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RTC TrailBlog

  • From Recreation to Transportation: Minnesota’s Lake Wobegon Trail

    Lake Wobegon may be a fictional town in Garrison Keillor’s popular radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” but the Lake Wobegon Trail is a real, 62-mile pathway from Osakis to St. Joseph that is perfect for bikers, walkers and trail lovers.

    When Lake Wobegon Trail Association President Cliff Borgerding talks about Lake Wobegon, it sounds like a trail enthusiast’s dream, with activities and amenities on nearly every part of the route. 

    In Osakis, visitors can grab locally made ice cream and enjoy an idyllic lakeside view. Further down the trail in Melrose, Riverside Park lies just off the trail on the Sauk River; it’s touted as a perfect spot in which to stop for an afternoon. In Freeport, travelers can duck in for a caramel roll at Charlie’s Cafe or a pint at the Pioneer Inn, both said to be the inspirations for the fictional Chatterbox Café and Side Track Tap, respectively, in “A Prairie Home Companion.” By the way, caramel rolls are a staple in the area, and the trail association will host its annual “Caramel Roll Ride” on June 14, with shops selling the sweet treat along the route. Each rest stop on the ride will have free caramel rolls for the riders!

    Moving further down the trail, the city of Albany has a café and public library with Internet access. The city of Avon boasts a public swimming beach and a fishing pier. Between Albany and Avon, you will find Minnesota’s state flower, the Showy Lady's Slipper. Flower lovers take note. The trail association is hosting a “Lady Slipper Nature Ride” on June 21.

    Between Avon and the end of the trail in St. Joseph, you can visit St. John’s University for Men and a Benedictine Abbey for monks. Then in St. Joseph, you'll find the College of St. Benedict for Women and a Monastery.

    From start to finish, the Lake Wobegon Trail offers something for every visitor, but trail enthusiasts aren’t stopping there…

    “Saintly Seven” Trail Connection

    The Lake Wobegon Trail is already well-connected to other great trails, including the Central Lakes State Trail (in Osakis) and the Soo Line Recreational Trail (just past Holdingford). Presently, a seven-mile extension from St. Joseph to St. Cloud is also in the works! The extension will link up with the Mississippi River Trail that runs more than 3,000 miles from the headwaters of Lake Itasca, Minn., to the river’s end in New Orleans, La.

    According to Borgerding, there are challenges involved, not the least of which is coordinating 19 federal, state, city and township agencies. The other challenge: funding. 

    Local legislators have introduced a bill to complete funding for the first stage of the project; and this bill could do for the Lake Wobegon Trail what a statewide bill (HF2395 and SF2107) could do for biking and walking infrastructure across Minnesota. Alternatively, local and state advocates recognize the potential for the statewide bill to fund the Lake Wobegon Trail extension if the project is deemed important for transportation. 

    When asked about the future of the trail, Borgerding said he envisions that this project, though in its infancy, has great potential to be used “not just for recreation opportunities but as a viable transportation option” for residents and visitors.

    That could likely be the case, given that the trail extension links St. Joseph and towns along the trail to the metropolitan city of St. Cloud. Commuters, students and families can take advantage of the trail as a transportation option for work, class and daily errands, while enjoying its scenic beauty…and Borgerding’s vision will be realized.

    Top photo courtesy Jennifer Flaa via Flickr

    Right photo courtesy Matt Green via Flickr

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

  • Biking, Walking Projects to Help Make Rochester, Minn., International Wellness Community

    In honor of National Public Health Week (April 7 - 11) and RTC's spotlight on Minnesota this month, here's a great post by RTC's own Healthy Communities Manager, Elissa Southward.

    Recently, Jay Walljasper published an article in the Minnesota Post about the city of Rochester’s plan to target overall wellness through collaborative efforts with the Mayo Clinic, the state of Minnesota and Olmsted County. 

    According to the article, in just Rochester alone, there are 100 miles of bike trails, 23 miles of on-street bike lanes and 514 miles of sidewalks. And apparently, Rochester plans to expand them all.

