Riding to Recreation

  • Author: William Reckley
  • Date: October 8, 2020
A parking lot full of cars at Grand Teton National Park..

We have all learned the importance of being outside for our health, how can mobility managers increase access to Federal Lands?

As many people have during the pandemic, I recently took some time to get outside and explore the beauty of some of our National Parks. It was soothing to have the ability to get outside, relax, and breathe in some fresh air, but what stuck with me most from my trip is without the ability to rent a car, I would have never been able to have the experience at all. 

While we can debate what constitutes “nature,” and many of our communities have access to great local parks, there is something to be said for walking through the wilderness. It brought me a sense of calm during a stressful year, and I can say it was more than the lack of cell service that helped clear my mind. While exploring Yellowstone, I was not able to get to many of the trailheads without a car. Most are marked by only a simple sign and a small place to pull your car off the road. The two problems presented here are very different. One is getting to the park gate itself, which for some parks is only possible by private car or tour, and then there is also the issue of getting around once you’re inside the park. 

 

There have been numerous programs over the years to increase access to our parks, and some of our National Parks run shuttle services inside the park to transport visitors outside of private vehicles. The Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program was a federally funded technical assistance center with a mission to increase access to federal lands. While the program ended in 2013, it provided funds to “conserve natural, historical, and cultural resources; reduce congestion and pollution; improve visitor mobility and accessibility; enhance visitor experience; and ensure access to all, including persons with disabilities.” Succeeding the Transit in Parks Program are two initiatives housing in the Federal Highway Administration which tackle the problems of getting to parks and circulating within them separately. 

The Federal Lands Transportation Program provides funds to improve infrastructure owned by Federal Lands Management Agencies, such as the National Park Service. These funds are used for “program administration, transportation planning, research, preventive maintenance, engineering, rehabilitation, restoration, construction, and reconstruction of Federal lands transportation facilities” which can include the planning and construction of congestion mitigation measures and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. While this program can help tackle the circulation within the park, project proposals and selection is largely up to the agency responsible for the federal land in question. These transportation projects do need to be included in any planning documents at the regional level, however.

The second program, the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP), is where communities themselves can propose ideas through a Call for Projects. The Access Program “supplements State and local resources for public roads, transit systems, and other transportation facilities, with an emphasis on high-use recreation sites and economic generators.” Each state has its own Federal Lands Access Program, which is responsible for choosing projects and dolling out the state’s share of FLAP funds. Communities submit proposed projects to state-level Programming Decision Committees through an open call for projects. It is important to note that the applicant must be the owner of the facility, but that does not preclude communities from creating a team to draft a strong application. It is also important to note that each state may have different application requirements for these projects. You can see which state’s Programming Decision Committees currently have open calls for proposals on the FLAP website

Expanding access to parks is not only an issue of good health but also of equity. Taking advantage of the existing Federal programs to increase access to parks is only one path forward. Are you taking a novel approach to expanding access to parks and recreation? Let us know using the form below!

We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Kirby Wilhelm (wilhelm@ctaa.org).