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  • Kidical Mass: Training Wheels and Tots the Focus of Tallahassee Bike Crew

    "The bike movement has grown up, and now it has kids."

    These are the words of Shane MacRhodes, founder of Kidical Mass - a national program designed to "provide a safe environment for kids and their parents to learn and practice [bicycle] safety skills" while creating awareness of the growing number of cyclists-including youth-in local areas. Hence the tagline: kids are traffic too.

    The first ride took place in Eugene, Ore., in 2008, and today, more than 33 cities in the U.S. and Canada play host-one of them being the great capital city of Tallahassee, Fla.

    Since late 2011, avid cyclist and stay-at-home mom Marie-Claire Leman and her husband Will Hanley, a history professor at Florida State University, have been organizing Kidical Mass rides in and around their neighborhood in an effort to encourage more family-wide bike use.

    According to Leman, while bike-friendly infrastructure and bike advocacy are on the rise in Tallahassee, the overall makeup of the city can act as a deterrent for some who might otherwise choose biking for transportation.

    "Tallahassee is really improving for cycling...but connectivity is still a big issue here. Neighborhoods are separated from each other by large boulevards...and there are very few controlled intersections and pedestrian crossings," she affirms. "We were inspired to create Kidical Mass Tallahassee so parents could see bikes as more than just toys...and start to imagine trips they could take with their kids. As the city becomes more connected, we hope that [our efforts] will help encourage more families to ride further afield."

    Name-played on the Critical Mass bike-riding movement, in which events are designed to celebrate and assert the rights of cyclists, Kidical Mass events do not focus their impact on those witnessing the rides, but on the riders themselves.

    "Critical Mass is often more political...it's about changing other people's minds about cycling," Leman explains. "Kidical Mass is about changing the minds of those who participate. We are educating from within."

    The rides organized by Leman and Hanley run three to four miles on average, with each event drawing between 35 and 50 children and adults of all experience levels. After meeting in a designated spot-usually nearby Optimist Park-the organizers provide a careful overview of the rules of the ride, which naturally coincide with the rules of street biking.

    Children ride in a line on the right side of the street, and adults ride in a line to the left as a layer of protection against passing cars.

    In the past two years, events have taken various shapes and forms: an edge-of-the-neighborhood ride and milkshake stop; an Earth Day excursion with a series of stops at neighborhood gardens; and a holiday Tour of Lights (yes, there was hot chocolate!).

    When a park project two miles away from the organizers' neighborhood is complete, Kidical Mass Tallahassee will do an inaugural out-and-back event, departing for the first time from one neighborhood to visit another.

    As more people become involved from other areas, Leman anticipates-and hopes-more events will pop up around Tallahassee. But, she is quick to note the impact the rides have already had on families in just two short years.

    "We've seen kids motivated to leave their training wheels behind," she proclaims. "A number of children have asked their parents to remove them from their bikes after seeing others their age riding without them."

    She continues, "I think more parents are starting to think, 'Let's ride to the park today. Let's ride to our friend's house instead of drive.' They know the streets in their neighborhood now, and they are saying to their kids, 'I know you are capable of climbing that hill on your bike because you did it during the Kidical Mass ride.'"

    Photos courtesy of Kidical Mass Tallahassee



  • Five Top Florida Hikes for History

    As a "trailblazer," I have long enjoyed the history, geography, ecosystems and wildlife that make Florida such a wonderful state for outdoor exploration. One of the first trails I began to explore actively is the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 1,000-mile walking and biking system that traverses the state and meanders through some of the most picturesque areas in the U.S. As time went by, I learned about the many other places in Florida that lay claim to countless trails and habitats: our award-winning state parks, our state and national forests, our wildlife management areas and our water management districts.

    I started hiking these areas whenever I could, and it soon became an addiction, to say the least! I was taking photos and videos and keeping logs of my trips, and eventually these inspirations led to the creation of my Florida Trailblazer YouTube channel in late 2010 and my blog in 2011. I wanted to be able to look back on my adventures and to help inspire others to experience the beautiful Florida wilderness for themselves.

