Steps to Build a Blue Trail: Plan

Identify Potential Partners

credit J. RozumSuccessful Blue Trails are the product of partnerships among a wide array of stakeholders. Each partner will have different resources to contribute. Together, these allies can create and maintain a successful Blue Trail. The following are important partners to consider involving in your project.

Local and state government agencies

  • Local municipal and county governments may help manage the blue trail. Where multiple municipalities are involved, each may manage their section according to agreed upon standards. They may control ordinances and zoning affecting your blue trail such as access, parking, signs, and lighting ordinances, landscaping, and water quality. An advantage to municipal involvement is that an existing park or recreation department can manage and maintain the blue trail corridor and public concerns about maintenance and security will be likely alleviated.
  • Parks and recreation departments develop and maintain facilities, promote recreation, and manage programs. They may have plans and budgets for acquiring additional land for parks and recreation, which may be useful for accessing your Blue Trail and allowing those who prefer to enjoy the Blue Trail on its banks to do so. Riverside greenways and parks are an excellent way for people to enjoy their hometown river.
  • Planning departments and commissioners guide development so infrastructure, such as streets, water supply, and sewers, is adequate and development is consistent with future land use plans, density goals, and the protection of natural resources. They can also recommend capitol improvement projects, such as acquisition of land for conservation and recreation. A proposed blue trail should be consistent with and incorporated into this comprehensive plan.
  • Departments of conservation and recreation operate and maintain trails within state parks and supports trail development through technical assistance and, in some cases, grants programs. They may provide guidance for property owners seeking property tax abatement for lands designated for open space use. Some states, such as Minnesota, Iowa, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have robust water trail programs. They may also have regulatory authority that can be helpful. To learn more about state designation programs and criteria see Resources: Technical Assistance Programs.
  • State departments of environmental quality may offer federal matching grants to local governments for blue trail projects that enhance and protect natural resources. Grants may be available for the development of public access and habitat improvement. They may also have statutory authorities that may be beneficial in protecting and restoring the resources. 
  • State departments of transportation oversee design, construction, and maintenance of roads and bridges. They also support alternative transportation infrastructure. Blue trails can be incorporated into local transportation plans when they have strong local support. Some states administer federal funding that can be used for blue trail projects. They may play a role in establishing signs for your blue trail.
  • Departments of game and fisheries conduct research and provide information on wildlife and habitat. Biologists and managers conduct educational programs and prepare material for use in habitat management on private land. They may own and build boat launches, piers, and other water access facilities in your state.
  • Soil and water conservation districts can assist with technical expertise and information about soils, erosion, land use, habitat improvement, and wetland protection. Districts may also manage agriculture easement programs that protect land and water resources and may improve access to recreational opportunities.
  • Departments of historic resources are repositories for information related to archaeological and historic structures in your state. They prepare and review environmental assessments for state sponsored projects and grant applications. They may be a good partner if your blue trail is located in an area with significant historical importance.

Federal agencies

  • Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program implements the natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation mission of the National Park Service. They provide technical assistance to communities and groups so they can conserve rivers, preserve open space, and develop trails and greenways. Contact the staff person in your region early in your project for consultation.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency develops and enforces regulations that implement laws enacted by Congress, sets national standards for a variety of environmental programs, and delegates to states and tribes the responsibility for issuing permits and monitoring and enforcing compliance. They may collaborate on blue trail projects that incorporate the enforcement of water quality standards, hazardous sites, etc. Contact a staff person in your region for consultation.
  • U.S. Forest Service may collaborate on water and land trails that connect to forests. Their Forestry Sciences Lab conducts research on the best management practices and the health of forests.
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service offers several programs to conserve wetlands and riparian lands on farmland for habitat improvement and other values.

Non-governmental partners

A variety of non-governmental partners should be involved in your Blue Trail. These entities may have the freedom and flexibility to respond to public concerns and interests and can be successful in bridging the gap between agencies and municipal governments.

  • Elected officials can raise the visibility of the project and make available opportunities for local and state funding. State legislators and local elected officials may also establish ordinances, regulations, land use plans, easement programs, and incentives that encourage the protection and restoration of lands along the blue trail. It’s important to engage them in your project early in the process.
  • Land trusts and conservancies raise money for the purchase of lands and seek donations of land and easements. They are experienced at title searches, property research, and management. Land trusts and conservancies can be a valuable partner even if you are not looking to secure an easement or acquisition. They typically have strong relationships with private landowners and may help you build support among private landowners and possibly secure access to land for launches or campsites.
  • Private landowners may open their land to recreational use by informal or formal agreements or may sell or donate land through conservation easements and acquisitions. Building support among landowners may be critical to the success of your blue trail. It is important to obtain a landowner’s permission to use their property to access the river or for campsites. It’s not unusual for landowners to have initial concerns about a blue trail, but this doesn’t have to a deal breaker. Communicating and working with private landowners can be a delicate situation. To learn more about communicating with landowners see Build a Blue Trail: Work with Landowners.
  • Recreational users such as paddler and angler clubs are important partners. They will likely be familiar with the river and surrounding area and a valuable resource when it comes to mapping the blue trail. They can be a helpful voice in advocating for and promoting the blue trail. They may have relationships with local businesses such as outfitters who can also help to support and promote your blue trail.
  • Chambers of commerce can host presentations about your Blue Trail and provide contact with business community leadership to assist with fundraising and political support.
  • Residential and business neighbors can be identified by using the tax maps. If possible, meet with neighbors and businesses individually, or invite them as a group to “neighborhood meeting” to inform them of the proposed plan and listen to any concerns and suggestions. This may provide an opportunity to get local businesses to support the blue trail through promotional activities or funding.
  • Outfitters, liveries, and outdoor-related businesses can be important partners for blue trail development, promotion, and more. They often have a heightened interest in the blue trail because of their expertise and direct-business connection. Other businesses such as Bed & Breakfasts and restaurants along or near the blue trail can be important partners as well.
  • Schools and colleges may be strong partners. They may offer educational and recreational opportunities to their students on a blue trail and serve as possible research partners on recreational use and environmental conditions. 
  • Volunteers and non-profit organizations are extremely important as you will rely on them for raising public awareness and providing a source of labor for the project. Sources of volunteers include Boy and Girl Scouts, school programs, church groups, and trail users. Understanding volunteers’ concerns is important, as are possible incentives or recognition of work performed. To learn more about recruiting and motivating volunteers see Manage a Blue Trail: Recruit Volunteers.