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  • Keep Going Strong: The Importance of Staying Active as an Older Adult

    RTC thanks Dr. Jacqueline Kerr of the University of California, San Diego's Stein Institute for Research on Aging for this great post—in honor of American Heart Month—on why older adults should stay physically active!

    The biggest principle for fitness is “Use it or lose it,” but research has shown that older adults tend to focus on positivity more than younger adults…so perhaps for this age group, it’s best to say, “Use it and keep going strong!”

    Why do older adults need to stay physically active?

    With age comes a decrease in cardiac output and lung performance, a reduction in insulin sensitivity and issues with hormone-/immune-system regulation. The good news is that physical activity can improve all these things; meaning, it is a great anecdote to aging. The greatest benefits come to those who are most frail and inactive; and, the more you do, the better. Physical activity helps (1) reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, as well as peripheral arterial circulation disturbances, and (2) lower incidence of hypertension. Furthermore, physical activity and the independence associated with being able to move around freely outdoors can improve life expectancy, sleep quality and overall quality of life.  

    How does physical activity help?

    If you are moving, you are burning calories; this means mean you will have less body fat (which benefits many of the functions in your body). Physical activity also works your cardiovascular system; the heart is a muscle that, like all other muscles, works better when it is exercised. Pumping more blood around your body means more blood to vital organs and the brain, which also helps the body function better. Physical activity can help take you away from daily worries and also provide a means to be social with others.

    The negative effects of sitting:

    Only an estimated three percent of adults in the older age groups meet the federally recommended daily physical activity guidelines; in fact, nearly 70 percent of their daily time is spent sitting.  

    Additionally, the benefits gained from physical activity can be lost due to extensive sitting; if you spend more than four hours a day sitting, you have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, are more likely to be overweight and have a higher risk of diabetes.

    Therefore, it’s important to break up prolonged periods of sitting with movement. Every half hour, try to stand up for at least two minutes.

    What can you do to be more physically active?

    1. Start slowly, and check in with a doctor.  

    2. Get the right shoes, a hat, a water bottle, etc.  

    3. Build gradually to build up strength and stamina: 5 minutes a day, to 10 minutes a day, to 20 minutes, to 30 minutes, etc.

    4. If you build physical activity into your day, it will eventually be easier to incorporate and become routine. Try to make it part of your daily life (e.g., errands). 

    5. Tell family members and friends to make you more accountable. Walk on family visits instead of sitting together.  

    6. Take the long way around when possible…no shortcuts!

    For more specific guidelines and recommendations, check out these resources: National Institute on Aging, AARP, Silver Sneakers and the America Heart Association's Walking Clubs.

    Or, if you’re looking for inspiration to get up and get moving, take a page out of their book…http://over90film.com.

    Header photo courtesy of Jon Lowenstein

    Headshot courtesy of UC San Diego


    Dr. Kerr, Ph.D., MSc, is an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and a researcher for the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at the Qualcomm Institute. Kerr’s research focuses on measurement, intervention and environmental correlates of physical activity and sedentary behavior in older adults.

  • Three Great Winter Hikes on Washington's Former Railroads

    Hey, rail-trail fans!  As our month-long focus on all-things walking-biking-trail-related in Washington comes to a close, RTC pleased to bring you this great post by guest blogger Loren Drummond of the Washington Trails Association.  Learn about three great rail-trails where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery, history, diverse vegetation and (snowy) weather of the Evergreen State.  Happy hiking!

    The sun may be climbing higher in the sky, but Washington's high country will be buried under ice and snow for months to come. To get outside and watch for the first signs of spring, try one of the many gorgeous rail-trails running across the state; there are many perfect, low-elevation options for hikers.

    Trails Ideal for Conditioning, Family Rambles and Hiking Through History

    Rail-trails have some features that make them special. They tend to be wide and long and have a gentle grade. Many of them also retain some historical markers of their origins, which make them a great choice for history buffs. 

    Those qualities also make them perfect for hikers or trail runners who want to build the distance portion of their spring conditioning without committing to thousands of feet in elevation gain. They're just as good for casual family outings, where off-road strollers and elders' creaky knees can ramble side by side. And while these trails also make popular biking trails, there is usually plenty of room for everyone. 

    Below are three railroads-turned-trails worth checking out, along with tips for exploring rail-trails in Washington year-round. 