    As I would come to discover, Florida has a rich and unique past. Now, besides enjoying the beautiful serenity of nature, I like to learn about (and share) the historical treasures I find, from gravesites and historical buildings, to ghost-town ruins and American Indian mounds. I find that it adds to the adventure.

    With that said, here are a few recommendations for anyone out there who is intrigued by Florida history, loves exploring or just simply wants to get out and see something truly unique. I welcome you to check out my posts (linked)-and better yet, get out there and experience these places for yourself!

    Happy trailblazing!

    Davenport Historical Site - Ocala National Forest

    At Ocala National Forest, you'll find extensive hiking trails-including a piece of the Florida National Scenic Trail-scenic wilderness and beautiful views along two river ways. The Davenport Historical Site contains some great gems,including an American Indian mound and the lone grave of a Confederate soldier.

    [Update: We heard from Joe Dunn in late January, who had this to say about the soldier's grave: "Back in the 1800s, the soldier used to run the steamboat landing where the mound now sits. When he died, they buried him there back in this wooded area. Just today, I got a message from a relative of the soldier at this grave site. It's his great-great-grandfather[!] He said thank you for doing a video there...he hadn't been to the site in years, and my post brought back memories. I feel like I made a difference."]

    Rice Creek Conservation Area, just west of Palatka, is great for hiking and has a neat history, having served as a harvesting site for indigo and guess the other crop in the 1780s. It also has one of Florida's largest still-surviving giant cypress trees (right) at 900-plus years old!

    Half Moon Wildlife Management Area

    The Half Moon Wildlife Management Area in Sumter County has lots of history and scenic hiking trails. There used to be a small community in the area in the 1800s that has long since vanished, and later on, several families moved there and built homesteads. At least one of the homestead ruins is marked by a sign, and you can still see an old gravesite from the bygone, 19th-century settlement.

    Torreya State Park

    Torreya State Park is a beautiful site in the northern Florida Panhandle. There are very rugged hiking trails with incredible terrain and some Civil War-era historical highlights, such as Gregory House (left).

    Itchetucknee Springs State Park

    Many of Florida's state parks have springs (below, right) where you can take a dip; I like to go on long hikes and then cool off in one of the springs at Itchetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White. Cool fact: The head spring in the Itchetucknee River was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972.

    Joe Dunn (@fltrailblazer) is the creator and author of Florida Trailblazer

    Photos courtesy of Florida Trailblazer




  • Supreme Court: How Will Justices Rule on Rail-Trails?

    As I walked out of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the only thing I was certain of was how much was uncertain.

    The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al., v. United States is likely to have lasting implications for the development of rail-trails on federally-granted rights-of-way, but as we await a decision from the highest court in the land, a prediction about the court's direction is as hard to offer now as before.

    Few justices clearly signaled their intentions or leanings, instead peppering both sides with questions designed to probe potential weaknesses in their case.

    Though a rail-trail is at the heart of the dispute (for those who haven't been following the case, here's the background), the legal debate is a broader matter of property law. Tuesday's oral arguments very much reflected conflicting notions about how to apply various acts of Congress and Supreme Court precedents dating back to the 1870s.

    One notable occurrence on Tuesday was the justices' frustration with the absence of hard data on how many miles of federally-granted rights-of-way there in fact are in the United States.

    This was not the result of insufficient research on behalf of the lawyers, but rather that the mapping and record keeping of these land transactions in the 19th and early 20th century were not unified or coordinated. There exists no national map or database of federally-granted rights-of-way. What Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has managed to piece together comes from our own interactions with trail and land managers over the years. Unfortunately, that does not lend itself to the production of an authoritative national number.

    We do know, however, that a number of America's most famous rail-trails have sections on federally-granted rights-of-way, including the George S. Mickelson Trail in South Dakota, the John Wayne Pioneer trails in Washington, and the Weiser River Trail in Idaho. But it is important to note that it is not just rail-trails that are impacted. Federally-granted rights-of-way were also converted into public roads and highways, and so any Supreme Court decision that makes less certain the authority of the United States government to make these corridors available for transportation could have far-reaching implications.

