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RTC TrailBlog

  • Hey Trail Lovers...Take a Trip off the Turnpike!

    As a New Jersey native, born and raised, I am familiar with all the stereotypes about my home state: Reality television. Shopping malls. The Turnpike. “I’ve never explored New Jersey, but how great can it be?” people ask, speeding down the Turnpike on their way to Philadelphia or New York. 

    What these doubters don’t realize is that getting off the highway is the key to understanding how great the Garden State really is.

    From tip to toe, New Jersey is filled with incredible recreational opportunities for walking or biking, either on rail-trails or in the forested parks and nature preserves that contain trails. Twenty minutes from the Turnpike, you can find yourself on the 68-mile Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail that follows the historic towpath of the canal or on the Henry Hudson Trail that runs close to the famed Jersey shore. It is incredible how quickly the scenery can change, from a noisy, multi-lane highway with nothing but gray pavement for miles, to the lush green foliage of a state forest, carefully tucked away like a hidden gem, waiting for visitors to discover it.

    I have had the great fortune of knowing where the hidden gems are—where the sights and sounds of the big city and the rush of cars fade away in favor of the babbling brook accompanied by the soprano notes of a songbird. 

    My favorite of these spots, located less than an hour’s drive from Manhattan, is the Ramapo Valley County Reservation, the local hiking spot I have been visiting since childhood. I have fond memories of taking walks with my family on the trail around Scarlett Oak Pond. I can remember my sister and I being excited by a frog hopping past or fascinated by the toadstools we found on the trail. Captivated by nature, it was perhaps the only time we weren’t pulling on each other’s hair.

    Now that I’m older, it’s not always easy to find time to spend in nature, but when I do, I experience the same sense of joy and wonder I had when I was little. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll or a strenuous hike, I feel connected to the land where I live and to the natural world around me. My favorite hiking spot becomes a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a place that feels like home where I can rest and recharge.  No doubt, readers in New Jersey have their own special outdoor place in mind.

    If the Ramapo Reserve’s 20 miles of hiking trails aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other hidden gems throughout a small state that boasts more than 300 miles along 50 rail-trails. Whether you’re visiting the Columbia Trail in the northwest, the D & R Canal Trail in the central part of the state, the eight-mile bike path on Island State Park by the shore, or one of the many hiking trails running through the Pine Barrens in South Jersey, my home state has a trail for everyone.  

    Wherever you go in New Jersey, you’ll find another great spot for an outdoor adventure and another place to make memories like I have, the kind that last a lifetime—and only 20 minutes from the Turnpike!

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    Leeann Sinpatanasakul serves as advocacy coordinator for RTC's public policy team. She focuses on generating grassroots support in America for state and federal trail funding.

  • Question of the Month: Which Trails are the Top 10 Trails in New Jersey?

    The Garden State has some amazing trails, and we want to hear which beautiful pathways you think should be on our list of the Top 10 Trails in New Jersey.

    Chime in below and let us know your favorites. Feel free to name more than one or two! You can reply to the facebook or twitter posts below, reply in the comments at the bottom of this page, or send your input to kathryn@railstotrails.org.

    Don't be shy, give us your best — and happy trails!


     

     

     

     

     

  • Rising from Tragedy: Progress, Partnerships and Potential on the Whitehorse Trail

    Branching off from the ever-popular 30-mile Centennial Trail in Snohomish County, Wash., the largely undeveloped Whitehorse Trail runs through the heart of Washington State’s Stillaguamish Valley, from Arlington via Oso, ending at the foot of the Cascade Range in the small town of Darrington. 

    While the vision of converting this former rail line into a destination 27-mile rail-trail has existed for years, a March 2014 landslide ripped across the Stillaguamish Valley. The landslide’s devastation killed 43 people, buried more than one mile of the highway and adjacent rail bed and left the rail-trail vision in limbo.

    But the local communities are rebuilding and recovering from this tragedy, and the Whitehorse Trail’s future grows brighter each day through a combination of partnerships and a realization of the outdoor recreation and economic development potential of the rail-trail. The ultimate vision is to connect the Whitehorse Trail to the existing Centennial Trail, linking a growing 120-mile regional trail network across Snohomish and King counties.

    Tourism represents the third-largest sector of the Snohomish County economy, and in the post-landslide recovery, area leaders have been eager to communicate that Snohomish County is open for business and welcoming visitors. This is something that Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin recognized early in the recovery efforts, stating, “I truly believe that biking in the Stilly Valley and Darrington area has great potential and opportunity.”

    To help in this effort, Washington Bikes has stepped in with its policy expertise; currently, the nonprofit is working with a number of strong partners to make a compelling case for bike tourism as a strategic part of their economic recovery strategy.

