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RTC TrailBlog

  • Top 10 resolutions for trail lovers in 2014


    Set a new milestone and go for it

    Set a new milestone and go for it.
    Whether it’s 2,000 miles of cycling, 500 miles of running, 100 miles of walking, or two trail visits a week, setting a milestone will motivate you to get out on the trail. If training for a race, a monthly plan can keep you on track. If you’re a nature lover, plan to spot a set number of birds or other wildlife per week. You can also examine tree bark and learn to identify trees!


    Find an out-of-state trail and explore.

    Find an out-of-state trail and explore.

    While visiting the trails in your community and region is convenient and fun, plan to explore in 2014! Consider a day trip to a nearby state. Bring along your camera and create a lifelong memory. Find trails using traillink.com, and upload your favorite trail photo when you return.


    Share your favorite trail with friends or family.

    Share your favorite trail with friends or family.

    Sharing your trail experience with friends or family is a great way to enjoy the outdoors together and a wonderful way to create memorable experiences. Bring or rent bicycles, and take the kids or your friends to your favorite trail. What’s better than sharing your love of trails with the people you love?!


    Wake up early and hit the trail

    Wake up early and hit the trail

    You’ve thought about it before, but you can’t seem to motivate yourself to hit the trail as the sun begins to rise. Now is the time! Don’t hit the snooze bar; instead, be the first person on the trail in the morning. It’s an amazing way to start to your day and will prepare you for the tasks ahead.


    Spice up your life with a new trail activity

    Spice up your life with a new trail activity

    Even if everyone in your network knows you as the dedicated runner, or you are well-known as the local cycling junkie, nature-loving hiker, etc., don’t let labels turn you into a single-activity trail user! Commit to new experiences and try a new activity. You may find the experience refreshing, and you will make new friends!


    Try commuting to work

    Try commuting to work

    Ditch the drive, and bike, walk or run to work! Find a local trail that helps you achieve this goal, and start from home or another location that suits you. You’ll save on gas, increase your fitness leveland feel better during your work day!




    Say goodbye to the holiday waistline

    Say goodbye to the holiday waistline

    Utilizing your local trail to get in better shape is always a good idea! Consult with your doctor on a plan that works for you, and make the trail your go-to, get-fit destination in 2014!




    Give back to your community

    Give back to your community

    Looking for a great way to do community service? Want to get more connected? Join a Friends Group in your area! The pride you feel at maintaining a local trail or donating time to a service organization will last a lifetime. You can also search for races or fundraisers on local trails that help raise money for cause-related organizations.


    Join or start a group

    Join or start a group

    Join a local trail-activity group and start cycling, running or walking with others from your area! Trail activities are a great way to meet others in your community who share common interests. If no group exists, start one! You can also consider starting a group for coworkers or members of your local church or other organization to share trail experiences together.


    Support  Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Support Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Your support will help Rails-to-Trails Conservancy continue to build, maintain, defend and connect trail corridors across the nation. That means even more trails for you to enjoy in your area. RTC is a nonprofit, charitable organization. Membership contributions and donations to RTC are tax deductible. Become a member today!


  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Scott County, Iowa


    On or about December 4, 2013, Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corporation filed for the abandonment of 0.66 mile of track within Davenport in Scott County, Iowa. 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-337 (sub-no. 7x). 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 January 3, 2014. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its Web site, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing.

    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 Web site. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Eli Griffen at eli@railstotrails.org.



  • A Trail Champion Passes, But His Vision Lives on in Saginaw County

    Everywhere you look, there are people in Michigan demanding that their communities have trails systems and great places to walk, bike, ride and ski. And, increasingly, politicians, officials and planners are listening.

    One such place is Saginaw County in mid-Michigan, where the committed advocacy of one man in the 1980s has inspired a growing trail system with big ambitions.

    RTC caught up for a quick chat with the Director of Saginaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, John Schmude, for a couple of minutes this week to find out what's all the buzz about in his neck of the woods.

    RTC: You guys are responsible for 550 acres of parkland, including 18 miles of trails throughout the county. Is there one that particularly stands out for locals and visitors?

    John: While we haven't gathered the data yet, it has to be the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail. When we were designing the trail, we went into it with the idea that we would keep the tree canopy intact. This has certainly made maintenance more of a challenge, but that tree canopy has been become one of the most loved aspects of the trail. It keeps the trail cooler in the summer, and is quite pretty in the fall and winter. We also groom the trail in the winter for cross-country skiing, so the trail is used year-round.

    We were saddened to hear of the recent passing of local trail advocate Jim Garrett (below). What was his role in bringing the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail to fruition?

    Jim was a gentleman and truly a professional. Building the trail was a passion for him.

    Jim used to ride horses on the vacant railroad right-of-way around Saginaw County in the mid-1980s, and that's when he started pitching the idea of developing the corridor into a non-motorized trail to various agencies. Nobody bit for many years, until Saginaw County agreed to adopt it as a project in the early 1990s. Jim had a great passion for horse-riding, and so it is terrific to see now that approximately nine of the more than 10 miles of the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail have a parallel equestrian trail.

    What's next? We hear there are plans in the works for proving more options for biking and walking in the region?

    This past summer, a 1.4-mile trail connection was made that connects Saginaw Township's sidewalk and trail system to the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail.