    Klickitat Rail Trail: Spot the First Spring Flowers

    The Klickitat Trail is a 31-mile rails-to-trails conversion in southern Washington running from Lyle to Warwick (on the Lyle-Centerville Highway) with several access points along the way. It takes you through some of Washington's drier, sunnier scenery, and portions of it parallel the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River, a favorite among kayakers. Try the section along Swale Canyon in spring, and keep your eyes peeled for stunning Ponderosa Pines and the first wildflowers of the season in early March. 

    Hike the Swale Canyon section of the Klickitat Rail Trail.

    Cedar River Trail: A Bus-Accessible Trail in Seattle’s Backyard

    No amount of drizzle can spoil a winter or spring stroll along this bus-accessible trail just outside of Seattle, which has multiple access points along its 12.3-mile length. This former railroad is great for kids, dogs on a leash or a long run. Easily accessible, it's a great trail to return to throughout the year to watch the seasons change. The start of the salmon run makes the trail extra special in October. 

    Hike the Cedar River Trail.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail: Crossing the Cascades

    The 110-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail crosses a variety of Washington's diverse ecosystems as it winds from its western trail head outside of North Bend, up through lush, green forests to Snoqualmie Pass, and then back down into the dry, open shrub steppe east of Ellensburg. In summer, hikers can trek and camp along the entire length of the trail (with a few detours around unsafe tunnels), but in winter, the best approach is tackling a few of the lower elevations on either end or snowshoeing the higher sections. 

    Start at Cedar Falls outside North Bend, and head east.

    Snowshoe a section at Keechelus Lake.

    Seek out sunshine with an Ellensburg section.

    Learn more about Iron Horse State Park.

    More resources

    Check out and hike more Washington rail-trails at wta.org

    Top photo: Klickitat Trail by Kim Brown

    Right photo: John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Iron Horse State Park by Loren Drummond


    Loren Drummond is the digital content manager for Washington Trails Association (WTA), a nonprofit organization protecting and maintaining Washington's hiking trails and wild lands. At wta.org, she works to inspire and connect an incredible online community of volunteers, hikers and would-be hikers with Washington's wild places.

  • Washington’s Iron Horse: Under and Over the Cascades

    This tribute-to-Washington blog takes us to the Cascade Mountains and the Iron Horse State Park rail-trail.  A special thank you to Amy Brockhaus, coalition director for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, for sharing how they're fighting to preserve this Evergreen treasure.

    The John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park winds its way through the Mountains to Sound Greenway as it travels more than 100 miles, from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend, and heads east across Washington State. 

    This rail-trail follows the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific rail line. Known as the Milwaukee Road, and completed in 1909, the railway through the Cascade Range was once billed as the longest electrified railroad in the country. 

    Today, visitors can walk, bicycle, cross-country ski or ride a horse in this linear state park, enjoying the broad farmlands and ranches, rugged mountain views, unique tunnel passages and aerial views from historic railway trestles.

    Historic Route Through the Cascades

    During the construction of the railroad, builders had to contend with steep slopes, rock outcroppings and severe winter weather when designing a route over Snoqualmie Pass—the largest of the east-west mountain routes across the state—leaving a legacy of tunnels, trestles and snow sheds. While these historic structures create a wonderfully unique trail experience, their maintenance presents a challenge.

    Tunnels in Disrepair, Leaving Critical Missing Link

    In 2009, Washington State Parks conducted a safety review of falling-debris hazards in five tunnels along the Iron Horse. As a result, all five tunnels between Snoqualmie Pass and the city of Ellensburg were closed to the public. In 2011, after significant repair work, the popular 2.3-mile Snoqualmie Tunnel—one of the longest rail-trail tunnels in the nation—reopened at Snoqualmie Pass to public celebration. This created a resurgence of bicyclists in the area, who again can use the trail for recreation and travel through the Cascades. And then in 2013, State Parks repaired tunnels #48 and #49 near Easton.

    However, tunnels #46 and #47 just west of Thorp still require significant repair, with the threat of long-term closure of a 15-mile stretch of trail between Thorp and South Cle Elum. This section of trail runs through the spectacular Yakima River Canyon and sweeping desert grasslands of Central Washington. 

    A gap in the trail is a significant loss for people seeking recreation in Upper Kittitas County, and has a negative impact on the nearby communities and businesses that rely on tourism. State Parks has planned additional campsites east of Cle Elum to accommodate heavy recreation use, signifying the importance of improving the trail and solidifying its role as a major recreation asset in the area.