    Recovery efforts have resulted in rapid cleanup of many miles of the trail, by virtue of the cross-collaboration—facilitated by Washington Bikes—of local, state and federal officials working with passionate community groups and trail advocates. Immediately after the landslide, Washington Bikes successfully advocated for the Whitehorse Trail to be a recipient of federal disaster assistance, and also collaborated on efforts to secure state grants to support improvements needed for the creation of the 27-mile trail for bikers, hikers, equestrians and river rafters.

    A federal Workforce Development grant (which provides jobs for people who have faced long-term unemployment or job displacement) put 80-plus people to work clearing and grading sections of the trail. These people live in the immediate area and, therefore, get to enjoy the fruits of their labors with long walks on the Whitehorse Trail corridor.

    At a recent public event to celebrate the progress of the trail and its future potential—which was attended by Congressional representatives and many state and local officials—Snohomish County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Teigen said enthusiastically, “The partnership we’ve put together is really incredible; local, state, federal, private donations have all come together to get us to this point. And we’re here today thanks to Washington Bikes helping us connect the dots to be poised for even more progress on the trail.”

    An anonymous couple has donated more than $300,000 to the effort, enabling Snohomish County to repair and reinforce numerous bridges along the trail, which will further aid the implementation of additional trail improvements. Additionally, this donation, together with investments by Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and federal disaster relief funds for cleanup and repair, is providing the matching funding for a proposal to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program in the upcoming legislative session, a grant program that Washington Bikes will be advocating to expand to create more opportunities for trails like the Whitehorse.

    The turnaround from the landslide’s devastation is remarkable. The Whitehorse Trail has gone from a long-term vision to a short-term priority. Through the power and momentum of partnerships, this trail, and the larger trail network it will help create, will soon be a transportation and recreation amenity—helping the people of Snohomish County rise from tragedy and bringing in a new era of economic prosperity.

    RTC is partnering with Washington Bikes to help generate funding support for the trail project. For more information or to learn how to get involved in these efforts, contact RTC’s Western Regional Office at Western@railstotrails.org or go to www.wabikes.org

    Photos courtesy Washington Bikes. Top: Fortson Mill Trailhead; right: aerial of landslide; left: recently cleared section of trail (June) by Workforce Snohomish.

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    Laura Cohen is the director for RTC's Western Regional Office. She frequently speaks about active-transportation policy and funding issues and has co-authored numerous RTC reports, including the 2009 California Rails-with-Trails Survey.

  • Keep the Garden State Green

    There are exciting things happening in my home state of New Jersey. This November, residents have an opportunity to vote on a ballot measure that will keep the Garden State green and preserve it for generations to come. 

    If passed, the Clean Water, Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation Dedication (Public Question 2) would provide an estimated $117 million per year, starting in 2019, to conserve and care for natural areas and open space, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone areas. 

    What’s particularly exciting is that this funding could be used to expand New Jersey’s trail network. In the past, open space funds have been used to acquire and develop some of New Jersey’s best-loved trails, such as the scenic Paulinskill Valley Trail, the Henry Hudson Trail, the incredible Columbia Trail and connectors to the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail

    If it passes, Public Question 2 will ensure that new funds are set aside for open space and allow local communities to use these funds for maintenance of existing trails and the creation of new trails. 

    Question 2 will require no new taxes. The state already dedicates 4 percent of the money collected from the Corporate Business Tax to help pay for some environmental programs. The ballot measure changes how some of the programs are funded and raises the amount to be set aside for open space from 4 percent to 6 percent.

    Watch this short clip: Vote Yes On Public Question 2 On November 4th

    Question 2 isn’t only a win for trails. It’s a win for land and water conservation, the natural places we care about, the clean drinking water we depend on, the farmland economy that gives our state its name and the historic places that define our heritage. 

    By voting “Yes” on Question 2, New Jersey residents can preserve today’s quality of life for future generations to come. Vote “Yes on 2” on Nov. 4!

    Photo courtesy Boyd Loving

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    Leeann Sinpatanasakul serves as advocacy coordinator for RTC's public policy team. She focuses on generating grassroots support in America for state and federal trail funding.

  • Meet Mike Helbing—New Jersey Native, Urban Explorer, Lifetime Hiker

    The description “avid outdoorsman” doesn’t do Mike Helbing justice. 

    Helbing has been leading hiking expeditions for nearly two decades, exploring his home state of New Jersey and the surrounding regions—but these are no ordinary excursions. Every Sunday, a group of intrepid adventurers sets out on a trek of 15 to 20 miles, exploring a different part of New Jersey or the surrounding area.

    A self-proclaimed “lifetime hiker,” Helbing’s hiking résumé is long, and he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. During his 18 years of leading excursions, he has hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail eight times over. (Tack on another 4,400 miles if you include his repeat hikes!) He recently finished hiking every oceanfront beach in the Garden State, and he’s only a handful of hikes away from covering the entire perimeter of New Jersey.