    And we are looking at even broader plans, too. The Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail Alliance is working on linking the existing trails in Saginaw, Bay, and Midland counties. The railroad right-of-way for the first phase of the project, from Saginaw to Bay counties, has already been acquired by the Michigan Department of Transportation, so things are moving forward there. Connecting the communities of Saginaw County to hundreds of miles of connected trails through this beautiful part of Michigan would be a tremendous boost to our economy and the quality of life for locals.

    Images courtesy Saginaw County


  • New Fatality Data Shows Transportation Spending Doesn't Match Transportation Reality

    The release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) annual report on traffic fatalities made the news last week for one significant reason: for the first time since 2005 the number of people killed on U.S. roads increased - up 3.3 percent from 2011.

    What does this mean for those of us who walk or bike for our daily transportation needs?

    The NHTSA data finds that pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for nearly a  third of the increase in deaths (327 out of 1082) over 2011. This is the third straight year that walking fatalities have increased and the second for biking. And the increase has been particularly marked in the past 12 months - up 6.5 percent for people walking and 6.4 percent for people riding bikes.

    It is troubling to see that not enough is being done to protect those of us who walk and bike for our mobility needs.

    In an effort to better understand what these numbers tell us about broader transportation patterns, we took a closer look at the NHTSA data over the past few days, and here a few key takeaways.

    People are driving less. Americans are increasingly choosing to avoid single occupancy car trips, whether that means carpooling, walking or biking, transit, or just keeping close to home.

    People are walking and biking more. It is terrific to see the explosive growth in walking and biking in communities of all sizes, as we have so much to gain in terms of our health, wealth and well-being.

    Walking and biking are both extremely safe activities, but for conflicts with cars. And here is the rub: designing transportation systems that reflect the fact that cars are not the only way to get around is a key to addressing overall safety.

    On the whole, we have not realigned our transportation spending to match what we now know about how Americans are choosing to travel. Our everyday patterns of movement are changing, but our transportation investments in many places are still driven by outmoded assumptions, that more roads to move cars at faster speeds are the only solution to our mobility needs.

    As we see in this new data, this misalignment has public safety implications. It makes even more pressing the need to align transportation policy and investment with current trends in how people travel. Increased investment in safe places to walk and ride, especially trail networks and complete streets, are the primary antidote to the tragedy of high pedestrian and bike fatality rates.

    Photo courtesy Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center


  • What are Michigan's Top 10 Trails? We Ask Those in the Know...

    The trails of Michigan are marked by their diversity. With more miles of rail-trails than any other state in the nation, Michigan boasts recreational options for everyone, from the snow travelers to the bird watchers, history buffs and long distance riders of horses and bikes. 

    Possibly the only thing these dramatically different trails share in common is the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, whose advocacy and local organization for many years has supported trail building all over the state.

    No one knows Michigan Trails like the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. So, we decided to ask the expert - MTGA Executive Director Nancy Krupiarz.

    What are Michigan's Top 10 Trails?

       Upper Peninsula

    Iron Ore Heritage Trail - 30 miles: Marquette County

    • Unique mining heritage interpretation with artfully designed markers.
    • Enjoyed by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and road and mountain bikers.
    • Surface is a combination of asphalt paving and crushed granite.
    • Next stage, from Winthrop Junction to Republic, is open to the public but not developed.

    "The Recreation Authority, which includes the county, three cities and five townships, was successful at passing a property tax rate increase in order to build and maintain the trail. This ensured the trail had a strong foundation for moving ahead."


       Northern Lower

    Little Traverse Wheelway - 26 miles: Charlevoix and Emmet counties (below)

    • Paved except for a .6-mile wooden boardwalk over wooded wetlands, and a sidewalk portion through the historic Bay View neighborhood, dominated by charming Victorian-era homes.
    • Connects to Petoskey State Park and several city parks.
    • Three replicas of historic arches inscribed with "No Teaming or Driving,"  symbolizing pre-railroad times during horse and buggy days. 
    • Connects to Little Traverse History Museum.
    • Tunnel under U.S. 31 connects to the quaint shopping district of Petoskey with many interesting shops and eateries.

    "One of the great things about this trail is the variety of wonderful views, from high along a bluff overlooking sparkling Lake Michigan, to right down to the water's edge through elongated grassy parks and through woods."

    Leelanau Trail - 15.5 miles: Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties

    • Fully paved, from Traverse City, with terrific shops, breweries and restaurants, to Suttons Bay, a quaint, artsy village.
    • Pure countryside, with rolling hills and scenic panoramic views along with sections of lush woods. 
    • Trail connects at several cross roads to a number of wineries within biking distance.
    • Connects to a network of public hiking trails on Leelanau Conservancy property.

    "The Leelanau Trail is managed by TART (Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation) Trails, Inc., a dynamic nonprofit that advocates, builds, maintains, and programs trails.  Their continual engagement with the community is the most successful in the state, with hundreds of locals helping to monitor and maintain the trail, and run events and programs."


       Mid Michigan

    Lansing River Trail - 13 miles: Ingham County (below)

    • Fully paved, and crosses under several major highways, allowing for smooth passage through the middle of downtown.
    • Follows the river along its entire length.
    • Trail managed by the City of Lansing, but now has a brand new friends group, 40 members strong and ready to help with maintenance and special initiatives.
    • Great in the winter, too.