    More specifically, the plan includes

    [P]roviding options for improving health and fitness, effectively managing the increase in visitors and residents, increasing the social connections that foster a vibrant community, and attracting highly trained young professionals to keep Rochester at the top in the health-care field.

    The wellness plan stems from a $5.5 billion private-public plan to transform Rochester into a global Destination Medical Center (DMC), which the city hopes will generate tens of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenues, and make Rochester an international attraction. 

    The original intent of this plan was to attract “medical tourists” and remain competitive with places like Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. But as Dan Nelson, general manager of the Hampton Inn Suites on the city’s north side, acknowledges in the article, more walking and biking projects do, and will continue to, help boost Rochester’s business climate. 

    “When they’re out on the streets, they are more likely to go into a store and buy something.” A congenial pedestrian environment, Nelson said, will also help promote the city’s appeal for “wellness weekend getaways—where people come here to learn more about how to live healthier.”

    Walljasper writes that Rochester has already been busy making improvements in biking, walking and transit since 2010 as part of its Complete Streets strategy. A number of infrastructure projects have already started yielding great results, including better sidewalks, landscaping, curb extensions, bike lanes, medians, curb bump-outs and disability access.

    In the county health rankings in Minnesota, Olmsted County comes in at number 1 (out of 87 total) for health outcomes, due in part to their high percentage of residents that have access to exercise opportunities (80 percent) as well as their low percentage of physically inactive residents (20 percent).  This is supported in large part by the significant amount of walking and biking infrastructure available.  

    Rochester is a testament to the power collaboration has in not only increasing investment in walking and biking projects, but in recognizing its pivotal role in the health of a community.  

    We at RTC applaud their efforts and look forward to seeing the great impact this work will have for the people of Rochester.

    Read Jay Walljasper's article here.

    Photo of the Mayo Clinic courtesy cursedthing 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.

  • California Transportation Gets More Active

    Have you noticed that more people seem to be bicycling and walking? Well, it’s not your imagination.

    In fact, the California Household Travel Survey just released a detailed report on the travel patterns of more than 100,000 people statewide and found that the percentage of trips made by biking and walking in 2012 was nearly double what it was in 2000. 

    Walking trips jumped to 16.6 percent of all trips in 2012, up from 8.4 percent in 2000. The rate of increase for biking trips—from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent of all trips—also nearly doubled. 

    “Based on this research, we can make good decisions about transportation that will improve mobility, air quality and travel choices for all Californians and make our state a better place to live and work,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

    This is an important trend at a time when state and local agencies are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage planning for more sustainable development and promote healthier, more active lifestyles. The demand for safer, more convenient places to walk and bike will certainly be evident in the upcoming call for projects for California’s new Active Transportation Program, which RTC helped create. 

    “We’re thrilled that Californians are getting on their feet and on their bikes in increasing numbers,” said Laura Cohen, western regional director for RTC. “This survey confirms that our work advocating for more investment in trails and active transportation is right on target.” 

    Mary D. Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, which is leading California’s groundbreaking program to cut greenhouse gases and operate a cap-and-trade program, affirmed that the state will support the trend toward increased non-motorized travel. 

    "Californians are increasingly choosing alternatives to driving a car for work and play. That's a shift with real benefits for public health that also cuts greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollution," she said. "California is committed to supporting this shift with better planning to support sustainable communities and healthier, low-carbon choices for travel."

    Download the California Household Travel Survey Report here.

    Photo of the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail courtesy of Bryce Hall

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    Barry Bergman is trail development manager for RTC's Western Regional Office.  
  • From Great Plains to Great Lakes: Experiencing Minnesota by Bike

    As RTC highlights Minnesota in April, we're pleased to bring you this guest blog by our own policy intern, Katie Harris, who rode across Minnesota last year during her bike trek across America.

    "Traveling by bicycle allows me to see the world from a unique perspective; in a car, we are isolated from the world around us, zipping past it all at “unnatural” speeds. On a bike, we move at a pace that gives us a true sense of a place: the smells, the sounds, the topography, the people, the weather." - Katie Harris

    Last summer, I was fortunate enough to travel by bike across the country—from the coast of Washington State to the coast of Maine—with my best friend Camrin. The impetus for the trip was our desire to see the true fabric of America. 