    It is clear that the justices wish to better understand who might be affected by their ruling, and to what degree, but it is hard to decipher whether they would find a broad impact to be unsettling or attractive. They may not be in accord with each other on this one.

    The attention-grabbing quip of Justice Stephen Breyer offered an insight into just how uncertain the justices are as to the precedent this case may set.

    "For all I know, there is some right-of-way that goes through people's houses, you know, and all of a sudden, they are going to be living in their house and suddenly a bicycle will run through it," Breyer said.

    While Breyer's hypothetical is as unlikely as it is entertaining, it does demonstrate that there is fear at either end of the spectrum about what this decision will mean.

    We believe that a win for the United States in this case, affirming the reversionary interest of the American people in federally-granted rights-of-way after the cessation of rail activity, would essentially maintain the status quo. Building rail-trails would be just as challenging as it has always been, but a decision in favor of the United States would at least provide a level of certainty for land managers and trail builders.

    Should the United States lose, we believe that any trails consisting of federally-granted rights-of-way that have been formally railbanked will remain protected. However, non-railbanked corridors may be vulnerable to legal challenges.

    A reinterpretation of the law concerning federally-granted rights-of-way would possibly mean the United States would be liable to compensate to some landowners, perhaps encouraging more tax-payer funded litigation in the future.

    Responding to Breyer's "Tour de Living Room" vision, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Anthony Yang, noted that for much of the past century no landowner had expressed a grievance against public use of federally-granted rights-of-way.

    Now we wait. To those of you who supported our legal efforts to make sure the interests of rail-trail users were represented in this case, I thank you. Your contribution allowed us to speak up on behalf on rail-trails in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

    A decision is expected in June, though it is possible it could be handed down well before then. Rest assured, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will keep you apprised of any developments.





  • Transpo' Secretary Foxx: More Attention Will Be Paid to Biking and Walking

    "We also have to make a special effort to look out for modes of transportation that, traditionally, don't get much attention." With these words, Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, yesterday offered a glimmer of hope that the nation's transportation policy may better address the millions of Americans who bike and walk as well as drive a car or use transit.

    Speaking at the annual Transportation Research Board Lunch in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Sec. Foxx told a personal story that too many people can, unfortunately, relate to: being hit by a car while travelling by two feet instead of four wheels. The former Mayor of Charlotte, N.C., who oversaw an improved bike landscape that boosted the livability and popularity of the city during his tenure, is now pledging to bring those lessons learned to his new gig as America's transportation chief.

    "You can expect me to bring more attention to pedestrian and bicycle safety during my time as Secretary," Foxx said at the lunch.

    Much of Foxx's speech outlined a vision that is shared by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and our peers:

    • We need to get creative with funding worthwhile projects. Public/private partnerships and flexible loans for less-expensive bike/ped projects can get work done quickly and efficiently.
    • The key is integration. As Foxx notes, people aren't siloed into one transportation mode. People drive a car to the train station, or ride a bike from the metro, where they walk to their home or office. Biking and walking infrastructure is the missing link in our transportation landscape at the moment, and is needed to achieve the integration Sec. Foxx refers to.
    • Equal opportunity. "My entire life, I lived 10 minutes from downtown - and I could never get a pizza delivered," Foxx said. "We shouldn't be dividing communities like that in America. Transportation shouldn't just get us places better - it should make places better - and lives, too." In many communities, 40 percent of adult residents don't own a car. In these places, biking and walking pathways are the means by which we connect underserved neighborhoods to jobs, shops and services, and make communities everywhere healthier and more vibrant.

    Foxx's speech came just one day after the United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure met to begin discussion of a new Transportation Bill - a discussion that included barely a mention of biking or walking. Committee members did, however, express a strong desire to find creative new ways to pay for a new and more efficient transportation system.

    We hope that Foxx's comments, recognizing the fact that active transportation is a key part of a modern and dynamic America, filter their way into the Transportation Bill conversation over the coming months.