    "The obvious strength of this trail is its wealth of connections. It links major Lansing attractions such as Hawk Island County Park, Potter Park Regional Zoo, Impressions 5 Science Center, the Lansing City Market, downtown Lansing, and Old Town, an artfully renovated historic shopping district, as well as connecting Michigan State University to downtown Lansing."

    Pere Marquette Trail - 21 miles: Clare, Lake, Midland and Osceola counties

    • Fully paved, and very well-maintained by Midland County Parks and Recreation. 
    • Beautifully appointed trail following the Tittabawassee River with several nature overlooks.
    • Connects to several cultural attractions here, such as the Dow Historical Museum and a number of historic homes.
    • Runs alongside the beautiful tree-lined campus of Northwood University.

    "A definite highlight of this Hall of Fame Rail-Trail is its journey from several small towns into the heart of downtown Midland to the foot of the "Tridge," an impressive 3-spanned bridge at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers."


       West Michigan

    Kal-Haven Trail - 34.5 miles: Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties (below)

    • The first state-owned rail-trail, and the second rail-trail conversion, in Michigan
    • It's the first segment of the Great Lake to Lake Trail, a cross-state route of more than 250 miles from South Haven to Port Huron.
    • Connects to the popular beach town of South Haven, and ends at a recently constructed trailhead not far from Lake Michigan.
    • Has a covered bridge, much of the trail is tree-canopied, and there is a rustic campground alongside the trail which was developed by Eagle Scouts.
    • At Bloomingdale, the halfway point, the trail runs alongside a restored depot which relates much of the history of the area.
    • Limestone surface often suitable for skinny tires due to its excellent packed condition.
    • Connects to the city of Kalamazoo via the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.

    "It's the only trail in Michigan that is managed by a Road Commission, and they do an excellent job."

    Muskegon Lakeshore Trail - 12 miles: Muskegon County

    • Trail runs through a variety of landscapes, across Consumers Energy's utility property down to the beach at Lake Michigan.
    • Paved, except for the very long boardwalk through dense woods and over wetlands.
    • Carefully planned and constructed segment by segment over a period of about 10 years by the City of Muskegon Leisure Services Division.

    "The Muskegon Lakeshore Trail is the main non-motorized artery running through the city, and will be a major connection to the Fred Meijer Berry Junction Trail to the north and the Musketawa to the south."


       East Michigan

    Bay City Loop - 17.5 miles: Bay County (below)

    • Paved asphalt, includes an extensive boardwalk system jutting across the Saginaw River. Also includes a wide sidewalk portion through the city, with well-marked wayfinding symbols.
    • Connects to Bay State Recreation Area which is situated on the Saginaw Bay, and the Fred Andersen Nature Trail with a nature center and interpretive hiking trails.
    • Connects to downtown shops, numerous parks, a marina, farmers market, community theater, community center, and many neighborhoods.

    "What's remarkable about the Bay City Loop is the variety of terrain it crosses - lakeside tall grasses, downtown hustle and bustle, riverside birding area, and clean, suburban neighborhoods with beautiful gardens."


       Southeast Michigan

    Downriver Linked Greenways - 50+ miles: Wayne County

    • The Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative started as a community-driven regional vision to coordinate non-motorized transportation in the Downriver area.
    • The North-South Connector has just been completed, a 50-mile connection between Lake Erie Metropark, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Oakwoods Metro Park, Willow Metro Park, and Lower Huron Metro Park.
    • Joins with the I-275 Metro Trail, offering an extension of another 36 miles through Wayne and Oakland counties.
    • Several arterial connections planned.

    "This trail offers many metro park activities along the way, including swimming, fishing, kayaking, birding, and many picnic sites. The topography changes often from woods to wetlands to fields, to city, and back again."

    Detroit Riverwalk - 3.5 miles: Wayne County (below)

    • Transformed Detroit's former industrial riverfront to one where residents and visitors can now access the water.
    • Owned and managed by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which has raised $121 million toward a $140 million goal of ensuring all components are built and maintained.
    • Home to many festivals and programs, including the annual River Days festival which attracts 150,000 visitors, Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront, and many other regular events.
    • Maintained through a partnership with Clean Detroit.
    • Has spurred many successful private developments, such as the Math and Science High School, Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, Presbyterian Village and Manor and many restaurants and breweries. It has spurred the relocation of major tenants back to the river, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and the U.S. Patent Office.
    • Links to the first urban state park in Michigan, the Milliken State Park and Harbor.

    "This Riverwalk had a significant beneficial economic impact to the city, and now holds a prominent place in Detroit's continuing revitalization. A recent study pegs the economic impact of this trail to be $43.7 million."

    Did your favorite trail miss out on the Top 10? Or want to add your praise of some of the trails mentioned above? Tell us about it. All photos, videos and expressions of joy appreciated! Post to our facebook page, or email me at jake@railstotrails.org.

    All photos courtesy TrailLink.com


  • Michigan's Campaign to Protect Bicyclists, Pedestrians and Wheelchair Users

    Michiganders - urge your Representative to support legislation that makes it safer for people to ride and walk.

    Trails are important community amenities that provide opportunities for recreation, fitness, and transportation. But too often the only way to access them is by carrying your bike on your car. On-road connections, too, play an important part in developing safe and convenient non-motorized transportation options in our communities.