    In the state with the highest population density in the nation, some may ask what is so captivating about New Jersey. Could it really be so great to hike around a state where 90 percent of the population lives in an urban area?

    According to Helbing, there is a lot to the state that people overlook. 

    “There is something for everyone in New Jersey,” he says. “[It’s] very diverse ecologically, geologically and historically. You can never get bored with it.”

    He waxes poetic about the state’s rich railroad history and could talk for hours about the geology of New Jersey, but at the end of a hike, it’s not a specific destination or one highlight that leaves Helbing coming back for more. It’s all the parts coming together that create the memorable outing.  

    “Some people wouldn't consider some of the places we visit a destination in and of themselves, but when combined with other locations in the form of a long hike, we build a greater experience,” he says. “We can visit a small museum for example, or a minor overlook, an interesting rock formation, whatever odd little thing that no one in their right mind would drive four hours to visit. But you see, people do drive four hours to do my hikes, because the experience is the sum of its parts.”

    The origins of the famous “Mike Hikes” go back to Helbing’s 17th birthday. Instead of having a party, he decided to lead a 20-mile hike in Warren County. “That was the start of it all,” he reminisces. The initial outing turned into a weekly hiking group, which he continued to lead throughout college and beyond. 

    Since then, he has formalized the group under the auspices of his nonprofit organization, Metrotrails. The group is dedicated to assisting in the planning, development, maintenance and promotion of trail systems in the New York/Philadelphia metropolitan area. Group hikes focus on the natural and historic aspects of their routes as well as ensuring the preservation of these aspects for years to come.

    These hikes aren’t for the faint of heart; folks who have taken part in a “Mike Hike” recommend being prepared for anything and everything, and according to Helbing, Metrotrails attracts the type of people who want “a little something more” in the way of a hike. 

    You never know what you’ll find with Helbing leading the way, but his enthusiasm makes it easy to embrace the adventure. “I’m totally obsessed with this experience,” he admits. “I’m just a junkie for this stuff.”

    Learn more about Mike Hikes on the Metrorails website and the Metrorails Meetup group page.

    Photos by Mike Helbing

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • Pop-Up Bike Clinics Tune Up Camden Neighborhoods

    A green box of a trailer attached to a purple bike rolls through a neighborhood in Camden, N.J., on a hot summer morning. It’s only 11 a.m., but the sun is already at full strength. 

    Akram Abed, manager for RTC’s Camden office, is the pilot of this craft, but he doesn’t act alone. He’s got a team in tow, and their mission is to fix bikes and connect with the neighborhoods throughout the city of Camden. The team opens the trailer filled with tools, sets up their bike stands and lays out fresh fruit for patrons in anticipation of their arrival. Now, they are ready to crank out repairs.

    The first people to approach are typically kids, who mistake the green pop-up trailer for the ice cream man. When the repair team tells them that it’s not ice cream, but bike repairs, that are on the menu, they’re rarely disappointed. 

    “Their eyes get big, and they say, ‘Oh! I got a bike in my basement! I’ll be right back!’” says Jackey Melton, an intern for the Student Conservation Association and one of the organizers for the pop-up bike clinics. “It’s like we’re inviting them to come play. They come running back with their bikes: broken, twisted, rusty, whatever.”

    According to Melton, grandmothers often come out with all their grandkids in tow. “They’ll have four or five broken bikes with them,” says Melton. “It’s like a broken bike is contagious!” Of course, everybody is welcome; as the repair team fixes the bikes, they are in turn treated to stories and discussion about the local neighborhoods from their patrons. It’s a win-win.

    Over the course of the two years that the pop-up bike clinics have been in action, the repair team has fixed more than 600 bicycles and interacted with every pocket of the Camden community. The idea for the pop-ups came from Abed’s experiences leading community bike rides, during which he’d invite kids in the neighborhoods along the routes to join in.

    “We’d invite them to join us, but most of the time, their reactions were, ‘I have a bike but it’s broken,’” says Abed. “The bikes exist, but they are out of commission.”

    Acording to Abed, to get their bikes repaired, Camden residents have to go into Philadelphia or out to the suburbs, and those are not options for a lot of people. But thanks to the pop-up bike clinics, the repairs can be done in their own neighborhoods. And what makes the setup even better? It’s free of charge.

    The program is possible because of a grant from the Campbell Soup Foundation, which has called Camden home for generations. In addition, two bike shops, Erlton Bike Shop and Danzeisen and Quigley, have contributed their support, expertise and supplies at reduced costs for the pop-up clinics. 

    There isn’t much that the bike-repair dream-team can’t handle, but that’s not to say that it’s always smooth sailing. In fact, sometimes the biggest barriers are unrelated to bikes. For example, some neighborhoods have large populations of non-English speaking residents, presenting a language barrier to the repair team. But Melton is quick to point out that the team—dedicated always to the community—do their best to bring all bikes into tip-top shape.  