    Photo courtesy USDOT



  • In Tallahassee, the (Bicycle) House that Scot Built

    It was Scot Benton's father who inspired him to found Bicycle House Tallahassee, a Florida nonprofit that's part bike repair shop and training center, part "build-a-bike" program, part community development organization, part trail cleanup group and part kitchen/overnight space for travelers on the "Southern Tier" route from San Diego, Calif., to Saint Augustine, Fla.

    "My father said, 'get out of the house...and open the door,'" says Benton, matter-of-factly.  "I had a little money, and I just put that into the building, the bricks and mortar, and the tools. We had no idea what was going to happen."

    If the origins of Bicycle House seem simple, Benton's story is anything but. After a bike-filled childhood in Tallahassee, he moved to New England for college. He traveled cross-country on a bike several times.  He raced bikes regionally and nationally for 15 years; he was, as he puts it, a "very unsuccessful, hardworking racer." In 1998, while standing on the side of a street in Boston after work, he was struck by a car during an accident. He spent three months in a coma and another five years living with his parents.   

    When his father finally encouraged him to move out, it would spark a series of events that led to the opening of Bicycle House in 2009 (it received official nonprofit status in 2011). Since that time, the organization has, with the support of hundreds of volunteers, helped more than 3,000 people repair, rehabilitate and construct bikes.  

    And as the organization continues to grow, so too does Benton's vision for Bicycle House to become a full-fledged hostel. During its first couple years, Bicycle House served 20 or 30 tourists annually that stopped in. The "house" eventually started hosting travelers overnight, providing a hot shower, some rudimentary sleeping gear and, eventually, a kitchen.  Last year, Benton counted approximately 350 stop-ins.  

    Dedicated to advocating "safe, practical transportation and social responsibility," Bicycle House has multiple projects in the works to help improve the local community. A major focus-one that Benton is particularly passionate about-is the continued development of Lake Elberta Park (which sits less than a half mile south of Bicycle House) and the potential addition of a trailhead that will connect the park's paved, multi-use pathway to the northern-most section of the 20.5-mile St. Marks rail-trail. Currently, the nearest St. Mark's trailhead is located five miles further south.

    The recently formed Friends of Lake Elberta Park, a group started by Benton and other passionate locals, is also advocating for turning an abandoned Church's Fried Chicken building that sits adjacent to the lake path into an outdoor center. Benton believes this would not only strengthen the blighted African-American community surrounding the park, but result in enhanced recreation opportunities for the entire city.

    "The city would greatly benefit from a place-a hub-where people of all different outdoor interests could come together," says Benton. "In addition to enhancing the recreational opportunities and networks in the city, it could serve as a great economic and social stimulus for the surrounding community."

    It's the diversity and comradery-in the form of volunteers, riders and visitors-that Benton highlights as the essence of Bicycle House.  He uses an anecdote to illustrate the point.

    "We had a guy come in a couple months ago from Holland who decided to stay the night. He's an electrical engineer. When he woke up the next morning, he asked how he could help. I wanted to go for a bike ride, so he told me to take the day off and volunteered to look after things for me.  I come back and he's running the place! Three of my volunteers are in the master's in electrical engineering program at Florida State University. One is from India, and one is from China. They and a couple others are talking to him about electrical engineering while working on a bike for a homeless gentleman who needed assistance. 

    "He asked if he could show his slides from his trips around the world, so we threw an impromptu show-and-tell and promoted it through Facebook. Fifteen people came and enjoyed his slides over a beer.

    "That's Bicycle House. That's how we work."

    Want to see more? Check out this great slideshow on the Bicycle House website.
    Photos courtesy of Bicycle House



  • Question of the Month :: Which trails are the Top 10 Ten Trails in Florida?

    The Sunshine 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 Florida.

    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 post, 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!


  • Today's Arguments in Supreme Court a Pivotal Moment for Rail-Trails

    I just returned from the United States Supreme Court where I witnessed oral arguments in a case that could forever change the course of the American rail-trail movement.

    Alongside me was a small army of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff and supporters. We are under no illusions about how much is at stake in this case, in which a private landowner, supported by a number of well-known property rights groups, is suing the United States to bring a public rail corridor into his private ownership.