    During our 83-day trip, we pedaled 4,000 miles, met people from around the world, ate more than you can imagine and had the time of our lives. And one of the absolute highlights of our trip was riding across the state of Minnesota.

    Neither of us had ever been to Minnesota before, but when we entered the state, the mid-western welcome was amazing. We had just spent three weeks on the arid plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota, and entering Minnesota was like taking a breath of fresh air. The lushness of the state captured us. Minnesota’s charm permeated every interaction in every place we stopped, from the bike shops to the grocery stores to the campgrounds. It felt like coming home.

    On our second day in Minnesota, we jumped at the chance to ride on the Heartland State Trail, a 49-mile paved pathway from Park Rapids to Walker. Camrin and I rode the entire length of the trail side by side, chatting, laughing and sharing our gratitude for the experience. We didn’t have to worry about traffic. We didn’t have to worry about our safety. We could just enjoy the day, our surroundings and each other.

    That evening, I wrote a postcard to my sister that simply read, “Minnesota has been lush, full of friendly folks, bike paths and ice cream. Pure happiness.”

    After a relaxing pit stop with friends in Duluth, we continued on—our sights set for Canada. Tracing the North Shore of Lake Superior, we pedaled in awe of the massive body of water and the dramatic vistas along the way. Cool, foggy mornings were a welcome change from the more than one month of heat that we had endured across the Great Plains. We awoke every morning with a new respect for this place. 

    Once connected, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will span 88 miles along the North Shore. We enjoyed every inch of the 25 miles that are currently complete, our spirits sinking only when we had to return to the highway. Minnesota’s state parks along the lakeshore are incredibly popular in the summer months, and the Gitchi-Gami Trail connecting these parks is heavily used by locals and visitors alike. This trail is a huge asset to the area, and we were two among many celebrating it on a beautiful July afternoon.

    During our trip, it was evident to us that Minnesotans cherish their trails. There are 30,000 miles of recreation trails in Minnesota, and although we crossed the entire state, we barely scratched the surface of its potential for adventure.

    So much of our perspective of, and affinity for, a place on our journey was determined by the answer to two questions: Did we feel safe? Were our needs being met? 

    In places where the answer was “yes” to both questions, we spent more time and more money and talked about returning on future trips. Minnesota was absolutely one of those places. In fact, we are planning another adventure to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” this May, and we’re bringing our bikes. 

    All photos by Camrin Dengel. Used by permission.

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    Katie Harris is RTC’s transportation policy intern. She joined our team this spring in the national office.

  • Featuring Minnesota: A Spotlight on the North Star State in April

    During the month of April, RTC will be shining a spotlight on Minnesota, also known as L'Etoile du Nord, or "the star of the north." With an eye on people, projects and policies, we’ll be focusing on how this “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is moving toward a vision of a more walkable, bikeable and upwardly mobile state for its more than 5 million citizens and millions of visitors each year.

    Smack dab in the middle of the radar is Move MN, a coalition dedicated to addressing critical transportation needs in the state. This diverse group of advocates is leading a charge to urge the Minnesota Legislature to pass a transportation funding package that would support: highway and bridge improvements, the development of regional transit systems and the expansion of safe, convenient bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. 

    On March 20, the group scored a victory by moving bill HF 2395 out of the House Transportation Finance Committee by a voice of nine to six. Bravo!  Should this bill pass, an additional $16 million annually would be set aside for biking and walking infrastructure. Now the focus is on the Senate and Move MN is urging all Minnesotans to get involved. Learn more here.

    A vote in the Minnesota Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled for April 2, 2014. If you’re a resident of Minnesota and your state senator is on the committee, click here to speak out for biking, walking and trails.

    It’s not a surprise that Minnesota has its eye on active transportation. The state has long been known and hailed for its trail systems and biking allure; here are just a few great examples:

    1. Minnesota was voted “Best Trails State” by American Trails in 2010, and according to the Department of Natural Resources, there are more than 30,000 miles of recreational trails that support biking, walking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling and more.