    To preserve the cross-state trail in Iron Horse State Park, Mountains to Sound Greenway is advocating for a Washington State investment to repair and reopen the two historic tunnels—thereby preserving a magnificent recreation legacy for the future. 

    Learn more about the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

    Photos courtesy of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust


    Amy Brockhaus is the coalition director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the nonprofit organization that brings together a broad coalition of interest groups to preserve and enhance the landscape connecting Seattle and central Washington State. The Greenway conserves a shared heritage of natural lands, watersheds and thriving communities, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature.  

  • Cycling the Miles Away from My Heart: A Man’s Journey to Better Health

    “My senses overdose on a bike ride on a trail draped in yellows, golds and reds with the sounds and aroma of leaves crunching under my tires.” – Tom Bilcze

    For some, trails truly are lifesavers. Just ask Akron resident Tom Bilcze, whose health, habits and life outlook have changed three-fold since discovering Ohio's trail system. Special shout out to Bilcze for sharing his story with us in honor of American Heart Month.

    Eight years ago, I found myself in a dire situation—heading home from 17 days of hospitalization after suffering a heart attack and undergoing triple coronary bypass surgery. My cardiologist and primary care physician sounded alarms that I would find myself back in the emergency room if I continued my sedentary habits and did not address my almost 300-pound weight. 

    In the following years, my health modestly improved. I underwent weight-loss surgery, and exercise became an important part of my daily routine. I also found myself on a bike trail for the first time in my life. That ride was life changing. 

    I returned numerous times in the following weeks and months. Fellow cyclists told me about other local rail-trails and about TrailLink.com. My free time was eventually consumed cycling these trails. By late 2009, I was exploring rail-trails throughout Ohio with fellow weight-loss surgery patients. We formed a casual trail-cycling bike club, Spin-off Cyclists, to encourage others to live a fun, healthy, active life. Today, the club numbers nearly 500 members.

    Cycling has been good to my heart and body. My cardiologist tells me that I have reduced the chance of a cardiac episode reoccurrence from 60 percent to 2 percent. My primary care physician praises me during office visits for my much-improved health. I am a much happier person; I have surrounded myself with active, happy people who love the outdoors.

    My bike and rail-trails are key players in my journey to a healthier life. I marvel at the educational, social and health benefits created by multi-use trails, and I advocate for cycling and the development of recreational trails in my community. I have become an avid hiker, runner and snowshoer, and I hope to finish my first half marathon this fall!

    American Heart Month is a special time for me. I celebrate being alive and being able to share my story. Today’s story is much more uplifting than the story I would have told in the autumn of 2005. My happiness is the result of maintaining a healthy diet, living an active life, monitoring my health and caring for my overall wellness. You can read more about my personal journey and my thoughts on how to live a healthier life on my blog, Beariatric.com

    Be kind to your heart. Explore your local rail trails. Take a hike. Ride a bike. And better yet, share your time in the outdoors with your friends and family!

    Photos courtesy of Tom Bilcze


    Tom Bilcze is the lead database designer for Westfield Group, a financial services company, and the organizer of the Spin-off Cyclists Bicycle Club in Akron, Ohio. He advocates for cycling as a means to achieve better health and wellness.

  • Question of the Month :: Which trails are the Top 10 Trails in Washington State?

    The Evergreen 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 Washington State.

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

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


  • In Washington: How Nostalgia—and Lots of Passion—Made a Town More Bikeable

    In this post, as RTC continues our month-long focus on Washington State, we are pleased to explore a local community's transformation into a more walkable and bikeable place, and the nostalgic passion of one local champion who put the gears in motion.

    Ask Maureen Hoffmann what ultimately inspired her to start WABI Burien (Walk/Bike Burien)—a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting walking and biking in the Puget Sound community—and she’ll reply with an answer that is somewhat unexpected, but perfect in its simplicity: Italy.

    “I had just moved back from living in Italy and had loved getting around by foot, bike and train while there,” says Hoffmann. “I didn’t have a car.”

    Unfortunately, upon Hoffmann’s return to the States, she noticed how less walk-bike-friendly her own beloved hometown of Burien was. It inspired her to take action. 

    In 2011, she launched monthly Walk-n-Talks to encourage active living, initiate conversation and nurture an idea of the Town Square as the “living room” of Burien. “I just printed some cards and dropped them off at local restaurants, and sent a notice to a local blog. And people just showed up,” states Hoffmann.