    Sitting in the packed courtroom today it was obvious that the justices understand the great significance of how their decision on this one section of rail corridor inside the Medicine Bow National Forest may impact public and private land across the country. They were eager to know how many miles of federally-granted rights-of-way were out there, so as to gauge the impact of a ruling on whether the United States retains an interest in such railroad corridors after train service has stopped.

    It was great to see in the court today the Assistant to the Solicitor General, Anthony Yang, move to dispel the myth that affirming the United States ownership of these rights-of-way would result in us "waking up tomorrow to find bicycles riding through people's living rooms," as one of the justices asked. Rather, as our own legal counsel Andrea Ferster has surmised, a win for the United States will not result in a great rush of rail-trail development, but a loss would mean a rush of landowner litigation against the United States.

    We think it's a clear case of a land use that benefits the many versus one that enriches the few. That's what the rail-trail movement has always been about - providing access for all along corridors of land that were always intended for the public good.

    You can read a transcript of today's arguments here. Our legal and executive staff are currently digesting the statements and arguments from today. Stay tuned in the coming days for expert insight on how the case is playing out, and what it could mean for America's rail-trails. Sign up for our eNews, and make sure you get the news as soon as we do.



  • Grand Tetons Proposal Your Chance to Support Trail Access in America's National Parks

    Whether you prefer to travel by two feet or two wheels (or three), whether you live in the wilds of the Idaho Panhandle or in suburban Georgia, one of the things that we all seem to love about trails is that they connect us to America's great outdoors. They get us "out there," and allow us to experience the wonders of our country's natural places in a way that is invigorating, inspiring and in-your-face beautiful.

    Right now the National Park Service is considering a proposal for the completion of trail loop in a section of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming known as the Moose-Wilson Road corridor. We believe this project would demonstrate the great value of nonmotorized trail access, and complete trail loops, in America's national parks, and pave the way for trail systems in parks elsewhere. 

    The National Park Service is currently studying whether to support the completion of the trail loop, and will be accepting public comments through Feb. 6. 

    Wyoming Pathways and Friends of Pathways are working to encourage public comments in support of a complete trail system along the corridor, which would connect to existing trails in the area and create a stunning 30-mile pathway loop connecting Jackson, Wilson, Teton Village, and the park headquarters in Moose. There is currently a three-mile gap in the proposed plan. We need your voice to urge the park's managers to make nonmotorized, low-impact access to the park a priority and close this gap.

    I urge everyone who believes that trails are an important part of this country's landscape to take a few moments to submit your comments. This could set a strong precedent for the way that biking and hiking trail access is considered in National Park Service comprehensive plans, and ultimately trail development in and to national parks all over the country.

    More immediately, completing this spectacular trail loop would provide a great way for more Americans to visit the park in a way that is safe, good for the environment, and healthy. Creating a wonderful trail system in the Grand Teton National Park will prove that it can be done well in many other national parks, too.

    Our friends at Wyoming Pathways and Friends of Pathways have made it easy for you to submit comments to the National Parks Service through a great new web page, which has plenty of info about the proposal. Here's what I wrote in support of the trail completion -feel free to use this as the basis of your own submission.

    "I support a complete pathway along the Moose-Wilson Road corridor. The slow, rural, country-road character of the existing road should be preserved while providing safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians with a complete pathway. A 3.5-mile gap within a larger 30-mile loop would be dangerous for children, families, visitors, and residents who are biking or walking. Please consider public safety and add a complete pathway from the Granite Entrance to Moose.  Please provide safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians with a complete pathway from the Granite Entrance to Moose, and connecting to the wonderful and successful Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Community pathway systems."

    I hope you can help our partners in Wyoming as they advocate for a great trail network that will benefit us all.



  • Meet the Miami River Greenway

    A shout out to the Miami River Commission for providing RTC with this great first-person (first-trail) Q&A "with" the Miami River Greenway.
    This 10-mile scenic rail-trail-currently in development-is connecting the incredible neighborhoods, businesses and cultural attractions around the waterway and helping to transform Miami.

