Location: Kansas

Kansas Opts Out Of Recreational Trail Funding

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.”

Mixed Signals

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…

What’s Next

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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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

8 responses to “Kansas Opts Out Of Recreational Trail Funding”

  1. tim schartz says:

    im an avid hiker biker and a few years ago i attended a county commish meeting in which the farmers didnt want us bikers on thier railroad property and that it was a very precious piece of property this abondoned r.r. right of way goes east of coffeyville to sherwin junction east of hallowell . i wish some of these people would try and ride some of these busy highway. oh well we dont need any stupid trail … no im lying i wished we had these everywhere but not here so i guess i and a lot of other bikers and hikers will spend our money in some other states. oh by the way where does all our taxes go. THANK YOU SIRS FOR LETTING ME VOICE MY OPINION…

  2. David says:

    This is the wrong direction for the state. Where these rail trails are to be developed is land (from my understanding) that the landowners, at the time (1800’s) had been compensated for. These farmers are just being ignorant. Surely these farmers see their local communities dwindling in size (economic & population) , and their kids having to leave the area for better job opportunities in the city.

    Why on earth any type of progress towards developing an economic resource would be thwarted is beyond me. In retrospect.
    I’m sure the lessons learned by the citizens of Missouri in regards to the economic Black-hole, known as the Katy Trail had a large impact on the decision here in Kansas. I mean who on earth would want a bunch of high disposable income earners trekking through their sacred land.

    If these farmers were thinking, they’d be thrilled about the development of rail trails as a surefire way to raise their property values.

    I mean how many of us cyclists would pay extra to be able to build a house along a rail trail?

  3. Randy Rasa says:

    According to StreetsBlog:

    “I would have thought a place like Kansas, with [Sam] Brownback, who opposed rail trails very strongly and opposed railbanking when he was in the Senate — now he’s the governor,” she said. “And we were very concerned that Kansas might opt out. But no; he was one of the first ones to say, no, Kansas is not opting out. And he pointed to how important the trail system in Kansas has become as an eco-tourism destination and part of state’s economy.”

    So apparently Governor Brownback reversed positions at the last minute. According to this, he’d previously committed to not opting out of trails funding. Hmmm…

  4. Jesse says:

    This is not suprising to me…typical Kansas “go nowhere, do nothing” politics. Move somewhere else if you want forward thinking and recreational infrastructure, because Kansas will never have more it and can barely maintain what the currently have.

  5. Perhaps Governor Brownback has some serious supporters who have a plan of their own. When are the next elections and maybe we should opt out from voting for this Governor! says:

    Perhaps Governor Brownback has some serious supporters who have a plan of their own. When are the next elections and maybe we should opt out from voting for this Governor!

  6. Deb says:

    When you have small government proponents, you must realize they only mean small government when it refers to opportunities for the average person. But call it economic development (how much money did Boeing, Hawker Beechcraft, etc.get before they decided to go where they can get more?), and the fat cats get all the funding they want.

  7. JJim says:

    Brownback and his cronies will sell out to anyone who supports him and his/their ego. He sells out everyone in the state that isn’t in his camp of big money supporters. Why do so many Kansans back this nut? Can’t people see that the ruse to lower taxes and reduce government in Kansas is playing only to the very wealthy 1%. Everyone else get screwed. Education, the arts, recreation, the environment, tourism, are sacrificed for economic development and farm subsidies. Businesses won’t be able to hire decent workers because good people want to live in a state that cares about it’s citizens and their complete life. It is sad that such morons have stolen a great state and given it to Koch brothers and similar self centered people! .

  8. Rich in Wichita says:

    I’m hearing some whining and sour grapes – and I understand. We all like to vent, and the decision to “opt out” is a poor choice, and embarrasing to Kansans who value cycling, hiking and equestrian activities.
    What we need to do is channel that frustration to the governor’s office through e-mail, letters or phone calls that tell him/them of our disappointment with the decision and ask them to represent our interest in Rails-to-Trails funding. The Governor serves at the behest of the citizens, we elected him. If he fails to represent our interests, let’s inform him what is the will of the people, and he’ll be our advocate, or we’ll send him packing next election.