According to RailsToTrails.org, Kansas is one of only two states in the nation to “opt out” of the federal Recreational Trails Program, which provides funding for the “development and maintenance of trails for all users, prompting not just safe and healthy access to the outdoors but highly needed economic and tourist activity.” States that do not participate will see their money diverted away from off-road trails to a general transportation fund.
Here’s how the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy described the process:
Among the many challenges our movement faces under the new law is the opportunity for governors to opt out of the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) by notifying the Federal Highway Administration of their decision to do so.
The groundswell of support for RTP was tremendous! More than 10,000 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy supporters, joined by countless others spurred on by partners organizations, asked their governors not to opt out of RTP.
The results exceeded anything we could have anticipated. Of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, only two states opted out of the program!
And even in those two states, we have not given up hope. In Florida, our staff has negotiated with top officials to minimize the impact of this decision, securing commitments to fully fund recreational trails from other programs. And Kansas was in truth quite a surprise, after we had received tentative confirmation the state would not opt out. We will continue working with state officials there to improve future outcomes.
Here was the reaction from StreetsBlog:
By the way, you can give a long, resounding “boo” to Kansas and Florida, the only states that have chosen to opt out. Especially Florida, the most dangerous state for pedestrians, which once again shows itself to be exceptionally backwards on transportation issues.
What’s The Matter With Kansas?
This brings to mind a quote from the 2005 book, What’s The Matter With Kansas?, where author Thomas Frank writes:
The Rails-to-Trails program, regarded everywhere else in the union as a harmless scheme for family fun, is reviled in Kansas as an infernal design on the rights of property owners.
And famous Kansas, William Allen White, wrote this in an a 1896 essay (also titled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”): “Go east and you hear them laugh at Kansas; go west and they sneer at her; go south and they ‘cuss’ her; go north and they have forgotten her. Go into any crowd of intelligent people gathered anywhere on the globe, and you will find the Kansas man on the defensive.”
This opt-out does come as something of a surprise, since Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has been a long-time supporter of trails (at least in words).
In 2009, then-Senator Brownback talked up the tourism potential of Kansas, mentioning biking trails, horseback riding and opportunities for people to get out and enjoy nature. “We’ve seen a step-up increase, and I think if we can become more accessible consistently, I think you’ll see more people come.” (Brownback Backs Biking Trails)
In 2011, Governor Brownback “said he wants hiking, biking and horseback riding trails with easy access.” But, according to the article, “Gov. Sam Brownback says he wants more tourism and outdoor opportunities in Kansas but doesn’t want the government to pay for it.”
Earlier this year, Governor Brownback presided over a ribbon-cutting on a newly-completed section of the trail near Council Grove, announcing his full support for the trail during the dedication ceremony.
And now this.
What’s the matter with Kansas, indeed…
This opt-out is a blow to Kansas trail development, for sure, but it’s hardly the last word on the subject.
All of us need to contact our elected officials and voice our disappointment with this decision. Tell them we value trails, both as recreation and transportation. Tell them we want more trails, better trails. Tell them we want government to help, not hinder, trail development. Tell them that when we have the opportunity to expand trails, we should embrace it, not spurn it.
Support your local trail-building organizations — Central Kansas Conservancy, Kansas Trails Council, Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, Prairie Travelers, Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy — with time, money, commitment. These volunteers cannot go it alone, especially with the antipathy and threats from Kansas governments.
Get involved. Take advantage of opportunities to learn to advocate more effectively for what we believe in: Bicycle Advocacy Training Opportunity in Kansas City, Oct. 19-21
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