    Name and Specialty?

    I am the Miami River Greenway, a public pedestrian and bicycle trail along the historic Miami River. My trail is a "riverwalk" directly along the shoreline, wherever feasible, and then continues around neighborhoods and marine industrial businesses as an "on-road greenway."

    My pathways feature landscaping, way-finding signs, historical markers, information kiosks, art installations, decorative lighting, benches and other great amenities for residents, commuters and tourists!


    How did you come about?

    The City of Miami, Miami-Dade County and Miami River Commission adopted my Miami River Greenway Action Plan in 2001.

    I appreciate the generous cost-share funding provided by the U.S. Congress, Florida Legislature, Florida Inland Navigation District, South Florida Water Management District, Miami-Dade County, City of Miami, Downtown Development Authority, Miami River Commission and private sector to construct more than half of my planned 10-mile length. 

    What makes you a local gem?

    My public pathway links Miami's diverse multicultural neighborhoods, including Downtown, Little Havana, Overtown, Spring Garden, Durham Park, Grove Park and Allapattah to the Miami River and its marinas, as well as nine major public parks, 10,000-plus residences, 17 restaurants and more than a dozen historical sites. My south shore trailhead is the 2,000-year-old Miami Circle Park, a designated National Historic Landmark.


    How are you helping to boost the health and economy of your region?

    My greenway provides needed safe infrastructure for residents to bike and walk to work, enjoy recreational activities, shop and get around. This helps reduce traffic congestion in Miami's urban core while saving gasoline and reducing air pollution.

    Exercising along my greenway improves the physical and mental health of my users. I even have a public community vegetable and fruit garden where volunteers may take home free, fresh healthy produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, jalapenos, gandule beans and basil.

    I love to see residents and tourists mingling, socializing, exercising, gardening, holding hands and kissing along my public shorelines! 


    Current/future plans?

    In 2013, another five sections of my trail were constructed by the public and private sectors. I'm looking forward to this year's construction of another three sections of my Miami River Greenway.

    I'm excited also that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently pledged to assist continued efforts to finish my construction.

    I look forward to my completion so that the many sections of my public greenway will be connected and continuously flowing like the wonderful Miami River.

    Photos courtesy of the Miami River Commission
    Special acknowledgement to contributor Brett Bibeau



  • A Few Hundred Strong, African-American Community Aims to Become Florida's Next Trail Town

    There is an experience that is unique to the people driving cars along State Road 207 in Florida.

    Only they can make the sharp, abrupt drop into Armstrong - a settlement where moms walk babies and folks chat along the narrow town road that abruptly ends in woods. From the high-speed, four-lane highway to the serene woods the drivers go ...plop! It's a strange juxtaposition.

    Riders and walkers on the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail enter and leave through these same woods. But trails code users for different expectations, and the transition we experience as we make our way to these woods is likely to be different, too.

    Arriving in Armstrong, we've already stopped at the historical sign that explains how, 130 years ago, the trail was the rail corridor for tapping the region's farmlands. Fresh produce supplied the tables of the opulent hotels that revived ancient St. Augustine. Gullahs and Geechees, West Africans enslaved on island plantations in the south in the 1700s, came from South Carolina to work the fields. Some 300 to 400 of their descendants call Armstrong home today. 

    "I know why you like Armstrong," Jasmin Hines, a local, says to me. 

    It is Bike Florida's November 2013 tour, and we are standing in a recreational field serving as an official stop, complete with vendors and a blues band thinly covering Allman Brothers from under a shed.

    "It's the same as why we like it. We're all family here."

    Reviewing that tour, Ron Cunningham of Bike Florida later wrote, "I was a bit worried that, being the last day of our ride, some of our cyclists would be tempted to skip Armstrong and continue right on to St. Augustine. As it turned out, they were taken by how Armstrong residents welcomed us with open arms. The brunch was easily one of the high points of our seven-day ride." 

    That reception was anything but spontaneous. 