    She recounts a story of one such case on a stifling summer day. Through a lot of non-verbal communication, the mechanics were able to properly identify the issues plaguing a non-English speaking gentleman’s bike, as well as fix it up and show him how to do simple repairs. When his bike was fixed, he rode away—but then came back shortly after with a huge bottle of ginger ale for the pop-up crew. 

    “He really appreciated what we had done for him,” Melton says. “Even though we couldn’t really speak that well to each other, he was like, ‘You did something great for me, and I want to do something nice for you.’”

    The pop-up bike clinics are engaging the community in a fun and practical way, and the impact goes beyond a simple bike tune-up. Abed always returns to each neighborhood a few days later and leads a bike ride around the area—along local streets and a nearby trail. It’s a way for people to try out their newly repaired bikes and see their own neighborhood in a new way. It is a way to discover what is in their backyard, Abed explains.

    And after a ride on a trail, he’s often told by his participants that before the ride, they had no idea where the trail went or “how cool the trail is.”

    “Riders are pleased with how safe it is on the trails, and how it feels like they’ve escaped the city, despite being only blocks away from their homes,” says Abed.

    Indeed, for many members of the community, the pop-up clinics are less about fixing a bike, and more about changing the way that they perceive mobility. Paired with community rides, the pop-up clinics transform bicycles from toys to tools, offering a new independence and a lens through which to explore their community. And what’s the best part of the pop-up clinics for the repair team? 

    For volunteer mechanic Will Wooden, it’s the interactions with the clinics’ youngest clientele that are the true highlight. “Working with the kids is cool for me,” Wooden affirms. “They’re saying thank you; they are riding their bikes around. It feels good, you know?” 

    Juan Rodgers, another volunteer mechanic, says that learning new skills, the kids, and the love of bike riding are the three reasons that keep him coming back week after week. His basic understanding of bike maintenance has been transformed into a much higher level of expertise, and he’s able to transfer his knowledge to others immediately, putting the tools into the hands of those in the neighborhood. 

    And for Melton, the biggest payoff is being part of something greater than herself. “You become a really important part of the community,” she explains. “You might fix somebody’s bike one weekend…and see them on the other side of town the next weekend, riding their bike. They recognize you, and say, ‘Hey! You got me rolling again!’ It puts a smile on your face.”

    She continues, “In the process of rebuilding that bike, you’re rebuilding the community. You’re bringing people together; you’re teaching them new skills. It really feels like we’re making these neighborhoods better places just by showing people that they can do this themselves; they can find a way to get around. And that’s really empowering.”

    Photos by RTC. Top: Pop-up bike clinic in Camden. Top right: Repairs in action at pop-up bike clinic in Camden. Left: RTC's Camden Region Manager, Akram Abed, chats with a young pop-up bike clinic patron. Bottom right: Will Wooden and Juan Rodgers, pop-up bike clinic volunteer mechanics.

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • Florida Trails at Stake in Amendment 1

    For almost 15 years, residents of southwest Miami have been raising support and funds to try and build a trail along a disused section of rail corridor. Their goals: to improve their communities and provide more options for transportation and recreation.

    Since 2006, volunteers and citizen advocates in the city of Homestead have worked toward their vision of a safe and scenic walking and biking pathway connecting Biscayne National Park with Everglades National Park.

    And in downtown Miami, the nonprofit Friends of the Underline are seeking to transform underutilized land below Miami's MetroRail into a linear park and urban trail for the community.

    After countless hours of hard work, tons of volunteer sweat, residents' meetings and grassroots advocacy, the success of these three projects, and a myriad of others, could all be decided by one vote on Nov. 4.

    If it passes, the Florida Water, Land and Legacy Conservation Amendment (Amendment 1) would immediately put funding support behind these projects, which are being fought for by locals, for locals, for the betterment of Florida's environment, economy and health.

    But, if it fails, these, and dozens of trails projects across the state, will likely remain on the drawing board.

    The grassroots demand for trails and safe places to bike and walk—massive, and growing, demand—continues to outstrip funding and political support for such safe places to bike and walk. But if it passes, Amendment 1 could change that overnight.

    And the homegrown hopes and ambitions of the people that live in Florida, and love its beautiful open spaces and places of community, would have the resources they need to make them real. What a wonderful world it would be.

    Seize the moment on Nov. 4! Vote yes on Amendment 1.

    Pd. Pol. Adv. Paid for and provided in-kind by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

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    Ken Bryan is the Florida field office director for RTC. He frequently writes about pedestrian and bike-related infrastructure issues in the Sunshine State. 

     

     

     

  • Out of the Rubble: New Jersey's Bayshore Trail Rises Again

    All through October, RTC is celebrating New Jersey's trails and bike/ped scene! From the shore to the highlands, New Jersey is a beautiful state that is often overlooked. We’ll do our best to highlight the trails and open spaces that residents of the Garden State know and love.  