    2. Minneapolis was selected by Congress as one of four communities included in the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program and has outdone itself in increasing walking and biking in the Twin Cities area.

    3. The state lays claim to the second-highest amount of rail-trail miles in the U.S., with 2,257 completed trails and 211 miles in progress. Incredible, considering only three states in the U.S. claim more than 2,000 miles of rail-trails!

    4. Of the 14 rail-trails in the country spanning more than 100 miles, Minnesota claims 3—the Soo Line Trail Northern Route, the Soo Line Trail Southern Route (which runs into the Saunders State Trail) and the Blue Ox Trail (Voyageur Trail).

    5. Minnesota and Minneapolis frequently top the most bike-friendly lists put out each year by the League of American Bicyclists for the way in which they create, promote and enforce a safe, convenient biking culture for people of all ages and abilities.

    6. The Paul Bunyan State Trail—which runs for 112 miles between Lake Bemidji State Park and Brainerd—has become legendary for its hospitality, small-town charm, woodland beauty and horizon-spanning freshwater lakes. The hundreds of thousands of visitors the trail receives each year are a testament to the trail’s designation in 2011 as a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee.

    We look forward to following the North Star State as it works toward a brighter future for transportation—and active transportation—statewide.  Stay tuned!   

    Top photo courtesy Heather Harvey via Flickr

    Right photo of the Sawbill Trail courtesy Greg Seitz via Flickr

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    Marianne Wesley Fowler is RTC's Senior Strategist for Policy Advocacy, as well as the co-chair of the Coalition for Recreational Trails and the second vice chair of American Trails.

  • Small Ticket Grants to Make Big Impact on Trails in Six Communities

    Sometimes, it's the little things that make such a huge difference to local communities. Take for instance trails, in which sometimes it's the smaller ticket items—signage, bridge repairs and surfacing replacement—that can really open up and revive a corridor.

    Now in its seventh year, the Trail Assistance Mini-Grant Program managed by RTC was begun as a way to assist trail organizations or municipalities who need to make small repairs and improvements to their trail outside of the regular Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant schedule and well below the higher dollar amounts usually requested on major trail development grants. 

    The mini-grant program has helped local rail-trail builders move ahead on small projects that might otherwise have stalled as they waited for appropriate funding. By funding these projects for local trail organizations in a timely fashion, a number of Pennsylvania rail-trails have been able to enhance the usability of their pathways and increase their visibility within their communities. 

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Northeast Regional Office is pleased to announce the following Trail Assistance Mini-Grant awards for 2014:

    The Trail Assistance Mini-Grant Program is funded through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Community Conservation Partnerships Program. 

    For more information on the mini-grant program, contact Patricia Tomes at 717.238.1717 or pat@railstotrails.org.

    Photo courtesy Tricounty Rails to Trails, a 2013 PA mini-grantee that updated five bridges along the Five Bridges Trail with the help of volunteers.

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    Patricia Tomes is the program manager for RTC's Northeast Regional Office and manager of the Trail Assistance Mini-Grant Program.

  • Join RTC on Opening Day for Trails, March 29!

    You’ve been waiting for this moment since the last days of fall, and now it’s here! That’s right; the last Saturday in March is Opening Day for Trails.

    It’s the perfect time to kick off the season with a leisurely stroll or bike ride along…you got it — your local trail.

    RTC urges you to get out and celebrate! And, we're pleased to let you know that five RTC staff members will also be out and about (weather permitting) on trails in the midwest and along the East Coast celebrating Opening Day and passing out free heart badges for bikes and walking sticks.

    Ohio

    In the Midwest, Eric Oberg will be out on the Fairfield Heritage Trail in Lancaster at 10:30 a.m. at the Ohio University Lancaster Campus Trailhead (College Avenue). 

    Pennsylvania

    From our Northeast Regional Office, Pat Tomes will be meeting folks at 10:30 a.m. in Heritage Rail-Trail County Park at the York City Trailhead (N. Pershing Avenue behind the Colonial Courthouse).

