We got a letter in the mail late last week: our 2015 Recreational Trails Program grant application for Making Trails Count has been approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. We'll use the funding to buy six trail counters for permanent use on the Hennepin Canal State Trail and three for the Cal-Sag Trail, and for trail user surveys on both facilities in spring & summer 2017.
A big part of our thesis for the Hennepin Hundred ultra marathon is that the race will raise the profile of the 104-mile Hennepin Canal State Trail and drive more trail use. Making Trails Count measured use on the trail in 2012 (get the report). The RTP award will allow us to use the 2012 counts as a baseline and compare it to new counts and survey results.
The Federal Recreational Trails Program is a tiny amount of money in the wider scheme of trail development, around $1.5 million per year for Illinois. The funding comes from a formula that estimates how much gas tax is paid by recreational vehicles like ATV riders and snowmobilers. It's an 80% reimbursement program: project sponsors receiving an RTP grant pay their invoices out of pocket and submit to the state for 80% reimbursement. Then the state reimburses the project and submits to the feds for reimbursement.
The Illinois stop-gap bill has loosened some money for RTP projects held up by the budget freeze in 2015, including ours for Making Trails Count. Some Illinois Bike Path Program grant projects and Open Space Land Acquisition & Development (OSLAD) projects will also move, but not all. I don't know yet about funding for 2016 RTP projects, but will find out soon enough; we have a seat on the IDNR's Greenways & Trails Council, which will be meeting in Springfield next week.
We're happy and grateful to receive the grant, but look forward to a day when it doesn't take extraordinary action for the state to meet its obligations, just everyday lawmaking & governing.