    That's why the League of Michigan Bicyclists supports the concept of Safe Routes to Everywhere for Everybody. This concept recognizes that in order to get to great trails you also need great bike lanes, cycle tracks, transit that carries bikes, and safe sidewalks and crossings. It's about designing our communities to accommodate people, not just automobiles.

    Not only is Michigan leading the way in building world-class trail systems, but with nearly 100 local communities adopting Complete Streets policies that recognize the need to accommodate all modes of travel, Michigan is making real strides in becoming more friendly to people who travel by foot, bicycle, or wheelchair.

    With that being said, more must be done across Michigan to help educate drivers on how to safely safely interact with bicyclists on the roads, and to hold them accountable when they do not.

    Each year approximately 2,000 bicyclists are injured in crashes in Michigan, with about 25 of these crashes resulting in fatalities.

    More often than not, these crashes are caused by driver error, and sadly, oftentimes little is done to hold these drivers accountable. Unless a victim can prove that the driver was grossly negligent, he or she usually has limited legal recourse. In fact, blame even often gets shifted to victims with insulting statements like "this wouldn't have happened if they weren't in the road."

    This sends the message that driver negligence resulting in personal injury or death is "okay," as long as the victim is on a bike or on foot. Ultimately, this creates public fear that discourages more people from bicycling or walking.

    Here in Michigan, the law places little burden on drivers to be alert for other roadway users. That's why the League of Michigan Bicyclists, along with diverse transportation partners, is currently urging lawmakers across the state to enhance criminal penalties for motorists that injure or kill a bicyclist or other "vulnerable roadway users". This would bring Michigan law in line with existing penalties for drivers that hit construction workers in construction zones, farmers driving farm equipment, and school children. A vulnerable roadway user law would also provide unique opportunities to educate young drivers about the need to safely share the road.

    Please help us make Michigan roads safe for everyone by asking your Representative to pass Vulnerable Roadway User legislation.

    On October 16, the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee passed bipartisan legislation that would enhance criminal penalties for motorists that injure or kill vulnerable roadway users, including people riding bicycles. The next step is to make sure this legislation passes the whole Michigan House.

    If you believe that people riding bicycles have the right to feel safer when sharing roadways, you can help us make that happen. Contact your Representative, and ask them to support HB 4792 and HB 5080.

    John Lindenmayer is the Advocacy and Policy Director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists, a nonprofit statewide membership organization working to improve conditions for bicycling in Michigan. More info at www.lmb.org

    Photo courtesy Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center



  • Back Alley Bikes: Spreading the Wealth of Two Wheels

    When we asked the people of Michigan to tell us about some of the under-heralded champions doing great work to promote biking in the state, many of them passionately sang the praises of Detroit's Back Alley Bikes.

    Back Alley Bikes is Detroit's longest running earn-a-bike program for young people, which not only helps kids access wheels for transportation and fun but also teaches them life and career skills and provides a critical space for socializing and support. In short, Back Alley Bikes is inspirational and vital.

    As part of RTC's Michigan month all this November, we asked Back Alley Bikes program director, Jason Fiedler, to tell us a little about their work, and what the simple act of riding a bike means to young people in Detroit.

    Back Alley Bikes takes in wayward bicycles looking for a home. We then use these bikes to teach young people aged 10 to 17 how to understand and repair bikes. We get kids off the streets and working with their hands in our workshop. Once they build a bike, we do our best to get them out and riding as often as possible.

    Bike shops like ours are important for Detroit, and cities around the world, for a number of reasons.

    Not only does bike riding have physical health benefits, but also mental health benefits. In a world where cyber bullying is a real problem, we provide a space where kids interact with each other, and where we all have worth. In 2013, we had more than 30 young people ride with us in the summer for a total of more than 600 miles.

    For most of our young people, a bike is their only chance for an independent means of mobility. Our city has poor public transportation, so for people without a driver's license, a bike is the answer. Without a means of transportation, young people are trapped in their neighborhoods and often isolated inside the house. A vibrant neighborhood has young people outside as part of the community. In 2012 alone, our programs got more than 500 young Detroiters onto bikes.

    Each year we hire a small number of young people that we train to be bike mechanics. Over the past few years we have provided a number of people with their first job, from which they then went on to get other jobs at bike shops in the area. Riding is an activity with many benefits for society, including the jobs it takes to sustain such a community. We provide jobs and training for at least four high school-aged kids each year.

    By repairing used bicycles we expose young people to the concept of reuse. By teaching bicycle mechanics we challenge them to oppose the idea of a disposable culture: Don't ditch it, fix it! Each year we keep about 1,000 bicycles out of landfills.

    Back Alley Bikes also provides a mechanics class for adults to increase the mechanical knowledge in our community. For the most part, broken bikes are bikes not being ridden. By giving cyclists mechanical knowledge, we empower them to keep their ride going. Many folks are confident going on longer rides, or even touring, knowing they can fix their bike themselves.

    Not everyone desires to be a bike mechanic, though. So in 2008 we opened a retail shop called The Hub of Detroit. The Hub provides retail service in a neighborhood that was previously without a single bike shop. Since 2008, we've seen more and more bike shops open up. As we've seen, broken bikes aren't going to be ridden, so having a bike shop in the neighborhood means more people riding more often.