    New Jersey

    You’ll find Camden-based Akram Abed down at the Blackwood Railroad Trail in Gloucester Township (Lakeland Road intersection) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Look out for him; he’ll be wearing RTC gear and will be helping folks with bike tune-ups!

    Washington, D.C.

    Milo Bateman from RTC’s National Office will be riding on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park (W & OD Trail); he’ll post up on the Vienna Town Green across from Wholefoods (at 144 Maple Ave. E, Vienna) beginning 10 a.m.

    Florida

    And finally, moving down to warmer climates, Florida's Ken Bryan will be out on the Miccosukee Greenway in Tallahassee at 10:15 a.m. (on the north side of the Edenfield Road Trailhead).

     

    Please come out and join us!  And here are some other really easy ways you can get involved:

    1. Visit railstotrails.org/openingday to let RTC know how you'll celebrate!  
    2. Find a trail near you on TrailLink.com, which currently provides a range of details for more than 21,000 miles of pathways for hiking, biking, walking, snowmobiling, skiing and myriad other activities that trails are just perfect for.  
    3. Get OUT on the trail!  Head out to your favorite spot on Saturday, March 29, 2014! Be sure to share your photos and stories with RTC on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. Use #RTCOpeningDay to tag your posts.

    Sooo…dust off the sneakers and grab the kids, your friends,  your dog or your bike, and step out for Opening Day for Trails. It’s the best time of the year!


  • International Report Calls for Greater Investment in Cycling-Friendly Infrastructure, Policies

    Most health and environmental experts would agree that increasing physical activity is good for your health and decreasing the amount of travel time in cars is good for the environment. However, questions have been raised recently as to whether the negative safety and health risks associated with cycling in the urban environment are worth the positive health and environmental benefits.

    At the end of last year, the International Transport Forum (ITF) Working Group on Cycling Safety released a report titled, "Cycling, Health and Safety." This report has put forth that the positive benefits of cycling (e.g., increased physical activity, impact on mortality and chronic disease, reduction in carbon emissions from motorized transportation) far outweigh the risks (e.g., crash injury risk to cyclists, health reduction from breathing in polluted air in an urban environment).

    The report lends support to the argument for increased investment in cycling (and pedestrian) infrastructure, and provides a range of recommendations for policy makers on the most effective way to invest in active transportation. Among them include "the moderation of some urban road speeds to 30 km/h or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists, hence reaping the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes."

    As ICF states, "The report, published at a time when many cities are seeking to increase the share of cycling amidst concerns for safety, shows that the key to delivering overall benefits from cycling is creating a safe system through government policy and city action."

    Read the full report here.  

    For more related info, check out three videos below, which were created by ICF.  Enjoy!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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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.

  • Inspiring Ideas: Meet the Woman Who Kick-Started the Georgia Trail Summit

    On April 11-12, 2014, Georgia’s first trail summit in 15 years will convene in Athens. Trail groups from throughout the state will gather to share knowledge and further projects, with a goal of establishing a first-class trail network in Georgia. 

    In this guest blog, Tracie Sanchez, organizer of the Georgia Trail Summit, talks about her inspiration for the event and how she turned the idea into a reality.  

    “I love the outdoors, so I go out in it.” – Tracie Sanchez

    All my life, I’ve been riding bikes, hiking mountains, paddling rivers—and seeking those activities every place I visit on the planet. Being on a trail makes for wonderful escapes, new adventures and challenges, new friends, maintained health, fresh air and increased botanical knowledge. And great photo albums. 

    Earning my Master of Public Administration late in life allowed me to focus on the public policy I wanted to champion. Alternative transportation solutions—which often include recreation—are my passion. 

    For me, active living is all about the intersection of health and mobility. Trails offer both. So with a background in graphic design (first career), leadership development (second career) and public transportation policy…and with some spare time during a job search…I decided to reach out to all the trail gurus I knew in Georgia.  

