The Massachusetts Recreational Trails Program provides annual grant funding for the construction and maintenance of trails and trail-related facilities across the state. Funds are awarded to municipalities, non-profit organizations and government agencies to benefit the development and enhancement of local community trails, long-distance trail systems and regional multi-use pathways. RTP Grants provide the opportunity to enhance quality of life, economic vitality, and environmental stewardship by building connections, educational opportunities and environmental awareness through a statewide network of accessible and sustainable trails.
Guide Recreational Trails Program
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, providing funding for the development and maintenance of recreational trail projects. Both motorized and non-motorized trail projects may qualify for assistance.
In Massachusetts, the RTP is administered by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and grants are reviewed and awarded in partnership with the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board (MARTAB). The RTP provides grants for project costs ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. However, larger projects of up to $100,000 will be considered if the project will directly impact multiple communities upon completion.
The RTP is a REIMBURSEMENT grant program, meaning grantees must first pay for expenditures themselves and then submit for reimbursement using the required documentation. Grants are awarded for a variety of trail construction, maintenance, and stewardship projects throughout Massachusetts.
The Recreational Trails Program will award approximately 2-3 new grants focused on statewide trail education initiatives per year. RTP Education Grants (ONLY) will be accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year. For more information, go to Recreational Trails Program - Education Grants
RTP Grants are awarded to well-planned trail projects which help to develop, protect and maintain trails and trail systems that are open and maintained for public recreational use. The Recreational Trails program requires that projects be primarily recreation- rather than transportation-oriented, and will give priority to projects creating or facilitating physical, on-the-ground trail improvements, which protect or enhance the site's natural and cultural resources, and link individuals and communities to these resources.
The RTP supports a wide range of recreational trail activities such as hiking, mountain biking, walking, running, paddling (water-based trail use), cross-country and back-country skiing, nature-based interpretive trail use, equestrian use, snowmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicular riding or other off-road motorized recreational uses.
Recreational trails grants are 80-20 challenge grants. In other words, 80% of the project costs are reimbursed to grantees, but at least 20% of the total project value must come from other sources in the form of match. Match can be accrued with volunteer labor, staff time, in-kind of use of equipment, donations and funding from other grants.
Program legislation requires that portions of funds be reserved for different types of projects. The Recreational Trails Program allocates 30% of its funds to motorized use, 30% to non-motorized use, and 40% to diverse use projects.
Suggested Types of Trails for Recreational Trails Projects:
- Long distance trails (such as Mass Central Rail Trail, Mid-state Trail, New England National Scenic Trail, Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, Appalachian Trail, Warner Trail, Bay Circuit Trail, and Mahican-Mohawk Trail).
- Trails that link natural and recreational resources (such as state or local parks) to homes, schools, neighborhoods, and communities.
- Urban trails in densely populated areas with underserved populations.
- Water trails.
- Trails on ‘non-traditional’ open spaces such as utility and transportation corridors, watershed lands, former industrial sites, and landfills.
- Snowmobile, ATV or off-road motorcycle trails.
RTP - Eligible Project Categories
- Construction of new recreational trails
- Maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails
- Acquisition of easements and fee interest in property for trails and trail corridors.
- Development and rehabilitation of recreational trailside and trailhead facilities
- Purchase and lease of recreational trail construction and maintenance equipment
- Trail Assessments
RTP - Ineligible Project Categories:
- Taking of land through eminent domain
- Feasibility studies
- Law enforcement
*Planning activities, including but not limited to feasibility studies, conceptual designs, alternatives analyses, strategic planning, land protection prioritization and development strategies are ineligible for funding under the RTP program. However, if an activity defined as planning constitutes less than 25% of the total proposed project value, it can be permitted and the project can be eligible for funding. The end result of the project must be on-the-ground trail creation or maintenance, or completion of all steps leading to that point in the project. If the end result of an activity is a written document or graphic output that is meant to guide decision-making, it is likely a planning activity.
Engineering and other activities that are deemed necessary for construction are eligible activities. Engineering includes, but may not be limited to, surveying, engineering plans, permitting, cost estimating and development of bid specifications. If the end result of an activity is to allow a project to be quantified, bid and constructed, it can be viewed as an “engineering” activity and thus is eligible.
Examples of planning projects (Ineligible):
- Convening stakeholders, developing vision and goals, articulating a strategy and prioritizing projects
Examples of engineering projects (Eligible):
- Completion of engineering plans for a trail project - with the condition that all necessary feasibility studies/conceptual designs for the project are included in the grant application. Project proponents will be required to submit the completed plans to the RTP Coordinator before final reimbursement is paid. If it is found that the project is incomplete or the document is limited activities ineligible for RTP funding, all reimbursements will be withheld.
