RD87 - Virginia Multi-Use Trails Initiative – January 2022

Executive Summary:

Virginians enjoy access to a variety of trails and trail experiences, from the tranquility and solitude of the Appalachian Trail to busy commuter trails like the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria and Fairfax County. Users can traverse a range of trail conditions from narrow one-way paths to modern, wide paved shared-use paths. Expanding trail systems can be complex to plan and expensive to build and maintain. However, continued trail investment – driven by a resurgence in outdoor recreation – creates direct, sustainable public health, economic, environmental and quality of life benefits for Virginia residents, communities and visitors.

Trail activity rose sharply in 2020 (relative to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels) fueled by interest in safer socialization, fitness and access to recreational destinations. For example, visitation to Virginia State Parks increased 13 percent in 2020, with nearly eight million visits.(*1) The spike in outdoor activity boosted Virginia’s outdoor economy consistent with national trends. In November 2021, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released economic data for 2020 on outdoor recreation’s positive economic impact on the U.S. economy.(*2) The BEA concluded that:

• Even as travel and tourism declined due to travel restrictions, industry segments like boating and fishing, biking, camping and RVing, hunting and shooting sports, and powersports experienced record sales and unprecedented growth.

• Outdoor participation soared, especially close-to-home recreation, highlighting the importance of better access to the outdoors. Expanding Virginia’s trail system to keep pace with demand and attract new users requires a coordinated, strategic approach currently spread across multiple state agencies, local partners and foundations. This arrangement leads to different interpretations of “trail" based on stakeholder roles and user expectations. Transportation and public works agencies often use the term “shared use path" or “side path". Conservation, parks, and natural resources agencies may refer to trails as “greenways", “single-track trails", and “multi-use paths" depending on location.

This report examines how Virginia can transition from this arrangement toward a single, unified vision to steward trail planning, programs, partnerships and funding of a world class trail system. Report recommendations are also informed by the recent federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (H.R.3684) and biennium Commonwealth budget proposals and initiatives announced as the report was finalized in December 2021.(*3)
(*1) Office of the Governor. (2021). Governor Northam Continues 'thank you, Virginia' tour, announces increased funding for outdoor recreation. The Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/allreleases/2021/december/headline-916154-en.html.
(*2) Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, U.S. and States, 2020. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, November 9, 2021. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/outdoor-recreation-satellite-account-us-and-states-2020.
(*3) Mills, K. (2021). Analysis: Bipartisan infrastructure bill passes with new opportunities for trails, walking and biking. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from https://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2021/november/06/analysis-bipartisaninfrastructure-bill-passes-with-new-opportunities-for-trails-walking-and-biking/