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An earlier article this year focused on ways to differentiate grant applications amongst the competition and stand out to ensure funding success.

As you look to take advantage of federal funding for recreation projects, below are some additional ways that you might be able to differentiate your application to ensure success:

1. Build user education into the project –- Empowering users of recreation facilities and projects with educational signs, boards and materials is a strong way to tie a funding program's goals to your project.

Recreational trails can often be enhanced with signage about trees that are common to the trail, indigenous species of plants and animals, and learning material for passersby.

Use of interpretive boards about plant species and the life cycles of plants and trees is a great way to enhance projects. In addition, including historical or cultural markers along a park or a path also enhances quality of life and the overall recreation experience for the user.

Think of including health-related information for walkers, or enhancing maps of project areas with focus points, highlighted with signs along the way. Consider your project an outdoor classroom.

2. Universal accessibility -– Open your project to use by all ages of adults and children, including physically, mentally, or visually challenged persons. Go above and beyond the requirements for access.

One project in Orange Township, Ohio, created a universally accessible playground for children as part of an overall park master plan. The project included equipment designed for visually and physically challenged children, including Braille signage and other enhancements, which made the facility a needed enhancement for a growing residential area.

Incorporating "universal accessibility" into the project helped the township earn the entire allocation of funding available for the entire county for the project.

3. Access to regional transportation -- Focus on the location of the project to regional and local transportation resources, such as metro-bus or rail systems that might be available.

Include mass transit materials which link the project to outlying areas, not just the immediate community. Build upon local populations that may be in neighboring communities and request letters of support or link with other communities as part of the application process.

4. Rethink familiar funding sources for recreation by redefining projects -- Innovative projects across the nation are occurring not because of changing funding programs, but because of how we define, and redefine recreation to meet the interests, needs and overall enjoyment of all ages of populations.

Redefining the TEA-21 Recreational Trail Program: President Bush recently signed the extension of Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which would have expired on September 30. The Recreational Trail Program included in that funding source is a competitive program that provides approximately $50 million nationally for projects that provide, renovate or maintain recreational trails, trailhead and trailside facilities.

The five-month extension just signed by President Bush authorizes the federal government to keep operating at almost half of its full year budget authority until the extension runs out in March 2004.

In other words, this may be a final change prior to any additional extensions to take a shot at trail funding. With the strict deadlines in TEA-21 prior to the President's recent action, the program would have literally cut off funding for new trail projects.

Many states have changed their deadlines to meet the shorter time frame and you may want to check with your state's program administrator for the deadline at www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/rtpstate.htm.

To help your application be more competitive, you may wish to diversify the common trail project and redefine a trail in your community, which may help differentiate your project.

Did you know that water trails are eligible? Pennsylvania has been very successful in developing Delaware River water trails by first supporting watershed conservation plans and then applying for the RTP.

The federal RTP legislation defines a recreational trail as: A thoroughfare or track across land or snow, used for recreational purposes including, but not limited to, such uses as bicycling, Nordic (cross-country) skiing, day hiking, equestrian activities, jogging or similar fitness activities, trail biking, overnight and long distance backpacking, roller skating, in-line skating, dog sledding, running, snowmobiling, aquatic or water activity and vehicular travel by motorcycle, four-wheel drive or all terrain, off-road vehicles.

Diversify your project by combining eligible project categories:

• Maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails;

• Development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages;

• Purchase and lease of recreational trail construction and maintenance equipment;

• Construction of new recreational trails (with restrictions on new trails on federal land);

• Acquisition of easements or property for recreational trails or recreational trail corridors;

• State administrative costs related to program administration (up to 7% of a state's funds); and

• Operation of educational programs to promote safety and environmental protection as those objectives related to the use of recreational trails (up to 5% of a state's funds).

Links to the legislation for additional reference can be found at www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/rt-tea21.htm.

Betsy Bowe is grants and regulatory affairs manager for Environmental Design Group Inc., Akron, Ohio. For questions or comments, contact Betsy at (330) 375-1390 or e-mail bbowe@2edg.com.

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