- Surveying/Assessing a trail system to document the specific type and extent of repair work needed and estimating the amount of person hours the work will take so that a repair project can be appropriately bid
Grant Evaluation Criteria
To evaluate and select proposals, DCR and the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board will use the following criteria to assess whether the proposal:
- Clearly demonstrates the need for the project, such as satisfying a recreational demand, connecting under-served communities, or solving a significant trails issue.
- Furthers one of the goals or strategies identified in Commonwealth Connections, or an adopted regional or local plan.
- Describes a realistic, tangible trail project that can be accomplished in the time given, and has as a realistic and appropriate budget.
- Creates, expands or enhances a trail system or new trail connections, with real and lasting public benefits.
- Thoroughly considers relevant environmental, social and cultural issues, and minimizes or mitigates impacts to natural and cultural resources, addressing all applicable permitting issues.
- Creates partnerships among trail users, organizations, or agencies.
- Demonstrates community support for the project.
- Actively facilitates a variety of compatible trail uses.
In addition to the standard criteria considered above, all grant projects must comply with the following:
- Accessible Trails/Facilities – A trail or trail facility must be constructed as accessible according to accessibility standards as defined in the U.S. Forest Service “Trail Accessibility Guidelines”. Any new trail construction must be built as accessible to the extent feasible. Any trail facility/structure must comply with accessibility standards whether or not it is built on an existing accessible trail (leading up to or away from the structure). See the Guidelines document at (http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/accessibility/FSTAG_2013%20Update.pdf).
In addition to the standard criteria considered above, all grant projects are encouraged to include the following, where applicable:
- Youth Corps/Volunteers – enlisting and/or partnering with youth in the community or organized youth corps/groups (i.e. SCA, Boy Scouts, Green Team) to work on part or all of the project components. Note that hiring/contracting of a youth corps does not require the standard 3-bid process. Youth Corps can be hired directly without obtaining three quotes.
1. Timeline: FOUR (4) unbound copies of your application (see list of application materials on the right sidebar of this page), including all supporting materials, must be submitted If the full grant is also available in electronic form (including maps and pictures), then four hardcopies can be sent in with one electronic copy. All grant funds must be expended and grant-funded work completed within 24 months after the contract start date (which will be signed after the grant award is announced). No grant work may begin until the grant contract and agreement has been finalized/signed. An award letter is not a signed contract.
2. Applicant Eligibility: All state, regional, municipal, and some federal government agencies, as well as IRS-approved non-profit organizations are eligible for grants under the program. State and federal agencies should call for additional details on eligibility.
3. Permitting: It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that any necessary permits (e.g. Natural Heritage, Mass Historic, Wetlands Protection Act) are in place prior to beginning any work on the project. Failure to obtain necessary permits may prevent grant payment. Permits are not required to be in place at the time of application.
4. Land Ownership: Proposals for projects that will take place on land that is not owned or managed by the applying organization must include a signed statement from the landowner or manager specifically authorizing the project and ensuring that the property is open for continuing public access. If another entity holds a Conservation Restriction (CR) on the land, they must also be notified and provide written approval. If the project will take place on private land, an easement for public access with a commitment of no less than 10 years must be in place prior to the grant award.
5. Community Outreach: It is anticipated that all projects will or have undergone community outreach before applying for grant funds. It is the applicant’s responsibility to communicate with the landowners, stakeholders and abutters and have all permissions and approvals in place prior to trail construction or maintenance work. Receipt of grant funds is not to be construed as authorization of the project.
6. Acquisitions: All real property acquisitions must comply with federal and state law. They must be done in accordance with the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, 42 U.S.C. § 4601 et seq. In addition, the applicant will be required to have an appraisal prepared, which must be reviewed by an independent review appraiser, certifying that the appraisal meets the standards of the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions. Both the appraisal and review must be submitted prior to funding approval.
7. Equipment Purchases: Equipment may only be purchased with grant funding if its use will be on-going for at least five years and integral to the project, such as snowmobile trail grooming. Equipment must be purchased in full as a condition of reimbursement. Proof of ownership must be submitted with the reimbursement request.
- Procurement: For equipment valued at $3,000 or more, three quotes must be obtained and included in the grant application. The lowest bid must be selected.
- Cost/Value Analysis: For projects requiring only limited use of equipment, rental or contracting should be considered and a demonstrated cost/value comparison and proof of necessity must be provided within the grant narrative. Be sure to provide specific timeframes and cost analysis, as the review team will scrutinize cost comparisons closely and this will directly affect a grantee’s chances of funding.
- Reporting: Grants awarded for the purchase of equipment will require documentation of the equipment’s use and condition for a minimum of five years on a bi-annual basis following the grant award, or for a longer timeframe, based on the size, cost and quality of the equipment, to be determined by the MARTAB review team.