    And, it was also around this time that Hoffmann and others began to take note of a particular challenge for bicyclists: the lack of available places for individuals to lock up their bikes, both in public rights-of-way and commercial centers.

    “We started gathering together and having conversations,” says Hoffmann. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make it happen? How do we get more bike racks in town?’”

    And thus, what began as a simple idea became a formal call to action.

    They organized. They picked board members and registered as a 501(c)(3) with Washington State and the federal government. They reached out to others. And then—by way of Michael Lafreniere, director of Burien Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services—they got wind of grant monies available from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board. Due in a week.

    “We found out on a Friday, and the grant proposal was due the following Thursday,” Hoffmann adds, with a good-natured laugh. She and WABI Burien Vice President Brooks Stanfield “hunkered down,” and low-and-behold, they hit pay dirt in September 2012 in the form of a $10,000 grant to install bike racks—41 in total—around town. The money was awarded to the City of Burien, with the project to be managed by WABI Burien in partnership with the parks and recreation department.

    The objectives of the project: to promote more bike use and sustainable transportation and to encourage support of local businesses.

    Hoffmann, who is a graphic designer by profession, created a custom-design for the bike racks (photographed above) meant to visually enhance local space while offering utility for cyclists. Additionally, WABI Burien launched a bike-rack sponsorship program (with visibility in the form of a five-year custom logo plaque) that, in three days, saw all 41 bike racks claimed, raising $7,800 for additional bike and pedestrian projects and activities.

    By June 2013, the project partners had successfully installed 23 bike racks in strategically chosen public areas. And while Hoffmann notes some challenges in communicating with owners of local shopping centers in order to install the last 18 bike racks—“Some of the owners are out-of-state, and installing a bike rack in Burien is the last thing on their minds!” states Hoffmann—assistance from Burien’s Economic Development Director, Dan Trimble, in connecting with the owners is proving fruitful.  

    “They’re calling him back!” she affirms, triumphantly.

    Of course, the local community response to the bike racks has been extremely positive. Hoffmann cites an example—again, with perfect simplicity.

    “I was taking a picture of one of our bike racks in use at a coffee shop, and I went inside and noticed there were three people watching me with interest—one of them the cyclist. I stopped to talk to him, and he [later] sent me the most wonderful e-mail. He and his wife recently moved to a block of condos in Burien's Town Square. He told me they now feel comfortable to ride their bikes around town to do shopping because they have a safe place to lock their bikes up. It’s exactly what our objectives were!”

    Top photo: WABI Burien Board Members - (left to right) Brooks Stanfield, Janet Shull, Tim Kniffin, Sue Blazak, Jimmy Schulz and Maureen Hoffmann

    Photos courtesy of WABI Burien and Patti Means Project Solutions


    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.

  • D.C. Fitness Expert Gets Kids Fit Through Fun

    Chickaro Martin is pretty great. The certified physical trainer and founder of Project Fitness has taken a special interest in helping younger Americans improve their fitness through unique initiatives like Martin’s Instant Recess. 

    Chickaro and RTC recently teamed up to work with students at D.C. Prep School on ways they can incorporate the Metropolitan Branch Trail—which runs right by their playground—into their play time and daily routines.

    As part of RTC’s month-long focus on American Heart Month this February, we caught up with Martin to talk more about kids, exercise and the importance of trails. 

    Describe your work involving kids and physical activity.

    Working with young people through fitness is inspiring and humbling at the same time. Most kids pick up concepts, love to change things up and have fun. And since fitness is intended to be fun, kids are naturals when it comes to that…so I find that we both learn from the physical activity. It’s awesome to provide some structure to their natural fun, adding in workouts and progressive activities that improve their motor skills and coordination. 

    What response do you see from kids when they’re doing exercises and games with you?

    I see their enjoyment in accomplishing small tasks that lead to more advance movements and exercises they didn’t think they could do. With each step, I see their confidence grow, and they show it by asking more questions and being less reluctant to speak. 

    What sort of groups are looking for someone like you to help young people be active?

    Schools and after-school programs are often looking for new and innovative ways to engage and inspire young people to become more active—in ways that are sustainable and practical.

    Do you think that most kids get enough physical activity in their day?

    Some organizations are working hard toward making sure kids are participating in physical activity. While steps have been made, long-term, sustainable programs or outcomes have not been established. 