    It’s the Phoenix of rail-trails.

    The Bayshore Trail—a section of the Henry Hudson Trail—runs two miles along the shoreline of the Sandy Hook Bay. Also known as the Atlantic Highlands segment, this is a trail that has seen it all. 

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the beloved trail was unidentifiable. Simply put, the trail was turned to rubble, with woodpiles in the place of boardwalks and standing water where the trail stood only days before. It was nothing like the trail that the community had cherished for years. 

    “Sandy changed the nature of the trail permanently,” says Maria Wojciechowski, executive director of Friends of the Monmouth County Park System, an organization that helps maintain the Bayshore Trail. “The trail was largely ripped apart, and some sections were turned to wetlands from the storm surge. It was destroyed,” she reports.

    After citizens made sure their own homes were secured and their situations were under control, a lot of focus in the county went to the trail. Arguably, what makes this section of the Henry Hudson Trail so popular—its proximity to the waterfront and scenic views of Sandy Hook Bay—was also its downfall during Hurricane Sandy. But it was these memories of the once-great amenity that induced citizens—not long after the storm—to call for a revitalization effort.

    The Monmouth County Park System, the agency that manages the trail, faced the daunting task of cleaning up everything under its jurisdiction affected by the storm. “We had more than 15,000 acres to take care of,” states Rich Pillar, landscape architect for the Monmouth County Park System. “But there was this groundswell of enthusiasm for this trail section, and people were using the trail even in its damaged state. They loved it that much,” he says. 

    “This trail is a people superhighway,” says Wojciechowski. “It was tough to keep people off of it, even though it was destroyed!” 

    The county publicly emphasized the closing of the trail due to safety concerns, and cleanup work, funded primarily by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief funds, began in earnest. But, just as things appeared to be on the right track, Mother Nature threw a curve ball in the form of a landslide that swept across—and wiped out—a major part of the trail. And shortly thereafter, a leak from a private outflow pipe adjacent to the trail halted repairs yet again. There was also pushback from adjacent landowners. The Bayshore Trail was being dealt one blow after another. “It seemed like every week, there was something else,” says Pillar. 

    But as the old adage goes: Fall down seven times, get up eight. 

    The community continued to demand the trail cleanup, and crews focused on getting the trail back in working order. 

    A major question posed by the county (an undercurrent of much of the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in the region) was how to rebuild with resilience as a priority. The answer for the Bayshore Trail was to reduce the number of structures. For example, a 600-foot-bridge section that was ripped out by the storm was re-imagined; the trail was detoured and the structure was shortened to 80 feet. 

    The rebuild is no simple task, and the Monmouth County Park System acts as the organizer for all the players that have a stake in the process, including FEMA, the county government and adjacent landowners. Currently, the trail is open but in primitive condition, and the county is ready to submit their permits for the final rebuild.

    In the Spring of 2015, when trail restoration is complete, 20 benches funded through RTC’s Metropolitan Grants Program (with support by the Coca Cola Foundation) will be placed along the scenic trail at key viewing areas that overlook Sandy Hook, the Raritan Bay and the Manhattan Skyline.

    It’s the trail that’s been served blow after blow and still has enough gumption to get back up again. Out of the rubble, the Bayshore Trail will rise again, better than new.

    Top two photos courtesy Monmouth County Park System; left photo courtesy Thomas Tye.

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • Missouri Rail-Trail Just Got One Giant Step Closer to Reality

    We are pleased to share some wonderful news concerning our campaign to preserve the 145-mile Rock Island Line in Missouri for future conversion to a rail-trail.

    The Missouri Central Railroad Company yesterday announced its intention to undertake the necessary steps to have the corridor “railbanked,” and to work with the State of Missouri to have it preserved for trail development.

    This moment represents one of the great victories of the rail-trail movement over the past decade, and is a testament to the strong voice of rail-trail advocates and the growing recognition of the importance of trails and trail-use to communities everywhere.

    Railbanking this corridor was the number one goal of our involvement with the Rock Island Line project – to make sure this remarkable asset was not lost but instead preserved in public ownership and made available for public use.

    There is no doubt that the massive groundswell of public support for a rail-trail that RTC and local advocates mobilized in recent months convinced Ameren, the owner of the corridor, just how important this trail was to communities in Missouri. It is the reason we celebrate this victory today. As a supporter of RTC, you are part of that groundswell and you are the reason we celebrate this victory today. Thank you.

    We thank Ameren for being so responsive to the hopes and ambitions of Missouri’s people and communities. We are also proud to work with local activists who envisioned the many benefits this trail will bring to their communities. Their hopes and ambitions include preserving public land for recreation and transportation, and bolstering local economies with trail tourism. These are also the hopes and ambitions of the national rail-trail movement, and you are a part of it.

