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All photos courtesy of IMBA.

IMBA has announced a new grant program called the “Trail Accelerator” that’s designed to help communities fund new trail system projects. The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) has partnered with IMBA to provide matching funds for qualifying projects in America’s Heartland.

“We know mountain biking changes lives, but often, a trail project needs an initial boost to get started. We’re excited to highlight the model trail communities of Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas and the lessons learned there,” says Dave Wiens, Executive Director for IMBA. “This partnership will deliver communities the tools they need to create their own model trail vision. Together we can accelerate so many trail projects, bringing us closer to our vision of everyone having a place to ride a mountain bike.”

According to a recent press release, the Trail Accelerator grant fund “will be a competitive grant offering for communities in need of more trails to get started with building better places to ride.” I reached out to IMBA for more clarification on exactly which types of projects will qualify, and where those projects can be located.

While the WFF will only match funds for projects in the Heartland, the grant is run by IMBA and is nationwide in scope. “But that’s not to say Heartland projects get bigger grants,” Eleanor Blick, Communications Manager for IMBA, explained. “If we award a $5,000 grant in New Mexico, that’s $5,000 of money IMBA raised. If we award a $5,000 grant in Missouri, that’s $2,500 money IMBA raised and $2,500 from the Walton match.” For those wondering, the “Heartland” is a rather nebulous term, but for the purposes of the grant, “our loose definition is anything east of the Rockies that doesn’t touch an ocean.”

On the surface, it sounds like established destinations like Moab, Park City, Crested Butte, and others may not qualify for this grant. “These grants will prioritize communities in need,” said Blick. “Think smaller communities with fewer resources that would benefit from the economic and health/wellness benefits of community trails.” But the qualifications are still flexible. “Larger destinations are still welcome to apply and may receive grants if ample funds are available,” said Blick.

However, it seems the best projects for this grant are fledgling operations that need help getting off the ground. “The process will consider criteria like current trail mileage, trail potential, and trails per capita; support for diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the partnership history between the applicant and the local mountain bike group,” said Blick.

“We expect grants to fall into three main categories,” Blick continued. “Park or site-specific plan: $10,000. Community-wide plan: $20-25,000. Regional plan: $50-75,000. The $10,000 grant will be the vast majority of awards. These small planning and community development grants will help unlock more money—think more grants, and more fundraising opportunities.”

If your mountain bike club is interested in applying, it will need to be an agency or a 501c3 land conservancy. The club “will be expected to match the grant amount,” to show they have some skin in the game. “We know any community is capable of raising the first $5,000,” said Blick.

The final details of the Trail Accelerator grant are still being ironed out, but the project is moving forward rapidly. Stay tuned to the Trail Accelerator page on IMBA’s website for updates, and for information on how to apply.

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