Thursday, February 13, 2014

Action Alert - Trails projects suspended by NJDEP

This action alert was issued by the New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition to save Rec Trails Funding. We at WalkBikeJersey suggest that NJDOT's Local Aid Office would be an excellent steward for this federal transportation funding program.

Nearly $2 million of federal funds that are earmarked for trails projects in New Jersey for 2013 and 2014 have been suspended by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

The $2 million in trail funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program (RTP) which is provided for under MAP-21, the nation's current transportation law.

Since the trails program began in 1993, more than $17 million has been awarded to state, county and local government agencies and nonprofits in New Jersey.

The multi-use trail "haul road" at Franklin Parker Preserve near Chatsworth

Among the 40 trail projects that will be suspended are improvements to the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park, Watchung Reservation, Liberty State Park, Hacklebarney State Park, Round Valley Recreation Area, Patriots' Path in Morris County, Batona Trail through the Pine Barrens, Allaire State Park, Stokes State Forest, Gloucester Township bike path and St. Michael's Farm Preserve in Hopewell.

The Department of Environmental Protection recently announced to the New Jersey Trails Council - an advisory group that voluntarily evaluates and ranks grant applications - that the 2013 and 2014 funds are suspended. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, DEP's trails program administrator was re-assigned to "Blue Acres" acquisitions of flood-prone properties.

While the Council certainly understands the state's high priority in assisting communities and homeowners impacted by the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy, we also note that the Trails Program ... is crucial to improving community conservation infrastructure and bolsters local economic development through tourism and related outdoor recreation activity.
-William Foelsch, chairman of the New Jersey Trails Council

There is concern that funding provided by the federal Recreational Trails Program is being used to support the salaries of trails office staff for non-trails work, in violation of federal program requirements. 

Foelsch urged the Department of Environmental Protection to use the federal money designated for the administrator's salary to supplement its own staff, temporarily hire an experienced contract employee, or temporarily contract with a nonprofit group to administer the program.

New Jersey's excellent trail networks are well used by hikers, cyclists, dog walkers, horseback riders and other outdoor enthusiasts. The state should be building more and better trails, not suspending the program.

Please help New Jersey keep its federal Recreational Trails Program. Send a note to Robert Martin, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and urge him to:
  • put a trail grant administrator on the job immediately
  • resume the grant notification process for the 2013 round of RTP Grants as soon as possible
  • move forward with the 2014 RTP grant application program
  • follow the same eligibility and funding criteria for 2014 as in prior years to ensure a fair and equitable distribution for the most effective projects that apply

Please also send your message to Governor Christie and to your state legislator.

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