    In the five years I've been involved with bike education here in Detroit, I've seen empty buildings turn into bike shops and empty streets turn into places for bicycles. These are places where people can begin to thrive.

    Learn more about Back Alley Bikes, including their plans for the 2nd annual Bike The Blizzard in January 2014, at backalleybikes.org

    All photos courtesy Back Alley Bikes



  • Cycle Tracks: Part of the Active Transportation Solution

    Biking has always been a popular mode of transportation, but many communities are only just now taking steps to tailor transportation infrastructure to cyclists' needs.

    With the number of regular bikers on the rise, cities are starting to realize that people need safe places to ride. Bike lanes, trails and paths are being built by the mile. Forward-thinking cities know that making it easy for people to ride goes beyond the creation of healthy citizens; it provides a cost-effective way for people to get around.

    Unlike conventional bike lanes, cycle tracks combine the biker's experience of a separated path with the on-street structure of a bike lane. Cycle tracks provide space exclusively for bicycles and separate the bike lane from vehicle travel lanes, parking lanes and sidewalks by various barriers including trees, curb cuts and parallel parking spaces. Good designs are pleasing to the eye and provide the safest pathway for riders.

    They're already popular in Europe (below), and here in the U.S., New YorkPortland and Washington, D.C. (right) are a few of the cities to boast cycle tracks. Fueled by its commitment to being a truly livable community, Montreal has developed award-winning cycle tracks. "The vision behind Montreal's transportation plan was to meet the mobility needs of all Montrealers, making the city a great place to live and an economic center that is both prosperous and environmentally responsible," the city's leaders recently wrote. "To this end, Montreal wanted to reduce dependency on cars, through massive investment in active and collective modes of transportation such as streetcars, subways, green buses, trains, bicycles and walking."

    Biking and other forms of active transportation allow residents to engage with their communities in a healthy and cost-effective way. AARP and the Partnership for Active Transportation advocate for "Safe Routes to Everywhere" - safe and pleasant places for Americans to walk and bike that connect people to their communities and common destinations.

    By installing cycle tracks that designate a portion of the road that is safe for biking, community leaders can ensure that residents do not lose any access to specific areas of town because they choose to ditch their cars. While cycle tracks ensure that bikers are safe and secure, they also help integrate biking into the overall culture of a community.

    If communities can make biking a more viable option for residents of all ages, more people can safely experience the health and financial benefits of active transportation.

    Amy Levner leads the Home and Community agenda for AARP. She is responsible for AARP's work on promoting the features that make communities great places to live for everyone - home design, expanding transportation options and ensuring access to the services we all need in our daily lives.

    Photo of the 15th Street Cycle Track courtesy www.flickr/beyondDC
    Photo of cycle track in Amsterdam courtesy www.pedbikeimages.org



  • How They Did It: 47 Miles Across Michigan's Iron Range

    It's rapidly garnering attention as one of Michigan's most exciting rail-trail projects - the 47-mile Iron Ore Heritage Trail deep into the Marquette Iron Range of the Upper Peninsula. As the trail continues to grow, RTC caught up with the driving force behind the trail's remarkable grassroots effort, Carol Fulsher, for her take on the significance of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail to Michigan's past, and its future.

    The History:

    "Call us the outdoor museum where you exercise your body and mind. The Marquette Iron Range marks the beginning of iron ore mining in the entire Lake Superior Region, which has fed the furnaces of the steel industry since 1845. This region supplied the raw resource of ore that eventually made the cannons and cannonballs for the Civil War, the weaponry and ships of World Wars I and II, and fueled the industrial revolution. And, of course, the millions of automobiles made in the Motor City."

    The Landscape:

    "The 47-mile Iron Ore Heritage Trail crosses the Marquette Iron Range. You ride along Lake Superior's beautiful harbor where gigantic ore docks hover over the lake. You'll find giant mine shafts towering over six stories high, you'll cruise past mine pits gleaming with shiny ore, and you'll bike through the towns that grew up with mining and shipping money."

    The Trail:

    "Of the 47-mile proposed route, 30 miles have been upgraded with asphalt and/or a crushed limestone/granite. The remaining 17 miles are along the Duluth South Shore and Atlantic and Lake Superior and Ishpeming rail grades. These are currently hard-packed dirt but are slated to be upgraded in the years ahead."

    The Future:

    "With any trail project, the tough part is securing the land in order to secure the funding. The Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority (the managing entity) used land swaps, easements, and land purchases to secure the entire 47-mile route. Much of it was garnered through the State of Michigan's purchase of rail grades, but areas were also bought by local municipalities and Marquette County's Recreation Authority. In one short section, the trail corridor is actually being resurrected for rail service again, and an alternate route had to be secured. 

    In August 2013, we finished our largest project to date: a 12-mile section between Negaunee and Marquette connecting two major communities along the trail. This section provided some interesting challenges. We needed to convert an unused rail bridge into a pedestrian/bike friendly crossing of a major highway, which required the commitment of Michigan Department of Transportation (the owner of the bridge), the city (the lessee of the bridge), and the Recreation Authority (the sublessee and upgrader of the bridge surface). We were also involved in a three way land swap among a private property owner, the State Department of Natural Resources, and the Recreation Authority.