    We will pass on details of plans for the Rock Island Line as soon as we know more. But for now, this is a moment for you to reflect on, and feel great about, what raising your voice for trails can really achieve. The rail-trail movement is stronger than ever, and we’re glad you are with us.

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    Keith Laughlin is the president of RTC. Prior to joining the organization in 2001, he served as associate director for sustainable development for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the continuation of a career focused on environmental conservation and livable communities. In recent years, Keith has guided RTC's effort to become a national leader in the trails and greenways movement.

  • Top 10 Trails in Pennsylvania

    RTC asked the residents and visitors of Pennsylvania to tell us which trails deserve a Top 10 accolade. We were flooded with responses. Thank you! This speaks volumes to the enthusiasm and passion that Pennsylvanians have for their trails. 

    To close out Pennsylvania Month in September, we're pleased to bring you this list of Top 10 Trails in the Keystone State! Enjoy!


    1. Great Allegheny Passage

    Allegany (Md.), Allegheny, Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland counties

    We heard you loud and clear. The GAP is Pennsylvania's crown jewel of trails! The 150-mile trail—which spans two states along great rivers and across mountain passes—is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. 

     

     

    2. Allegheny River Trail

    Clarion and Venango counties

    If any trail in Pennsylvania gives the GAP a run for its money, it’s the 32-mile Allegheny River Trail, which is also RTC's September 2014 Trail of the Month! Scenery and wildlife are just two reasons why this one tops the list.

     

     

    3. Pine Creek Rail Trail

    Lycoming and Tioga counties

    If you want to visit the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, let the Pine Creek Rail Trail be your guide. For 55 of its 62 miles, the trail hugs Pine Creek, offering great views of dramatic rock outcrops and waterfalls.

     

     

    4. Ghost Town Trail

    Cambria and Indiana counties

    The Ghost Town Trail has a spooky name, but the trail is anything but scary. You can pair your walking or biking adventure with an on-trail history lesson, thanks to interpretive signs about the old railroad towns, preserved blast furnaces and other historic markers. 

     

     

    5. Heritage Rail Trail

    York County

    History seeps from the 22-mile Heritage Rail Trail. The trail occupies one of the oldest rail corridors in the nation and passes through quaint turn-of-the-century villages like New Freedom, Pa. A lunch stop at the restored depot will fuel you for the remainder of your ride!

     

     

    6. D & L - Lehigh Gorge Trail

    Carbon and Luzerne counties

    A critical connection in Jim Thorpe will make this amazing trail even better. The pedestrian bridge over the Lehigh River will create 130 miles of continuous trail! Help make it happen; join in on the fun at the Bike for the Bridge event on Nov. 8. 

     

     

    7. Sandy Creek Trail

    Venango County

    The Sandy Creek Trail traverses some of the most remote and spectacular countryside in northwestern Pennsylvania. Impressive features of this 12-mile paved trail include tunnels and massive trestles like the Belmar Bridge, which crosses the Allegheny River. 

     

     

    8. Butler-Freeport Community Trail

    Armstrong and Butler counties 

    Over the trail’s 20 miles, you will pass over burbling streams and cruise through shady forests and farmland. The scenery varies, but one thing stays the same: The folks on the trail are friendly and out to have a memorable day on the trail, just like you.  

     

     

    9. Oil Creek State Park Trail

    Crawford and Venango counties 

    This trail has something to satisfy everyone. From fly fishermen to cyclists to cross-country skiiers, the Oil Creek State Park Trail pleases them all! The trail connects to Titusville via the Queen City Trail, further broadening the options for trail enthusiasts.

     

     

    10. Redbank Valley Rail Trail

    Armstrong, Clarion and Jefferson counties

    The 51-mile Redbank Valley Rail Trail was the deserving winner of DCNR's Pennsylvania Trail of the Year award for 2014. Between the trail’s natural beauty and their incredible volunteer power, this trail was a natural fit to round out the Top 10. 

     

     

     

    Photo 1 courtesy Katie Harris. Photos 2 through 10 via TrailLink.com: 2. Mike Radowski, 3. Gregory V. Pencheff, 4. Harry Freeman, 5. Jim Hopkins, 6. Sue Bowers-Miller, 7. Brian Symonds, 8. Rebecca Boff, 9. Alan A. Kaczur, 10. Rich Ballash.

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • Leveraging Federal Dollars to Create a Regional Legacy

    When all 750 miles of the Circuit are connected, Greater Philadelphia will have a trail network unlike any other in the country—connecting the urban, suburban and rural communities of the fifth-largest metropolitan region in the U.S. 

    Sarah Clark Stuart is deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and chair of the Circuit Coalition. In honor of Pennsylvania Month, Sarah shares the story of how the Circuit has leveraged federal funds to maximize their impact on trail development. Projects across the country should take note: Finding funding for major trail networks is not easy, but by leveraging existing funds, prioritizing trails and capitalizing on existing relationships and connections, the Circuit is a shining example of how trail development is done successfully and how Pennsylvania is a trail state that is doing it right! 