    Public data from TrailLink.com revealed there were 82 trail and greenway projects proposed or under way in Georgia. I was familiar with many of them, simply because I sought them out where I lived and across communities where I served as a mobility manager for a regional commission. Occasionally, I heard about others while attending smart growth conferences, Transportation Camp, the Georgia Bike Summit and transit/mobility workshops. 

    But something was missing. No one knew about anyone else’s project or seemed to be sharing lessons learned. Why wasn’t there an easy opportunity to convene this important community of trail experts statewide? There was so much to learn from each other. 

    One snow day last year during the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., I hoofed it over to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC's) headquarters to see what I could learn. RTC Development Director Kelly Pack inspired me with great advice: “Round everyone up and hold a summit.” So, in April 2013, I pitched the idea and have been recruiting and collaborating with numerous trail, greenway and blueway partners ever since, designing and planning the inaugural Georgia Trail Summit.  

    We got our start with a generous $5,000 donation from MillionMile Greenway and raised an additional $8,000 in sponsorships in six months, attracting 30+ trail groups to also endorse the idea.  

    It’s been an amazing team effort. Join us for this timely conversation on April 11 and 12 in Athens!

    Photo by Tracie Sanchez

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    Tracie Sanchez, MPA, is the outreach and program coordinator at Georgia Trail Summit and Decatur Active Living. Her background includes more than a decade of leadership experience in nonprofits related to active living and alternative transportation.

  • What the Marvin M. Brandt Case Means for America’s Rail-Trails

    On March 10, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States. The issue in this case was whether the federal government retains an interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the federal General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor.

    The Brandt property lies along the corridor of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail in Wyoming, a former disused rail corridor inside Medicine Bow National Forest that was converted into a public trail.

    As the only national organization in America solely committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) filed an “amicus brief” in December 2013 supporting the established legal precedent that says the United States does retain an interest in the corridor.

    Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Marvin Brandt. While RTC is disappointed by the decision, after examining the details of its potential impact, we believe that the vast majority of rail-trails and rail-trail projects will not be directly affected. Existing rail-trails or trail projects are not affected by this decision if any of the following conditions are met:

    • The rail corridor is “railbanked.” (This is the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails.)
    • The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way through federal lands before 1875.
    • The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    • The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    • The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    • The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies.

    Click here for a downloadable infographic outlining the criteria above.

    The ruling only affects non-railbanked corridors that were created from federally granted rights-of-way through the 1875 Act. And we know that most railroad corridors created under this federal law are located west of the Mississippi River.

    Because there isn’t a federal database on federally granted rights-of-way, it isn’t possible to answer exactly how many miles of corridor this applies to. What we can say is that, unfortunately, the ruling will likely increase future litigation over these corridors. We anticipate more cases in the future in which the federal government will be forced to compensate adjoining landowners in order to maintain public access to some well-loved trails.

    This can be a significant challenge for the trail community. We need to ensure that fear of lawsuits does not deter people from moving forward with trails that communities need and have a right to build.

    The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the 10th Circuit Court, where RTC’s legal team will work to narrow the ultimate impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

    Since 1986, RTC's legal program has fought to preserve rail corridors as public recreation and transportation assets at the local, national and federal levels in more than 50 cases, as well as before Congress and administrative agencies. RTC is the foremost, and often the only, legal advocate for rail-trails in the United States, work that is fully funded by RTC members.

  • Mission Miami: Getting More Places to Walk, Run or Bike

    The Supreme Court decision on March 10 reminded the rail-trail community of one critical thing: Despite the burgeoning popularity of active transportation in the U.S., it's up to all of us to use our voices to defend and promote the further development of walking and biking networks around the country.

    In Miami, Fla.—an international destination—active transportation is in great demand. And as the city continues to develop, it's the perfect time to seize the opportunity to build new walking and biking infrastructure.

    RTC recently posted an op-ed in the Miami Herald urging local officials to support these projects.

    Take a look! 

