Near the top of my list of dumb decisions that nearly got me killed was taking an off-road shortcut from Canyonlands National Park to Moab one spring day during college. Not until we fishtailed and slid to a stop, inches short of a hundred-foot plummet off a snow-covered switchback, did we realize that the four-wheel-drive in our rental truck was not working. After hiking up to the ranger station and getting a tow back up to pavement, we took the highway.
Today, I'd rather opt for a bike and skip the SUV altogether. Luckily, a trail network is being built, with the help of 3.4 million from the Federal Transit Administration's Transit in Parks program, which will link Moab to both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
This is one of more than 130 Transit in Parks projects designed to reduce traffic congestion, improve accessibility, and reduce transportation-related wildlife impacts on federal land. Over the past three years, the program has allocated $80 million for everything from non-motorized trails like the one in Utah (called the Colorado Riverway) to alternative-fuel shuttle buses and updated railroads inside National Parks. Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service were also eligible for funding.
"It's been a really successful partnership with those agencies in terms of trying to target about $80 million to those projects that will have the most impact to change the dynamic at those facilities," says Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.
That dynamic, more specifically, is using the personal vehicle as the default means of traveling to and through federal parklands.
This week, a $1.7 million grant was presented in Commerce City, Colorado, which will go toward expanding the existing Rocky Mountain Greenway bike and pedestrian trail such that users can bike from Arvada to three different National Wildlife Refuges in the region. Eventually, the trail will extend all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. In Glacier National Park, $250,000 is being put toward upgrading a free shuttle bus fleet, which travels 50 miles through the park, to improve fuel efficiency.
If these seem like unreasonable government spending projects, you've probably never sat in traffic as it inches through a popular National Park like Yosemite or Yellowstone. "People don’t associate traffic jams with our parks, but that’s what we have," Rogoff says.
And if sitting on a shuttle bus to gaze at mountain vistas sounds like something old people do, consider that a shuttle or a train ride means you can mix up your adventures. Shuttle to a trailhead to start a multi-day backpacking trip that brings you up and over a mountain pass—there's no car to worry about retrieving. (You might consider a similar approach to reaching trails near your home, as well.)