    What are some simple and easy everyday tips you could offer for parents and kids to help them be more active, fitter and healthier?

    I would focus on the three core activities for total fitness—Cardio, Flexibility and Strength—each day. I would then identify two to three exercises that best embody each activity, and make them an everyday habit. I would practice at least 1 a day for 5 to 10 minutes, or combine them into a circuit as required.   

    What role do trails have in encouraging physical activity in young students?

    Trails are both an outlet and a cost effective piece of infrastructure for youth to play and move about. Trails provide free space to play or engage in creative fun time. Additionally, they represent an alternative method to engage in otherwise traditional physical activity.   

    Learn more about Chickaro’s work and Project Fitness at www.p-fit.com.

    Photos courtesy of Chickaro Martin


    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.

  • Cross-Sector Coalition Calls for Investment in America’s Active Transportation Networks

    Burgeoning demand for trails and other safe places to walk and roll—driven by a generational shift in preferences and broad desire to make communities more vital and healthy—is providing fuel for innovative partnerships and a new look at transportation policy priorities. 

    On Feb. 11, 2014, during a morning presentation on Capitol Hill, the Partnership for Active Transportation launched Safe Routes to Everywhere, a federal policy platform calling for cost-effective investments in active transportation networks to meet the changing mobility patterns and needs of today’s America. The Partnership is a dynamic cross-sector coalition convened by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that unites leading groups addressing transportation, public health and community development.

    Received before a packed room by Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, and the committee’s ranking member, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the platform seeks to fill gaps in trail and active transportation systems so all people can safely and conveniently connect to transit, jobs, schools, services, shops and other key destinations.

    Three policy innovations are emphasized in the platform: 1) increased federal investment dedicated to safe active transportation networks; 2) innovative financing to leverage the private value of infrastructure to stretch limited public dollars and accelerate projects, and 3) the integration of health concerns into transportation decisions, and active transportation opportunities into health policies.

    A very simple yet key message of the Feb. 11 event was: Americans both want and need to walk and bike more. “People are going everywhere…in far more diverse ways than ever before,” said Norton. “Transportation means to get there any way you can, and biking and walking are simply the way Americans are doing it.” 

    In his comments, Petri touched on the bang for buck that comes with investing in active transportation assets as well as their importance to American wellness. 

    Christopher Coes of LOCUS is a partner who represents real estate developers who see profit in smart growth, such as making neighborhoods more walkable. Coes says that a few key policy changes would leverage the private value of walking and biking projects to significantly improve America’s outdated transportation system. It’s a message that is gaining traction. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx all made public statements in recent weeks calling for the federal government to foster creative financing and help communities leverage public investments with private money.

    Active transportation is extremely cost effective in that it is the cheapest form of infrastructure to provide and the most affordable to use. It spurs economic vitality—providing more jobs per dollar than the building of highways—and offers unrivaled health, safety and environmental benefits. Furthermore, active transportation helps us to get the most from our investments in transit by providing safe and practical access to buses and trains.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin put it best during his closing comments at the platform launch, stating, “Some say we can’t afford to make these small investments in walking and biking. We submit that we can’t afford to not make these investments.”

    His words resonated with attendees. But, as Norton (last photo) pointed out, now comes the part where those who want safe active transportation choices must get their message heard. “Nothing happens unless people gather and make Congress understand what’s important to them,” said Norton.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the Partnership for Active Transportation intend to do just that.

    Top photo courtesy Dr. Ted Eytan

    Photo of Rep. Norton by Eric Kruszewski © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


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

  • Top 7 Reasons Happy Hearts = Healthy Hearts

    This month, in recognition of American Heart Month, we at RTC are dedicated to focusing on all things heart health. That being said, RTC encourages you to get out on the trails as much as possible! Walking and cycling are such great forms of exercise, and both are incredibly beneficial to overall health.

    In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we'd like to take the opportunity to focus on emotional heart health, which recently has been proven and recognized as having a profound impact on physical heart health in a number of different ways…for example, did you know…?

    1. Spending some quality time with loved ones lowers your blood pressure. 

    In recent research studies, people who spent time with their romantic partners experienced a greater dip in blood pressure than those who hung out with a stranger. The blood pressure drop was correlated with the sweet silence (less talking and more “perceived emotional support”), the kind you get from someone who knows you really well: a friend, a family member, or as already stated, a romantic partner.