    Lastly, a two-mile section of rail grade which was never quite vacated was needed for a local railroad company's future plans. Through the State of Michigan's intervention, the 100-foot corridor under the rail was secured by the state and the railroad was allowed to add rail in the future. Users can now learn about our mining past while seeing our mining present: trains filled with iron ore pellets (right) making their way from the mines to the harbor."

    Photos courtesy Iron Ore Heritage Trail


  • Pedaling The D: Young and Savvy, Detroit Locals Behind the Bike Boom

    I was blown away by how much great stuff is happening in Detroit when we visited the city for our Cleveland/Detroit city swap earlier this year. But one of the initiatives really left an impression on me: Detroit Bike and Brunch.

    Kloni Thorpe and Brandi Keeler (that's Brandi in the photo) are two of the young Detroiters behind Bike and Brunch, an organized monthly bike event which combines exploring the city by two wheels, getting some exercise, eating healthy and delicious food, and supporting Detroit's local restaurants.

    What started as a lovely lunchtime date for Kloni and her partner soon grew into one of Detroit's most popular monthly events. Seems to me that Detroit Bike and Brunch has been so successful is precisely because a lot of people in the city like to ride, a lot of people in the city like to try good local food, and putting these two things together is simply just a great idea.

    For me, it was really inspiring to hear from two young women with an enormous amount of entrepreneurial energy who want to boost the biking culture in Detroit.

    Since that visit I've been trying to keep an eye on what Kloni and Brandi are up to, and so I was really interested to see Brandi's blog post for Challenge Detroit recently: "Pedaling the D: 3 Easy Ways to Get Involved in Detroit's Growing Bike Culture."

    "Detroit is known as the 'Motorcity' but the growing bicycle culture is starting to make many folks re-think this title," Brandi writes.

    Even if you're not from Detroit, communities everywhere can learn something from the burgeoning success of the bike scene there, and Brandi's "keep it simple" philosophy to enjoying the benefits of biking. Check out the post for yourself.

    P.S: Detroit rocks.

    Photo courtesy Detroit Bike and Brunch

  • Possible New Rail-Trail May Add to Embarrassment of Riches in Oakland County, Michigan

    Okay, this blog post started out as a round of applause for the Paint Creek Trail in Michigan's Oakland County, which turned 30 this year, was the first rail-trail in the state, and is a true gem of a rail-trail in a state boasting many of them.

    But, doing a bit of research, I started pulling the thread of the trails in that part of the world, and the more I did, the more I realized that Oakland County is in fact a pretty amazing story in itself. Within just a few miles of the Paint Creek Trail is a myriad of beautiful (and very useful) rail-trails and greenways - it might have flown under the radar somewhat, but this county has got to be one of the best trail destinations anywhere. All just a short drive from Detroit.

    Here's just a few of the many trails in Oakland County worth a visit. Which to choose? It's a good problem to have...

    The Huron Valley Rail-Trail: big on natural serenity, smooth and relaxed (right). About 10 miles from the Witches Hat Depot in South Lyon to Kent Lake and Lyon Oaks County Park.

    The Clinton River Trail: 16 miles taking in everything from parklands and ponds to downtowns between Keego Harbor and Rochester.

    The Polly Ann Trail: 14 miles of relaxed rural scenery around Lake Orion and Oxford Lake in the northern part of the county. Great for skiing in the winter, too.

    The West Bloomfield Trail: a nature preserve, community parks, and lakes and wildlife everywhere - what's not to love? Locals came out en masse to celebrate the opening of a new 2.7-mile extension earlier this year (left).

    Thanks Kristen Wiltfang at Oakland County for keeping us up to speed with all the great things happening in this neck of the woods. And, Kristen tells us, plans are afoot for even more rail-trail mileage in county - officials are currently looking at a 4.5 mile-section of the old Belt Line railroad for possible acquisition.

    In addition to our TrailLink.com links above, there's a good list of trails and greenways in Oakland County at this website: www.michigantrails.us/oakland-county-michigan

    For those keen to dive into the rich and fascinating history behind the Paint Creek Trail, here's an excellent video produced to celebrate the 30th anniversary this year!

    Get out there, people.

    Photos courtesy TrailLink.com


  • Snowmobiling - Big Fun and Big Business in Michigan

    Trail lovers across America envy the thousands of miles of trails that Michiganders have to explore right in their own backyard. What many folks may not realize is the enormous transformation that many of these trails undergo once the snows of winter engulf the state.

    Winter is not just a passing storm to Michiganders, it is a welcomed season which provides good snow cover for a myriad of winter sports. For many who have lived in the north (me, I'm from Alaska originally), this means snowmobiling season, and snowmobiling is serious business in Michigan. Snowmobilers come from all over north America because Michigan boasts some of the best riding there is.

    Rail-trails played a huge part in establishing that reputation. Michigan has a rail-trail network that crisscrosses the state and allow snowmobilers to ride for hundreds of miles into some of the most remote, and beautiful, public lands in America.

    This experience brings in more than just big fun, but big financial returns to many Michigan communities as well. Back in 1998, Michigan State University conducted an assessment of snowmobiling's impact on the state and found that it resulted in $1 billion in economic activity annually and supported more than 6,455 full-time jobs. 15 years later, that figure will have only risen.

