Kansas officials said Friday that the federal government apportioned $2 million of the state's transportation funding to go toward enhancing its recreational trails, and that even though Kansas was opting out of a federal trails program, all of that money would go for that purpose.
The funding is more than the $1.3 million Kansas had specified it wanted. It comes days after the Kansas Department of Transportation said it was joining only Florida in opting out of a provision of the federal highway funding law that gives states money to develop trails.
KDOT spokesman Steve Swartz said the agency never intended to abandon the trails system. By opting out of the federal program the state would still receive funds, but Kansas officials would be able use part of the money for other needs.
"It looked like the wrong message was being attached to this decision," Swartz said. "In this case, opting out means we were gaining flexibility and more money."
The state needs flexibility in spending transportation dollars because its overall money from the federal transportation law dropped from $392 million in fiscal 2011 to $366 million this fiscal year, he said. The trail money is included in the overall state allocation.
Swartz said KDOT will send all of the money to the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for use on trails. Under the program guidelines, the state can use the federal money to purchase new trails, equipment to construct or maintain the trails or refurbish existing trails.
"KDOT and KDWPT worked to come up with a way to prioritize the amount of money that should be applied to recreational trails and determined that $2 million is the appropriate level," said Transportation Secretary Mike King. "This will help move ecotourism forward in Kansas."
Kansas has more than 650 trails covering more than 2,100 miles. The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism manages trails located on state park, wildlife area or state fishing lake properties. The others are managed by local governments or non-governmental organizations.
"One of our highest priorities is to enhance ecotourism in Kansas, which includes developing a good trail system," said KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison "This level of funding will allow us to make great strides in the number and quality of trails across our state.
Gov. Sam Brownback has touted the state's trails as a resource for Kansas residents to enjoy nature in the state and to stay physically fit. He said at a summit on obesity that residents can walk, bike or ride a horse from Herington to St. Louis. Many of the trails are built along abandoned railroad routes throughout the region.
The money for the trails program comes from fuel taxes. Florida is the only other state to refuse to participate. Under the old grant program, Kansas was required to match the federal money on an 80-20 percent split. Officials didn't know Friday what amount, if any, the state or local agencies would have to match the federal dollars.
Ron Kaufman, spokesman for the parks agency, said it was likely that even if there wasn't a requirement that local or private entities would contribute their own funds to the recreational trails system.
"Even without a match requirement, additional local or private support can help 'get more bang for the buck,' or pay for ongoing costs," he said.