    2. Being around your romantic partner strengthens your heart muscle.  

    When you lock eyes with the person who makes your heart race, whether it’s a new crush or the love of your life, your brain releases hormones such as dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, which make your heart beat faster and stronger.  

    3. Hugging your loved ones can lower your blood pressure.

    When you hug someone you love (spouse, friends, family), your body releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, which has the power to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Kissing has a number of good health benefits, too!

    4. Laughter really is the best medicine. 

    While stress has been shown to narrow blood vessels, restricting blood flow and leading to atherosclerosis, laughter has the opposite effect. Furthermore, the magnitude of change in blood-vessel lining after laughing was similar to the benefit seen with aerobic exercise or statin use.

    5. Expressing your feelings of love in writing can be good for your arteries.

    Writing about affection for loved ones (friends, relatives or romantic partners) has been shown to decrease total cholesterol levels.

    6. Having a positive outlook on life can protect against cardiovascular disease. 

    Whether it’s feelings of joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm or just plain contentment—all of which may stem from having people you love in your life—individuals with a higher positive outlook had lower risk for cardiovascular disease, were less likely to smoke, had lower levels of total cholesterol and had lower levels of hostility and anxiousness.

    7. Holding hands with someone you love has been shown to have a calming effect on the body, reducing stress and anxiety.

    The effect is stronger for loved ones, but research has shown that even a stranger’s touch can provided comfort. High stress and anxiety are linked to high blood pressure, increased heart rate and other factors that can contribute to heart disease, such as weight gain. 

    So…on this Valentine’s Day, get together with your loved ones (e.g., romantic partners, family, friends and pets), maybe for a nice walk or bike ride out on your local trail, and celebrate having a happy and healthy heart!


    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.

  • Where to Rent or Borrow Outdoor Gear in Washington

    The diverse terrain of Washington (mountains, deserts, forest, volcanoes and lots of coastline) makes for some great hiking. And, according to Washington Trails Association (WTA), you don't need to break the bank to do it. 

    Check out this great post on where to rent and borrow gear in the Evergreen State—compliments of WTA's Loren Drummond. In addition to having backpacked and repaired sections of the Colorado, Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, she has a fondness for hiking and camping; in fact, she's made it a personal goal this year to spend 10 percent of it sleeping under the stars.

    Something tells us she knows what she's talking about.

    Drummond writes:

    "One of the best things about hiking is that it doesn't take a lot of money or specialized gear to do it. Some sturdy shoes, a backpack with a few basic essentials and warm or waterproof clothes are often all that's needed for a day in the woods. Many of the basics can be found at thrift stores or purchased second-hand.

    "Other equipment, like backpacking packs, stoves, snowshoes, tents or sleeping bags may require more of an investment. If you're not in a position to buy new gear or not sure you want to commit to a new aspect of the outdoors just yet, you have the option to rent some gear. Renting is a great way to explore a new sport, get a feel for different brands or kinds of gear, or equip fast-growing kids.

    "Below are a few resources for renting or borrowing gear in Washington state..."

    Click here to read the full story by Drummond on WTA's Signpost blog.


    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.

  • Triumph on the Trails (Broken Hearts Repaired)

    As we lead up to Valentine’s Day in our American Heart Month series, RTC is pleased to share this story by guest contributor Marcia Laus of how—after losing a son to epilepsy and battling severe health problems—she (55) and her husband Rick (58) are rebuilding their lives and repairing their hearts on America’s trails. 

    The 1990s and early 2000s were very difficult for our family. Our beautiful son Kevin developed severe epilepsy—causing a significant cognitive disability. My husband Rick quit his full-time job to take care of Kev. I would get home from my job in the evening, and Rick, a musician, would head out the door to teach or perform percussion. 

    Kev was just a baby when Rick had undergone triple bypass surgery—broken heart number 1—and the next several years after Kev was diagnosed, we’d find ourselves again making frequent trips to the hospital for Kev. He improved for a time when he was 10; however, in October 2005, Kev lost his battle with epilepsy, and we lost our joy. Broken heart number 2.  For a long time, our evenings after work consisted of me sitting in front of the television and Rick staring at the computer for hours. Then, in 2008, we had another scare when Rick had a mild heart attack and had to have stents placed in his veins via a heart catheterization. 

    In 2012, we had an epiphany that we better get our act together and get healthier. We changed our eating habits and upped our exercise significantly. We walked on the Panhandle Trail, which happens to run through our neighborhood. 