    In early October, the Philadelphia region will celebrate the opening of the 0.75-mile-long Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. This trail, which is built along the east side of the Schuylkill River, is the final in a set of trail segments funded by federal dollars in 2010 that sparked an incredible amount of interest, enthusiasm and prioritization of other trail projects around the region. As we celebrate the opening of the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, an even greater cause for celebration is the way in which federal funds have served as the catalysts for a region-wide trail network.

    There are a few federal programs—run by different agencies—that provide funds that support active transportation. Each of these programs require matches from the project sponsor and, therefore, leverage local and county funds, other federal funds and, in some cases, private dollars.   

    Trails are an important priority for the state of Pennsylvania, and dozens of studies have been conducted on many miles of trails. However, trails must compete with many other types of bicycle/pedestrian projects for the federal funds managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), and construction funding is highly competitive.  

    In 2009, TIGER (Transportation Investment for Generation of Economic Recovery), a federal competitive grant program initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), created the first opportunity for the Philadelphia-Camden metropolitan region to prioritize its most “ready to go” trail projects and help move the needle on completing the region’s network of trails. Of the original, and very extensive, application submitted by the City of Philadelphia, the region was awarded a TIGER grant of $23 million for 10 (integral) projects.

    Seven trail projects in the application were not funded—which was a disappointment to the surrounding suburban counties; however, the TIGER grant did ultimately benefit them. The grant prompted the William Penn Foundation, a local philanthropy organization, to make an unprecedented $10 million grant to fund a new regional, competitive re-grant program for planning, design and capital for trails. Over three years, more than 20 miles of trails were built, and another 25 were planned. In addition, the William Penn Foundation was inspired to work with the trail advocacy community to rebrand the region’s trail network—an effort that gave birth to the Circuit

    It was the spark from the TIGER grant, and the involvement and commitment from the William Penn Foundation, that has helped raise the profile and potential for all 750 miles of trails that comprise the region’s trail network.

    The federal funds from the TIGER grant also brought certain projects to the attention of the community and reinvigorated interest in their development. This is absolutely the case with the Manayunk Bridge, a beautiful structure that spans a highway, two rail lines and the Schuylkill River between Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County. While the project wasn’t among those chosen for the 2010 TIGER grant, being part of the original proposal brought the attention necessary for decision-makers to find other sources of funding beyond the TIGER grant. In an unprecedented short amount of time, the City of Philadelphia teamed up with Montgomery County, Lower Merion and local funding sources, including the William Penn Foundation’s new trail grant program, and the bridge is expected to open in 2015!  

    The 2010 TIGER grant was limited to 10 projects in two counties. However, it leveraged another $10 million for 30 projects in the nine-county region and significantly changed the dynamic of trail prioritization and construction! 

    As the Circuit continues to develop the 750-mile network, the leveraging of federal funds will continue in an effort to maximize the impact of every dollar spent for trails.

    Photos courtesy Sarah Clark Stuart

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    Sarah Clark Stuart is deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and chair of the Circuit Coalition, as well as a member of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission. She currently resides in Center City with her two daughters.

  • Florida EIS Released: Now You Can Demand Trail Included in Rail Project

    After many months of waiting, an important moment has finally arrived.

    Any Floridian that cares about their state should be interested in what impacts the All Aboard Florida high speed rail project will have on the environment, their community, and the people who live there.

    Now is the time to have a close look at what All Aboard Florida is all about, and what it will mean for your community. The Federal Rail Administration has just released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, a study which finds there will be a number of negative environmental, social and mobility impacts.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy believes that All Aboard Florida could be a great investment in the state - but only if it includes a rail-with-trail component. The inclusion of a multi-use trail in the All Aboard Florida design would improve accessibility to the stations, complement transit-oriented developments, and boost the livability of connecting neighborhoods.

    Importantly, it will also mitigate a number of the expected negative impacts of the project, notably increased traffic congestion around stations and a need for more parking, reduction of public open space, and the safety concerns of a high speed rail corridor passing through residential areas.

    Have your say in the design of All Aboard Florida by signing our petition calling for the inclusion of a rail-with-trail. We will submit your signatures and comments to the Federal Rail Administration and All Aboard Florida for formal inclusion in the public submissions process.

    If All Aboard Florida does not include a trail, the impacts on biking, walking, health and connectivity will be felt in Florida for decades to come.

    Raise your voice for Florida trails. Sign the petition and urge All Aboard Florida to include a multi-use trail in their design.

    Thanks!

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    Ken Bryan is the Florida field office director for RTC. He frequently writes about pedestrian and bike-related infrastructure issues in the Sunshine State. 

