Requires the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to estimate the amount of gas taxes paid by non-highway recreational users. Estimates suggest that those users pay more than $270 million each year.
  • increases RTP funding to $250 million or the mandated new FHWA estimate, whichever is higher.
  • Increases the transparency of the projects funded.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Reps. Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam-At Large), Michael Simpson (R-Idaho-2), Chris Stewart (R-Utah-2), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-2), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.-6), Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.-1), Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.-10), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.-2), Richard Neal (D-Mass.-1), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio-15), and Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.-32).

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