    After many walks on the same portion of the trail, we decided to walk the whole length of the trail in two- or three-mile segments. Each day, we would drive a little further along the trail and start out on a new segment that we hadn’t walked before. As the weather got better, we also started biking. We would go about two miles out and two miles back at that point; we were so proud of ourselves! We started to increase that distance gradually, and in April, we made a deal that we would ride the whole 28 miles by Labor Day. 

    And we did even better than that.

    It’s  not often that you get a 90-degree Memorial Day near Pittsburgh, but that year we did, and we spent it on the trail. It took us 3.5 hours with several breaks—but we did it!!!  Oh—and we walked the whole trail that year, as well.  

    Rick has lost 50 pounds, and I’ve lost 20. Rick surprised me with a new bike for my birthday. (He got one too, even though it wasn’t his birthday…!) Besides our almost daily rides on the local trails now, we plan vacations around where we can find new ones. 

    Our rides have taken us to so many places: from Pittsburgh to the Paw Paw Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and C & O Canal trails in Pennsylvania and Maryland; the entire lengths of the Montour Trail in Allegheny County (sleeping overnight in the trailside shelter) and the Butler Freeport Trail in Armstrong and Butler counties in Pennsylvania; and the D & L Trail – Delaware Canal Towpath in Eastern Pennsylvania.

    We’ve ridden in Erie and Forest counties in Pennsylvania. We participated in the Cook Forest River Ride for Multiple Sclerosis. And, one of our favorites:  the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath.

    This year, we are planning to do the entire length (round trip) of the Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia!

    Our physical hearts and our emotional hearts are repairing with the time we spend together on the trails. I think you’ll find us on some rail-trail every summer for many years to come. 


    Rick and Marcia Laus live in Rennerdale, Pa., with their son Dave, 25, daughter, Kara, 22, and dog Kaia. Marcia is the coordinator of a school for children with autism, and Rick is a musician. They frequent the Panhandle Trail in Allegheny County, which starts in Rennerdale only blocks from their home.  

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in White County, Indiana


    On or about Feb. 4, 2014, CSX Transportation filed for the abandonment of 9.67 miles of track between Monon and Monticello in White County, Ind. 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. 712x). 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 March 6, 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 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 Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • Remain Active in the Golden Years

    Active aging is essential to healthy aging, according to the CDC. But, as this blog tells us, ensuring seniors have access to opportunities for physical activity is, and must be, a community-wide effort.

    Special thanks to guest blogger Louise McGrody of Washington Bikes for this great re-post (originally published on Jan. 27), which we're pleased to bring you in honor of both American Heart Month and our ode to Washington State this February.  Enjoy!

    On Christmas Day, my partner Steve and I assembled an adult tricycle for his 88-year-old father.

    “I’ve come full circle,” mused Steve. “Forty-five years ago, my dad would have been putting a bike together for me. Now I’m assembling one for him.”

    Steve’s dad has always been an active man, and he shared his love of outdoor pursuits with his children. He taught his kids to hike, bike and ski. He himself skied until he was 70, hiked into his early 80s and gave up his bike only a couple of years ago when he felt balancing became an issue.

    Concerned that their dad’s lifestyle was becoming too sedentary, Steve and his siblings bought him a trike to ride around his neighborhood in Yuma, Ariz., for recreation and short errands. And riding it he is! The flat, low-traffic neighborhood streets offer him a comfortable place to ride his trike.

    The National Institutes of Health tells us that seniors benefit from remaining physically active. Moderate levels of activity can improve the health of people who are frail and can prevent or delay diseases associated with aging. Exercise and physical activity can help older Americans increase their stamina and muscle strength, improve their balance and flexibility, and help maintain their independence.

    According to U.S. Census data, the number of Americans 65 and older increased by 15 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 40,267,984. In Washington State, the 2010 census shows 827,677 senior residents, or 12.3 percent of our total population. We can expect that number to grow in coming years as more baby boomers reach the golden years. As more of us live longer, an increasing number of us can expect to live beyond our ability to drive safely. Biking and walking can help older Americans remain active, mobile and independent in their communities.

    Safety on our streets is a major concern for older Americans, according to a 2009 AARP report titled “Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America”:

    In a poll conducted for this study, 40 percent of adults aged 50 and older reported inadequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods. More sobering, 50 percent reported they cannot cross main roads close to their home safely. Half of those who reported such problems said they would walk, bike or take the bus more if these problems were fixed. These concerns are borne out by statistics showing older adults are more likely to be victims in both motor-vehicle and pedestrian fatalities.