     

  • Tackling Obesity Head On: Hospitals and Trail Groups Team Up to Fight Obesity

    September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, as well as Pennsylvania Month here at RTC. Our Healthy Communities Manager, Elissa Southward, shares with us what is happening on the health front in the great Keystone State and the vital partnerships that are being forged to combat the trends of obesity in Pennsylvania.

    As the country struggles to combat the frightening trends of obesity, Pennsylvanians are teaming up to find a solution. 

    The statistics are sobering: The health of the nation is in a poor state. The good news is that just trying to reduce the amount of time spent sitting and increasing physical activity daily can have a significant effect. We hear it all the time. Physical activity is extremely important for both physical and mental health. Just moderate walking and regular bicycling can lead to a longer and healthier life!

    Health leaders in Pennsylvania acknowledge the importance of increasing physical activity in the fight against obesity, and in the Philadelphia region, they are tackling the issue head on. A number of nonprofit hospitals have recognized the importance of investing in and promoting safe walking and biking facilities in order to increase physical activity and improve the health of their patients and employees—recognizing that multi-use trails, in particular, can serve as an effective prescription for better health and wellness. Trails can be used by everyone, and thus represent the broad interests of the communities served by hospitals. Additionally, partnering with advocates and trails managers is in keeping with the action-oriented and progressive ideas required to maintain their tax-exemption status. 

    Hospitals and trail groups are a natural fit; indeed, partnerships between them have great potential for creating healthier communities. The Circuit, a multi-use trail network that, when completed, will connect more than 750 miles of trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia area, has been the catalyst for building relationships between these partners. 

    The success of these collaborative efforts has exceeded expectations. Take the partnership between St Luke’s University Health Network and Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D & L), for example. Their aim is “to connect people to the outstanding opportunities along the D & L Trail while increasing health awareness and improving the health status of the community.” In an effort to promote a culture of wellness and a sense of community, the partners provide individuals and families with nutrition and exercise programs. They have also created the highly successful "Get your Tail on the Trail" challenge, where employees, patients and community members attempt to log 165 miles on the trail from May to November. The first challenge, which ended in November 2013, resulted in 2,400 participants who logged nearly 250,000 miles on the D & L Trail!

    Due to the huge success and enthusiasm for the challenge, St Luke’s and D & L kept the momentum going with a smaller winter challenge that saw more than 3,000 participants log over 300,000 miles, despite the cold of winter! The largest challenge yet, which began in May 2014, has engaged more than 4,000 participants and documented over 340,000 miles; that's more than 13 trips around the circumference of the earth! Six schools have also adopted the model. St Luke’s is assessing the health impacts of these programs to show whether there have been changes in participant’s physical activity, weight and chronic disease risk factors.  

    Another successful partnership is between Lankenau Medical Center and the Friends of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. The two groups co-sponsor a health-related seminar series on the trail on the third Tuesday of each month during the summer, appropriately titled "Trail Tuesdays."

    Pennsylvania has seen the great value that trails bring to their state and the importance of investing in these facilities. The Philadelphia region in particular boasts one of the most complete and largest planned networks of multi-use trails for walking and bicycling in the nation. Thanks to the unique partnerships being forged between health professionals and the trails community through The Circuit, thousands of Pennsylvanians are hitting the trails and creating healthier lives. 

    The fight against obesity is far from over, but the efforts being taken in Pennsylvania show that through collaboration and relevant partnerships, the future can hold more than just sobering statistics. Communities across the country—take note!

    Photo courtesy Mark Stosberg via Flickr

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    Elissa Southward is RTC's healthy communities manager. Southward recently earned a Ph.D. in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol in England.

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Knox County, Tenn.

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL 

    On or about Sept. 16, 2014, CSX Transportation, Inc. filed for the abandonment of 1.18 miles of track within Knoxville in Knox County, Tenn. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A “boiler plate” letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-55 (sub-no. 736x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is Oct. 16, 2014. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

    The STB has imposed a $250 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project’s progress. We also recommend contacting your state trails coordinator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

    Both of these individuals are knowledgeable about state laws and resources and may be able to assist your community with this rail-trail project. Also, you may want to contact the abandoning railroad to add your name to their service list.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC’s website may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, the Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals. These resources can be found within the “Trail-Building” section of our website. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Eli Griffen.

    Photo courtesy CC Roadside Bandit via Flickr

  • Question of the Month: Which Trails are the Top 10 Trails in Pennsylvania?

    The Keystone State has some amazing trails, and we want to hear which beautiful pathways you think should be on our list of the Top 10 Trails in Pennsylvania.

    Chime in below and let us know your favorites. Feel free to name more than one or two! You can reply to the facebook or twitter posts below, reply in the comments at the bottom of this page, or send your input to kathryn@railstotrails.org.

    Don't be shy, give us your best — and happy trails!


     

     

     

     

     

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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