    From "Getting More Places to Walk, Run or Bike":

    "You see it everywhere you go in Miami: The demand for active transportation in the city is on the rise. Thousands of riders pedal the Rickenbacker Causeway each week; the Atlantic Trail along Miami Beach is an international destination and, with notice of less than 72 hours, is enough to draw upwards of 4,000 participants to Critical Mass rides—the very purpose of which are to celebrate and assert the rights of cyclists.

    Famous actors such as Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis have been spotted riding around Miami, and let’s not forget about Miami Heat’s LeBron James, who is well known for biking to work and attending Critical Mass rides."

    Read the full op-ed online here

    And please, feel free to let Miami Herald know what you think in the comments box!  

    Above photo courtesy Miami River Commission

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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.

  • The Supreme Court Decision: How Does It Affect Rail-Trails?

    On March 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case involving a rail corridor formerly on federal land that is now privately owned (Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States).

    The U.S. Supreme Court decision was undoubtedly disappointing for supporters of rail-trails. But after examining the Court’s decision, it is clear that its reach is much narrower than has been reported in the press. 

    The main questions on your mind may be: Does this decision mean that my rail-trail or trail project will go away? What effect will this decision have on the broader rail-trail movement? 

    To answer the first question, the vast majority of current and planned rail-trails will not be affected. 

    The ruling does not affect trails that have been “railbanked” (the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails in the interim). Potentially affected corridors are predominantly west of the Mississippi and were originally acquired by railroads after 1875 through federal land to aid in westward expansion. 

    Existing rail-trails or trail projects ARE NOT affected by this decision if ANY of the following conditions are met:

    1. The rail corridor is “railbanked.” 
    2. The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way (FGROW) through federal lands before 1875. 
    3. The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    4. The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    5. The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    6. The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies. 

    If your rail-trail or trail project meets any of the conditions above, it is NOT affected by the U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

    If you have questions about a specific trail, please contact the manager of that trail, or contact us at railtrails@railstotrails.org.

    Despite the decision, the rail-trail movement remains strong. But the ruling will likely invite more litigation directed at rail-trails that consist of or include federally granted rights of way.

    As this case moves back to the lower courts, RTC is exploring opportunities to ensure the scope of the ruling is as narrow as possible. 

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    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

  • Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision for Trails in U.S.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Official Statement on March 2014 Supreme Court Ruling

    Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing news for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, rail-trail advocates and trail users around the country. The full opinion, which reverses and remands a lower court ruling, can be read at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1173_nlio.pdf

    At issue in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States was whether the federal government retains a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor. In today’s 8-to-1 decision, the justices ruled in favor of Marvin Brandt, the Wyoming landowner whose property is crossed by one of these former rail corridors that is part of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail.  

    It is our belief that the original intent of the 1875 legislation was that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. Just like our national parks, these former rail corridors are public assets in which we all share and benefit. These federally granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and snowmobile pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    There are hundreds of federally granted rights-of-way corridors across the country, many of which have been converted into publicly accessible trails. This erosion of protections for these public lands in the Supreme Court not only may block the completion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail through the former rail corridor, but also threatens existing rail-trails, mainly in the West, that utilize federally granted rights-of-way and are not railbanked. 

    Our legal team is taking a closer look at the decision—and its implications for other rail-trails—to determine next steps. This decision is likely to result in more litigation over rail-trails in federally granted rights of way. Those rail-trails that have been built on railbanked corridors or fee simple land purchases will remain safe. Railbanked corridors are preserved for future rail use by being converted to a trail in the interim.

    The fight for these rail corridors is not over yet. The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States will be sent back to a lower court where we hope to have another opportunity to clarify and limit the scope of this Supreme Court ruling. More information in the coming days can be found on our website at http://www.railstotrails.org/SupremeCourt

    Please contact Amy Kapp at amy@railstotrails.org if you would like more information about the Supreme Court ruling. 

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    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

     

  • Promoting Walkability in America – From Coast to Coast

    In America’s urban centers and rural areas, walkability is becoming a hot topic. Both the public and public leaders are recognizing the way in which pedestrian-friendly policies and infrastructure can help spur economic development, improve individual and community health, and make neighborhoods more livable.  