    If we make our streets safer for the most vulnerable users, children and their grandparents, then we make our streets and neighborhoods safer for everyone. Many communities, including places in Washington, have established Safe Routes to School programs, and Washington Bikes is a leader in this effort. We also worked hard to pass the Neighborhood Safe Streets bill so communities could have another tool available to them to make local streets friendlier to people.

    Some U.S. communities, like New York City, Chicago and Santa Barbara, have launched Safe Routes for Seniors programs. These initiatives work to improve pedestrian safety for older Americans and encourage them to maintain active lifestyles.

    In 2012, with guidance from the World Health Organization, AARP introduced its Network of Age-Friendly Communities. This program encourages states, local cities and towns to prepare for the needs of an aging population by focusing attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older Americans. AARP provides a toolkit that gives participating communities a framework for creating and implementing an action plan that addresses local needs and circumstances. Twenty-one communities have signed on so far, including the city of Portland. There is no Washington community on the list yet.

    The next time you are out and about on your neighborhood streets, imagine how it might feel to an elderly person to make his/her way on foot or by bike. Do crosswalk signals allow enough time for a slow-moving person to safely make it through the intersection? Are sidewalks and paths wide enough (and smooth enough) for someone using a walker or wheelchair? Are curb ramps present at intersections? Are street signs and other directional signs easy to spot and read? If the answers are no, then it’s time to ask your city officials to complete your streets for older citizens.

    This article was originally published on Jan. 27, 2014, on the Washington Bikes Blog.


    Louise McGrody is the outreach and communications manager for Washington Bikes. Her community engagement efforts have mobilized citizens to take action in support of bicycling and sparked the formation of local groups like Friends of Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle and Fish Lake Trail Action Group in Spokane. Passionate about the outdoors, McGrody is happiest when exploring the world by bike, skis or hiking boots.


  • Tomorrow Is National Wear Red Day

    According to the American Heart Association, "Heart disease has been called the Silent Killer because it often has no noticeable symptoms. It's more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. And it’s not just 'an old man’s disease.'" In fact, heart disease is the no. 1 killer of women.  

    As American Heart Month continues this February, RTC wanted to let you know about National Wear Red Day®, which takes place tomorrow, Feb. 7, 2014. On this special day (always the first Friday each February), both the American Heart Association and President Barack Obama are encouraging everyone to wear red to raise awareness of the fight against female heart disease. 

    "Michelle and I encourage Americans to wear red in solidarity with those struggling with heart disease and in acknowledgement of the hardworking health care professionals who provide life-saving treatment, research, and advice. As we honor their contributions, let us take ownership of our heart health and commit to positive lifestyles, this month and throughout the year," said the President. Read the full proclamation here.

    In solidarity, RTC urges you to get on a trail tomorrow and get your red on to show your support.  

    And, don't stop there.  Here is a list of 10 ways you can "Go Red" this February and year-round!

    Happy Heart Month!


    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.

  • Vintage Washington: Historical Map Gives Glimpse of Modern-Day Trails

    Here’s one for all you rail-trail nuts.

    RTC was extremely intrigued by this Jan. 30 article by Gene Bisbee, avid cyclist and author of the prolific bike-touring-advocacy-racing-recreation-focused Biking Bis blog. If you’re curious, Bisbee’s wife nicknamed him “Biking Bis” years ago because, as Bisbee maintains, he always seems “to be itching for a bike ride.” 

    In his recent posting, “Vintage Washington map shows today’s rails-to-trails network,” Bisbee talks about the circa 1928 resource (first created by the Washington Department of Public Works and recently republished online by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust), which foreshadows the state’s extensive rail-trail network.

    Bisbee writes:

    "Consider that the first white settlers arrived in the Seattle area only 76 years before this map was created. Washington state was just admitted to the Union in 1889. The main way to ship goods in those days was by railroad or boat. Heck, in 1928 the first motorcar route over the Cascades had only been open for about a dozen years.

    "The railroads become clear, as does the fact that many survive today as rail-to-trail conversions. Essentially, the person who made this map in 1928 also made a blueprint for a bike-trail network launched 50 years later."

    Click here to read the full story and view the map in its entirety.


    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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