    I have friends who own weekend cabins in Michigan solely for the purpose of indulging their snowmobiling passion. Many cities, towns and villages in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas count on the winter snowmobile scene to sustain their bed & breakfasts, hotels, restaurants, taverns, gas stations, outdoor gear suppliers and guides.

    On the other side of the ledger, the snowmobilers themselves deserve credit for taking "ownership" of the trails, in much the same way friends groups and volunteer organizations do for hiking and biking trails. Enthusiasts are well-organized, and conduct much of the trail maintenance work themselves through various clubs around the state. These activities are funded through trail permit fees, snowmobile registration fees and a small percentage of off-road gas tax money.

    The Michigan Snowmobile Association is a one stop shop for snowmobile users looking to ride or get involved in helping with the trails. Michigan snowmobile trails are opened from December 1 through March 31 every year. If you are looking for a trail experience unlike any other, perhaps a winter visit to our friends in Michigan, and a few hundred miles on a snowmobile through picturesque towns and countryside, is just the ticket.

    Got any great photos of your snowmobile adventures in Michigan? We'd love to see them! Be sure to share at our facebook page, or at www.traillink.com.

    Photo courtesy Michigan Snowmobile Association



  • This Saturday - Discover the Lovely Community of Friendsville

    What's not to love about a community called Friendsville?

    Not only does it sit right alongside the beautiful Youghiogheny River in Garrett County, Md., but tiny Friendsville also has a scenic, and relatively unknown, rail-trail.

    This Saturday, I'll be joining the newly-formed Friendsville Trails Alliance for a community day of trail maintenance on the Kendall Trail, part of a local push to get more area residents interested in the trail and its history.

    Running two miles along the Youghiogeny, the Kendall Trail passes the historic ruins of what was once the booming town of Kendall, a place with a fascinating past.

    The Friendsville Trails Alliance is grassroots trail building at its simplest and most immediate - a small group of locals pitching in where they can to improve this great local asset.

    If you're in or near Garrett County, it will be a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon - rolling up the sleeves and doing some light outdoor labor, all for the cause of rail-trails. Or, just come along for a stroll! All visitors will be very welcome.

    Better yet, you can reward yourself for your exertions with a great home-cooked meal at the nearby Water Street Café or the Riverside Hotel.

    More info: friendsvilletrails@gmail.com, or www.facebook.com/FriendsvilleTrailsAlliance.




  • An Eye On the Great Lakes State - 10 Great Things Happening in Michigan

    Here at RTC, November is all about Michigan.

    This month, we'll be unearthing and celebrating the great trails, the new trails, the hard-workers and the leaders - all the energy behind trails, biking and walking across the state.

    When it comes to rail-trails, Michigan is in an exclusive league. The state has been a leader of the trail movement for many years, and in fact has more miles of rail-trails than any other state.

    While Michigan's rural and wilderness areas have always boasted terrific trails networks, now its metropolitan center is getting in on the act, too. The shifting landscape of Detroit is proving to be fertile ground for new ideas about transportation, and encouraging a young and vibrant culture centered around biking and more human ways of interacting with the city. Don't believe all the negative news you hear - Detroit is bouncing with energy and excitement, much of it centered around trails and active transportation.

    And here's a few other reasons the Great Lakes State is on a roll these days...


    10 Great Things Happening in Michigan

    1. The Cross-State Trail.

    It mightn't have a name yet, but Gov. Rick Snyder's impressive vision of a trail network across Michigan, from Detroit through the Upper Peninsula to the Wisconsin border, has delighted trails advocates. Connecting a number of existing trails, many of them rail-trails, Snyder's plan focuses on developing strategic linkages through acquiring easements and savvy land purchases. When completed, this remarkable off-road pathway will not only boost local trail use but also attract visitors from across the country. The nation is now watching to see how Snyder will carry out his ambitious plan.


    2. Slow Roll.

    "It started with just a small group of friends and people we knew, about 10 of us, who wanted to explore the city by bike," Mike MacKool told RTC when we visited Detroit last month. Turns out, there were a lot of Detroiters who wanted to do the same. In just 3 years, grassroots buzz and word of mouth turned this casual Monday night bike ride, Slow Roll, into a city phenomenon (right). This year, up to 1,600 riders - all ages, colors, styles and sizes - came together once a week for the love of Detroit and wind in the hair. We'll be writing more about the homegrown goodness that is Slow Roll and other city bike rides later this month: stay tuned. Photo courtesy Detroit Bike City


    3. Modeshift.

    An online magazine, Modeshift has been instrumental in shedding light on the transportation and environmental challenges for southeast Michigan. A compelling blend of news and advocacy, Modeshift is keeping a close eye on the big state agencies and its elected officials and doing what good news outlets are supposed to do - keeping their feet to the fire. Modeshift also recently launched an ambitious project to build a digital mapping platform for residents of southeast Michigan to mark detailed bike routes and trails, and bike-friendly businesses and transit providers.


    4. Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

    Okay, it's not possible to explain all the great things Nancy Krupiarz and MTGA is doing in Michigan - if there's a cool trail project or initiative happening in the state, chances are their fingerprints are on it somewhere. Nancy's leadership and advocacy for trails in Michigan is one of the biggest reason why this state has more rail-trail mileage than any other. This month we'll be examining a few of their latest projects, including the Great Lake to Lake Trail, a 250-mile trail corridor from South Haven to Port Huron. Their new website is awesome, too.