    Here are two organizations from either side of the continent that are talking the talk and walking the walk:     

    Feet First for a Walkable Washington

    Feet First began as a group of concerned citizens in 1995 that wanted to promote walkable communities. Now, the fast-growing organization advocates for pedestrian-friendly policies and improvements throughout Washington State. 

    Their “Walkable Washington” initiative showcases exceptional projects and programs in local communities, such as the City of Longview’s Sidewalk Business License Program, whereby business owners can apply for free licenses to place features such as seating or retail signs on public sidewalks. And, the project has recently expanded beyond the core commerce area of downtown to all economic zones in Longview. Makes for a very walkable place, indeed.

    By the way, Executive Director Lisa Quinn tells us that they are holding a Walkable Washington Symposium on April 3 to highlight the great pedestrian-oriented projects across the state. More than 100 community leaders, educators and walking advocates are anticipated to gather to explore urban design as it relates to walkability, and community engagement and education.  

    Learn more about it here.

    Going the Distance in (of) New Jersey

    Sometimes, to bring people together, all you need is a venue and an idea. Take New Jersey-based FreeWalkers, an informal—and free—group, founded by Morristown resident Paul Kiczek, which encourages fitness, pedestrianism and friendship while pursuing personally challenging goals through organized long-distance walking events.

    This is the fourth year they’ve partnered with East Coast Greenway (ECG) for their Cross-Jersey Walking Challenge, which sets a goal of walking the 100 miles of the ECG. To kick off their spring season on April 5, they’re inviting people to join them for a 40-mile, one-day walk along the D & R Canal—once one of America’s busiest navigation canals. 

    And, you don’t have to be an iron man; people of all abilities are encouraged to participate, and can choose to walk less than the total distance and at their own pace.

    “This is not about speed but about endurance,” says Kiczek. “Walkers benefit from exercise, friendships and delight of discovering a hidden world nearby. Everyone who walks is a winner.”

    Sounds like a winning idea.

    Photos courtesy FreeWalkers

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    Amy Kapp recently joined the RTC team as a content strategist and managing editor of Rails to Trails Magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.

  • Compton Kids Get Moving Outside: RTC Promotes Urban Pathways in Los Angeles County

    Throughout the month, RTC has provided evidence and stories of how active transportation and physical activity are good for your heart. Increasing physical activity, specifically through increased trail use and trail access, is of particular importance to us—especially in underserved communities. As Dr. Ted Eytan explained in his guest blog earlier this month, not having the ability to walk around outside in one’s neighborhood, and not having safe access to the outdoors, can have a significant effect on a community’s health. And these are significant challenges in lower-income neighborhoods, where crime, litter, graffiti and lack of access to trails or walking infrastructure tend to be prevalent.

    RTC worked in Compton, Calif., for several years as part of our Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), sponsoring trail-based activities to promote increased physical activity and active transportation. As an end to RTC’s Heart Month series, here are some examples of how we helped to positively impact this passionate community. Enjoy!  

    Walk to School Day at Tibby Elementary

    In October 2013, in partnership with the Compton School District, the City of Compton and the Let’s Move! Campaign, RTC organized a Walk to School Day at Tibby Elementary School. In the photo, a Let’s Move! Representative is leading kids through stretching and exercises before the start of the school day.

    Compton Community 5K

    RTC was involved with a 5K walk held in Compton in February 2011. The route went by the Compton Creek Trail. That’s the mayor pushing his kid in a stroller. He told me he actually used to use this trail when he was growing up in the area!

    Cleaning Up Compton Creek

    Here’s another great event we held in Compton in May 2013; our primary emphasis was to clean up a section of Compton Creek. Yes, that is someone who is picking up trash along the creek while wearing a large kangaroo head! She was doing this as part of a competition to win a prize that would have sent her to Australia.

    Compton Bike Fest

    And last but not least, RTC's Compton Bike Fest was held in May 2011 in order to teach kids in the area bike safety skills. It was educational and fun

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

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    Barry Bergman is the trail development manager for RTC's Western Regional Office. He periodically writes about trail policy, trail development and community revitalization.

     

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