Recreational Trails Program

Recreational Trails Program (RTP) Grants

The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation (FPR) provides RTP grants for recreational trail-related projects.   

Trails provide significant recreational infrastructure in Vermont:  they connect people to communities, provide linkages to Vermont's natural and treasured landscapes, and contribute to the quality of life by offering opportunities to a wide range of trail activities such as hiking, mountain biking, running, paddling (with portage trails for water-based use), cross-country and back-country skiing, nature-based interpretive use, equestrian, snowmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicular or other off-road motorized recreational uses, all which support Vermont's economy.

RTP helps protect and enhance public recreational trails throughout Vermont while the wide range of trail uses contributes to improved livability for Vermonters, and our visitors.  

Recreational Trails Program Overview  

The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is a federal assistance program of the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), administered at the State level to provide funds for trail development and trail maintenance projects. 

The Agency of Natural Resources Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) administers RTP in Vermont.  Each fall FPR solicits RTP grant applications for trail projects from municipalities and non-profit organizations. 

Both motorized and non-motorized trail projects may qualify for assistance. 

Vermont's RTP grant awards typically range from $5,000 to $50,000. Grants are awarded to well-planned projects that will help develop, protect and create sustainable trails and trail systems, create linkages to communities, improve livability and user-ability, and maintain public recreational use.

Who is Eligible?  

  • Municipalities, non-profit organizations, and other governmental entities may apply. 

What types of projects may be funded?

  • Construction of:  New recreational trails or trail linkages; trailhead areas/parking facilities; and trailside facilities directly associated with the recreational trail;
  • Maintenance, renovation, or restoration of recreational trails;
  • Improvements to signage or trail structures along the trail;
  • Assessment of existing trail conditions for accessibility and trail improvements to improve accessibility;
  • Professional project management for project oversight;
  • Equipment purchases;
  • Acquisition of trail easements or fee simple title to property with trails or recreational trail corridors in conformance with the Federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, P.L. 91-646. 
  • States have the flexibility to use up to 5% of the annual apportionment for educational projects:  Educational projects or educational components are to be trail related with information about: trail safety, appropriate trail use, managed and allowable use(s), accessibility, and environmental protection. 

Buy America requirements apply to all projects.  If proposing to purchase equipment or if a structure in your trail project will be made with steel or iron, this activity will fall under United States Department of Transportation FHWA's Buy America provisions:  https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/construction/cqit/buyam.cfm

Ineligible  Projects (Not permissible):

  • Condemnation of any kind of interest in property;
  • Construction of recreational trails on land where the proposed trail use is not permitted and landowner permission or support is not granted;
  • Feasibility studies (or stand-alone planning);
  • Law enforcement;
  • Picnic facilities; 
  • Play equipment; 
  • Promotional items; 
  • Campground or park facilities; 

Upcoming RTP Funding Availability:  FPR anticipates approximately $500,000 being available for municipalities and non-profit organizations in the 2020 competitive grant round.  Awards will be given for trail projects planned to begin mid-May 2020. Projects should be planned to be completed within 1-2 years. 

Grant Award Limits:   Up to $50,000 is awarded to provide eligible applicants with a reimbursement of 80% of a project's cost.  This cap allows funds to be distributed for a variety of projects around the State.

Sponsor's Match Requirements:  A 20% sponsor match is required, 20% of the total estimated project cost - also referred to as the sponsor's "share". 

Match may Consist of:

  • State Funds: other state grants/funds;
  • Local Cash or In-Kind Contributions: Sponsor's direct monetary contribution; (i.e. cash from fund-raising efforts, organizational or municipal funds, local tax revenues, set-aside project funds, force-fund accounts of town/organizational labor forces, local business, private or public contributions etc.);
  • Private Contributions and Other non-governmental Grants (i.e. foundation grants, local non-profit organizational grants, awards)
  • Non-Monetary Contributions: Value of volunteer labor or donations (i.e. donations of labor; in-kind labor contributions; or business donations of materials, tools, equipment/supplies needed for the project); However, donations of materials, supplies, or volunteers may not be counted if donated prior to project approval.
  • Other Federal Funds: (i.e. other federal grants, funds, federal aid) might be able to be used as match, but you will need to check with the RTP Administrator and the other federal funding source(s) ahead of time.

Prepare a project budget based on the estimated costs of labor and materials that will go into the trail project.  A project budget form must be submitted with the full grant application to show the estimated costs of labor and materials needed for the project including the value of any donated labor (volunteers) or materials.  If donated labor or donated materials will be included list them in the budget as donated labor and/or donated materials, and also show in the match summary. 

