The future of successful trail and recreation funding, development, and maintenance relies on cooperation and coordination by and among federal and state agencies, communities, and the private sector.
In 2016, discussions between the Montana State Trails Advisory Committee, Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and federal and state agencies identified the need for a private, non-profit comprised of an array of diverse state and regional trails and recreation organizations to address challenges facing the future of trails and recreation in Montana and to develop solutions to those challenges.
Thus in 2017 arose the Montana Trails Coalition (MTC). Its board of directors currently include 13 diverse statewide and regional trails-and recreation related organizations. Advisors include the major state and federal land managing agencies. Through a series of facilitated sessions, the Coalition identified the common issues of inadequate funding, information sharing and education needs, consistency across area and agency boundaries, and the need for diverse organizations to find common ground to solve issues.
$1 million per year for the Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program from optional $9 light motor vehicle registration fee.
The lack of adequate funds for trail and recreation programs became our first priority. In 2018 the MTC produced the publication Trails in Crisis that clearly showed the need for increased funds. After studying 16 potential sources for increased funds, the Coalition developed the proposal that became SB 24 that passed the 2019 legislature. Passage involved the support of an array of recreation, conservation and natural resource interests. From that source, the resulting program, Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program, now provides more than $1 million per year for trail grants, and additional $1 million for state parks.
$2 million per year for the Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program from the recreational marijuana state tax.
In FY 2022 this tax provided an additional $406,000, in FY 2023 $1,082,000, and by FY 2025 an estimated $2.04 million per year for the Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program! In addition it provided similar amounts for state parks and non-game wildlife. In FY 2023 it will provide $5 million for conservation easements through the Habitat Montana Program. During the 2021 legislative session, the Coalition partnered with an array of recreation, conservation, and natural resource interests to support HB 701, the recreational marijuana bill. Not all agreed that legalizing recreational marijuana was a good idea but, if it passed the legislature, we wanted some of the associated state tax to support recreation and conservation.
Coalition produced a report requested by the Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division, Fish, Wildlife & Parks, that explains the language contained in SB 24 and its intent as approved by the 2019 Montana legislature that established the Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program. Several references to national and state published documents provide substance to this report.
A Coalition Board member represents the Coalition as the Montana representative to the Great Western Trail Association advisory committee. We work with federal and state agencies and will involve county and community representatives to plan a route through Montana from West Yellowstone to the Canadian border using existing trails and routes.
Weekly reports are provided during Montana State Legislature sessions informing the public, organizations, and agencies about bills and committee meetings that affect recreation, parks and other conservation programs.
Education and Information
We regularly provide links to trails, recreation and conservation webinars and other education and information opportunities.
The whole idea of the coalition was to connect communities of people – cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, equestrians and mountain bikers, snowmobilers and hikers, because we agreed that finance was needed across the trail system. That became our number one objective.