8. Signage: All RTP-funded project sites must display a permanent RTP acknowledgement sign. The sign should be constructed of sturdy material that is permanent, large enough to be clearly visible and located at a prominent access point to the trail area. The suggested language identifies the site as a cooperative venture (i.e. “A Cooperative Trail Project between the ‘Name of Municipality/Org.’ and the Recreational Trails Program”). Any printed materials such as trail brochures, celebration announcements or website information should also identify the financial partnership that made the project a reality. Stickers or decals must be printed and displayed on all equipment purchased with RTP funding.
9. Match: The project application must include estimates for the matching portion of the project cost. The match must cover a minimum (greater amounts are encouraged) of 20% of the total value of a project. For example, an $8,000 grant funding request would require at least $2,000 in matching contributions, for a total project value of $10,000 (80% of $10k = $8k, 20% of $10k = $2k). If your project is selected for a grant, the match will need to be documented with invoices, time sheets, or other acceptable records. The actual, documented value of the match must equal at least 20% of the total project value before the final grant payment can be made and the grant closed out. If submitting multiple reimbursement requests throughout the grant contract period, each individual request must include a match of 20% of that reimbursement request.
10. Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program and Assurances of Non-Discrimination: The requirements at 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 26: Participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in Department of Transportation Financial Assistance Programs apply to all RTP grants as do the Federal Highway Administration Assurances for Title VI and Other Non-discrimination Statutes and Regulations. Upon grant award, compliance with these regulations and completion of their subsequent documentation will be required by each grantee, under the instruction and assistance of the RTP Coordinator, before any reimbursement of funds is authorized.
11. BUY AMERICA: If proposing to buy a piece of equipment or construction supplies that are made with steel or iron, this activity will fall under the U.S. DOT Buy America provision. Steel or iron must be purchased from a U.S. source in order to comply.
12. Upon grant award, all grantees must review and sign the Massachusetts RTP Grant Agreement. This does not need to be signed and submitted with the application materials. However, it is advised that all applicants review this agreement before submitting proposals, to become familiar with the responsibilities and requirements associated with the grant program.
Past Project Awards and Highlights
2018 Recreational Trails Program/Trail Grant Projects
2016 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
2015 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
2014 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
2013 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
2012 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
2011 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
2010 Recreational Trails Program Grant Summaries
RTP Grant Application
Additional Resources for RTP Grant Application
DCR Contract Documents
Massachusetts Recreational Trail Advisory Board (MARTAB)
The Massachusetts Recreational Trail Advisory Board (MARTAB) was established by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in 1993.
MARTAB is a volunteer board, appointed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation through the Director of DCR’s Recreational Trails Program. As an independent entity, it provides advice to DCR staff on issues and projects of importance to the trail community. It represents every major trail user group from motorized users to non-motorized users and seeks to promote a cooperative, practical approach to solving trail issues. It’s most important function is to make recommendations to the Commissioner on the distribution of the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funds that come to each state from the US Department of Transportation. Massachusetts disburses approximately $1 million each year. MARTAB’s recommendations are the first cut on how these funds could be spent and it involves the Board reviewing each proposal, discussing them and rating them according to an agreed list of criteria and weights. At the end of the review process, a ranked list of the applications submitted from communities and organizations throughout the state is created and forwarded to the Commissioner and Governor for their approval.
MARTAB is involved in other activities, including sponsorship of statewide trail workshops to improve the skills and experience of the many trail volunteers working to enhance our trail network within the Commonwealth. They also organize and put on the annual Massachusetts Trails Conference. These educational and community-building opportunities are funded through the Recreational Trails Program -Educational Grants.
Member Name User Group / Member Organization
Charlene Saulnier Trail Users with Dogs / Coalition of Massachusetts Dog Owner Groups (MassDOG)
Bill Boles Mountain Biking / New England Mountain Bike Association
Pam Browning Canoe & Paddling / New England Canoe Kayak Racing Association, US Canoe Association
Heather Clish Hiking / Appalachian Mountain Club
Becky Kalagher Equestrian / Bay State Trail Riders
Dick O'Brien (Chair) Community Trails & Greenways / Leominster Trail Stewards
Benton Phelps All-Terrain Vehicles / New England ATV Association
Mike White Full Size 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles / Northeast Association of 4WD Clubs
Larry Tucker Snowmobiles / Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts
Dick Williamson Bicycling & Rail Trails/ Friends of Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, Mass Central Rail Trail Coalition
Thomas Chamberland Long-Distance Multi-Use Pathways / Friends of Sturbridge Trails, Friends of the Titanic Rail Trail
Joe Geller Rail Trails / Topsfield Rail Trail Committee, East Coast Greenway Alliance
Amanda Lewis DCR, Recreational Trails Program Coordinator
Paul Jahnige DCR, Director of Greenways and Trails