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Kansas rejects federal program to encourage trails

Published on -9/12/2012, 2:30 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas officials have decided not to participate in a federal program that matches local contributions with federal dollars to encourage the construction of bicycles, walking and ATVs trails, making it one of only two states in the country to opt out.

State transportation officials contend that staying out of the program gives the Kansas more flexibility in how it spends federal transportation money. However, critics argue that the decision will mean fewer recreational trails in the state and less maintenance for existing ones, The Wichita Eagle reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/NZ9PLT ).

The state needs flexibility in spending transportation dollars because its overall money from the federal transportation law has dropped to $366 million this fiscal year from $392 million in fiscal 2011, said Chris Herrick, director of planning and development at the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The federal government said $1.3 million of that was to be spent on recreational trails, or states could decide not to participate in the recreational trails program and spend that amount on other projects, Herrick said. He said the decision to opt out of the program doesn't necessarily mean the state will spend less on recreational trails, although no spending decisions have been made yet.

"We wanted to provide the state of Kansas maximum flexibility on where we spend that money," Herrick said.

The money for the trails program comes from fuel taxes. Florida is the only other state to refuse to participate.

The state's decision means recreational trails projects will have to compete with other projects such as safe routes to schools, road planning and scenic overlooks, said Pam Gluck, executive director of American Trails, a nonprofit that advocates for trails and trail funding.

The state will also not be able to spend the federal money on trail maintenance and will not contribute to administrative and educational programs that benefit all states, she said.

In August, 51 national organizations and seven in-state groups, including the Kansas Horse Council, Kanza Rail Trails Conservancy, Kansas Recreation and Park Association and Kansas Trails Council, asked Gov. Sam Brownback in a letter to continue the recreational trails program funding.

The group noted that the state has received $12.8 million in such funding, which has helped pay for 269 trails projects. If trails programs were to lose funding, "organized trail planning and development would largely vanish in our state," the letter said.

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