    5. Traverse City's Recycle-A-Bicycle.

    Seven years ago Don Cunkle began repairing old bikes in his garage for local folks unable to afford their own wheels. For the first couple of years Cherry Capital Cycling Club provided financial support for Cunkle's booming service (left), and now the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails (TART) has gotten behind Recycle-A-Bicycle, with the awesome mission of providing bikes for the area's homeless and economically disadvantaged men and women. Each customer also receives a lock, lights, and a lifetime of free repairs on the bike when needed. The program is having a massive impact on the ability of these locals to access jobs and services - the gift of two wheels is truly a transformative intervention. Photo courtesy Recycle-A-Bicycle


    6. The Detroit Greenways Coalition

    Led by champion Detroiter Todd Scott, the Detroit Greenways Coalition is pulling together the city, the state, local foundations, businesses and grassroots advocates behind a vision to make the Motor City better for wheels and feet. This is no idle chatter - in just a few years the DGA has overseen a remarkable expansion in bike lane and trail mileage in the city. There is so much good news coming out of Detroit - just a few of the highlights include the continued development of pathways along the Detroit Riverfront, the expansion of the Dequindre Cut and the creation of Complete Streets policy. (And Todd's twitter feed: @detroitgreenway).


    7. Detroit's East Side Riders.

    When Mike Neeley learned he had diabetes about five years ago he decided he wanted to do something to lose weight and improve his health. Not content with a regular old bike ride, he and his brother Dywayne formed a two-wheeled crew big on personality, lights and color. Today, the East Side Riders, famous for their super-revamped bikes fitted with everything from bright lights, stickers and horns to TVs, radios and, yeah, a barbecue, is credited with popularizing bicycling in the city. (See also: GMOB, Inkster Pedal Pushers, Southwest, Downriver). Words don't do it justice. Check out photos of the East Side Riders in this Huffington Post article...


    8. The expansion of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.

    A beautiful rail-trail with an excellent group of local supporters and planners behind it, the KRVT has spurred an increase in biking and walking in Kalamazoo County.  The completion of a 2.7-mile leg from Mayors' Riverfront Park east to Comstock Township last year, funded by a Transportation Alternatives (TA) grant brings the trail's total distance to 17 miles, nearly halfway to the final goal of 35 miles. Up next: extending the trail from Comstock further east to Galesburg. A big reason for the trail's success: the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail partnership, which has brought all the state and local players to the table to work together on fundraising and planning.


    9. The Fred Meijer trails network.

    Having made his fortune in the grocery business, in the early 1990s Fred Meijer funded the purchase of the first rail-trail right-of-way in Michigan, inspired by his passionate belief that the people of Michigan should explore the beautiful outdoor areas of their state. That purchase became the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail. In turn, the Heartland Trail became centerpiece of the Fred Meijer trails network, which, supported by the excellent Friends of Fred Meijer Heartland Trail and the Meijer Foundation, continues to grow. The latest segment, from Ionia to Saranac, through the Ionia State Recreation Area, has just been completed.


    10. The progress of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.

    As much an exploration of Michigan's past as a place of transportation and recreation, the Iron Ore Heritage Trail is already regarded as one of the state's iconic rail-trails. There's a lot of support for this ambitious trail project in the Upper Peninsula - Gov. Snyder himself was on hand to cut the ribbon of the latest 12 mile segment, from Negaunee to Marquette, this summer. That makes 30 miles completed, and 18 more to go.
    "Our best days are not behind us, they're ahead of us," Gov. Snyder said at the ribbon-cutting. It's a sentiment that we think applies to communities all over Michigan.


    Do you know of a trail, project, local organization or citizen that deserves recognition in our celebration of Michigan this month? Don't keep it under your hat! Let me know at jake@railstotrails.org., or share through our facebook, twitter or instagram feeds - #RTCMichigan.



  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonments in Indiana and New Jersey

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has learned of filings for abandonment of a number of railroad corridors in recent days - two in Indiana and one in New Jersey.


    On or about October 21, 2013, Norfolk Southern Railway Company filed for the abandonment of 0.61 mile of track between Connersville and Washington Township in Fayette and Wayne Counties, Indiana. On October 22, Norfolk Southern Railway Company also filed for the abandonment of 2.95 miles of track within Schererville in Lake County, Indiana. The Town of Munster and Town of Schererville appear interested in acquiring the corridor for construction of the Pennsy Greenway.

    New Jersey
    On or about October 22, 2013, the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway Corporation filed for the abandonment of 4.2 miles of track between Pompton Plains (Pequannock Township) in Morris County and Wayne Township in Passaic County, New Jersey.

    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 these STB docket numbers:

    Fayette and Wayne counties, Indiana: AB-290 (sub-no. 352x)

    Lake County, Indiana: STB docket number AB-290 (sub-no. 346x)

    Morris and Passaic counties, New Jersey: STB docket number AB-286 (sub-no. 7x)

    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 November 20, 2013. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its Web site, including the complete filings for each corridor.

    Fayette and Wayne counties.

    Lake County.

    Morris and Passaic counties.

    More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in each filing.

    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 Web site. 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 on the Indiana corridors, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org. For information on pursuing railbanking of the New Jersey corridor, contact Carl Knoch at carl@railstotrails.org.



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