Project Preparedness:  Be ready to start projects by mid-June or July after submitting a grant application (the anticipated timing for grant agreements to be fully approved and executed) 

  • Plan ahead (before you apply for a grant) - Develop a project past its conceptual stage, that can move quickly and smoothly into implementation after grant approval. 
  • Be sure you have public support for your project. How does your project benefit the community?
  • Secure enough funds to pay for all the expenses for your project ahead of time (this is a reimbursement program).  Find other sources of funds, donations, and volunteers to contribute toward the expenses.  
  • Develop a good project design.  Consider the recreational users, plan and design your trail using acceptable standards and designs.  Minimize environmental impacts with a trail's layout and work plans.  
  • Develop partnerships with organizations, professional trailbuilders, and other organizations who can support with best practices in trail construction, trail maintenance, and future management.
  • To obtain a federal grant to develop a trail on private property parcels, a legally binding agreement/easement is needed to assure the public investment being made, for a period of at least ten years.
  • Obtain public and/or private landowner permission for trail work proposed in the grant application;
  • Obtain landowner permission to bring in equipment and crews into the project area;
  • Obtain landowner permission for public use of the trail(s) once the project is completed;
  • As soon as possible, before submitting a pre or full application, find out what permits are needed for the project and begin securing them. Contact a project review specialist through the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation:
  • Plan projects accordingly:  Secure all needed permits before beginning the project. 
  • Permit processes can take 3 - 6 months, or longer, depending on the nature of the work being proposed; 
  • Plan to obtain all permits that were pending at the application deadline, before the end of June or July.  All needed permits must be secured before doing any work in the grant agreement. 
  • Be sure to have sufficient funds to pay all project expenses.  Awarded grantees are responsible for coming up with funds to pay for the entire cost of the project upfront (all eligible items listed in the budget submitted with the full grant application). 

Planning, permitting, engineering or professional design costs are the only allowable costs that can be incurred prior to grant approval. These costs can be used toward match if incurred within 18 months prior to grant approval.

Prior to any grant award and its fully executed grant agreement, be sure not to incur any costs other than for planning your project, getting permits or engineering & trail design plans. Failure to comply with this requirement may jeopardize your grant. 

When awarded a grant, projects may begin on or after the official start date which will be shown in the fully executed grant agreement signed by FPR's Commissioner.

Once Awarded a Grant How Does a Grantee Receive their Grant Funds:  

Those who are awarded RTP grant funds ("Subrecipients"), will not receive a cash grant at the time of grant approval.

Instead, subrecipients first must wait for their grant agreement to be fully executed by both the State and the Subrecipient, then Subrecipients start their project by paying for project expenses upfront.   

Subrecipients then document their project costs and request the grant as a reimbursement from the State (FPR) in accordance with the payment provisions established in the grant agreement.

The State must review and approve the request to process reimbursement requests, applying the 20% match rate to each reimbursement.

Reimbursement is not allowed for work that takes place prior to the project's grant approval. 

Allowable costs:  A cost is allowable if it is reasonable, necessary to complete the work in the approved scope of work in your grant agreement, budgeted for as an expense, and (a) if eligible under the RTP, (b) documented adequately, and (c) incurred during the period of performance set forth in the grant agreement.

Reimbursement Request Forms are available by contacting the RTP Manager.

Performance Report Form is to be sent with each reimbursement request to report on the progress that has been made with the project.

Allocation Requirements of Vermont's RTP Funds:  

Federal program legislation requires portions of a State's RTP funds be reserved for different types of projects:  30% of the RTP funds are to go to motorized trail use, 30% to non-motorized trail use, and 40% to diverse trail uses.

Projects funded are to be primarily recreation oriented and must support goals and objectives in Vermont's Trails & Greenways Plan of the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).  

7% of the annual apportionment is used for the State's administrative costs. And the State may choose to use up to 5% of its apportionment for educational projects.

2020 Competitive RTP Grant Cycle 

  •  October 31, 2019:  Due date for Pre-applications
  •  December 17, 2019: Due date for Full RTP Grant Applications (full grant application materials are found below)   
    • Only those who submit a pre-application by October 31, 2019 may submit a full grant application;
  • Early February 2020:
    • RTP Review Committee meets, scores  & recommends projects to be funded;
    • Recommendations are forwarded to FPR's Commissioner for review and final decision making;
  • March 2020:
    • FPR Commissioner reviews recommendations and decides what projects will be awarded grants;
    • Applicants are notified of the results;  
    • FPR requests funding approval from FHWA for those projects being awarded grants; 
    • FPR begins preparing grant agreements for their final execution once approved by FHWA;     
  • May 15, 2020
    • Estimated date of approval/full execution of grant agreements;

Full Grant Application Materials

All those who submit a pre-application by October 31, 2019 are eligible to submit a full 2020 RTP grant application.

Those who apply are to send (1) electronic copy of the full 2020 RTP grant application and the RTP Budget Form by December 17, 2019 to sherry.winnie@vermont.gov

The Full 2020 RTP Application, Budget Form, and Application Instructions/Guidebook are listed below and available for downloading. 

Full 2020 RTP Grant Application and RTP Project Budget Form (must submit a project budget form with a full grant application)

2020 RTP Full Application Instructions/Guidebook

Contact Information:

For more information about the RTP please contact:  Sherry Smecker Winnie, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, 1 National Life Drive, Davis 2, Montpelier, VT  05620-3801  Tel:  802-760-8450 or E-Mail:  sherry.winnie@vermont.gov