    The SEA Community - Spuds, Elkton, and Armstrong - pursued Cunningham for months to make sure that brunch in Armstrong would be on the tour. 

    The brunch would take place almost a year after locals had celebrated the community's 100th anniversary together with the opening of the Palatka-to-St. Augustine Trail. That day, they hosted some 200 riders, including the director of Florida's parks and recreation office and elected officials from the trail's endpoint cities. 

    The trail today is paved and off-road for 8.5 miles. It's part of the 260-mile St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, which is almost half completed. On the trail are signs of the East Coast Greenway, posted last year when the East Coast Greenway Alliance adopted the trail as part of its 3,000-mile Maine to Florida route. 

    "We started thinking how Armstrong could achieve some economic development by catering to cyclists along the trail," says Malinda Peeples, Executive Director of the SEA Community, adding, "People at the dedication sure had a good time."

    Now a year later, the North Florida Bicycle Club schedules Armstrong food stops for its weekend rides from St. Augustine. In May of this year, new SunRail commuter trains will connect Orlando with the Loop where they meet at the far southwest turn in DeBary. Trains will carry bikes for free. Peeples is working to make sure Armstrong is ready when cyclists come touring the Loop on their own, and Bike Florida also plans to develop train-trail tours, as well.

    Cyclists will soon find a paved path into the park, and a trailhead. Peeples plans to use income from cyclists who stop by to help match grants that will provide a welcome center with a café. There's talk of a small grocery store, a community museum and of getting a more frequent schedule for a mobile health clinic. In time, perhaps some overnight rooms.

    Everything gets tested in late winter when Bike Florida will run its annual mass ride for about 1,000 people along a northern portion of the Loop. That throng will stop in Armstrong during its last morning.

    How does Armstrong plan to host numbers maybe three times its population?

    Peeples laughs. She rattles off the SEA Community's relationship with the county's helpful office of housing and community services and the county parks and recreation department. The St. Johns County Fairgrounds sit just northeast on State Road 207, if needed.

    "But we want our visitors to experience Armstrong itself," she adds.

    "Our church has been here since the late 1800s. You know about black churches and farming families. We're used to cooking big meals. Most of the year, we feed migrants. Not that many in the Armstrong camp, but we sure know where the veggies are for a lot more."

    Photos courtesy of East Coast Greenway Alliance

    Herb Hiller is a program consultant for the East Coast Greenway Alliance. He writes about placemaking from his home in DeLand, Fla.


  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment - 10 miles in Yalobusha County, Mississippi


    On or about January 2, 2014, Grenada Railway LLC filed for the abandonment of 10.42 miles of track near Water Valley in Yalobusha County, Mississippi. 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-1087 (sub-no. 2x). 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 February 1, 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.



  • The Word From Florida: 10 Great Things Happening in the Sunshine State

    With endless summers and long, flat stretches of pathways, picturesque terrain and unique wildlife, it's easy to see why so many people love Florida trails.

    And despite recognized challenges, Floridians around the state have been generating lots of sweat equity in the alternative transportation scene these days. They are working to get new projects completed and making the landscape safer and more convenient for the growing number of people who are choosing biking and walking as their mode of transportation.

    Here are just a few of the great things we see happening in Florida at the moment. Got suggestions of your own? Let us know!


    1. A Trail Across the State: In the spring of 2013, Florida announced that it was moving forward with a $50 million investment to develop a 275-mile trail network connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlantic Ocean. The project aims to fill gaps between existing trails from Canaveral National Seashore (east coast) to St. Petersburg (west coast) and will result in one of the longest continuous biking and walking paths in the United States. Sweet.

    Trail tourists from as far afield as Europe have already expressed their desire to make the trip for this coast to coast adventure that would be an enormous boost for Florida's outdoor recreation economy.


    2. A Bridge for People Over Tampa Bay! Thanks to the passion and commitment of RTC champions like Brian Smith, the first six-mile section of the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail was completed in fall 2013. The construction of the causeway trail would not have happened without the diligent advocacy of Smith and other trails supporters in Florida. It now provides a safe option for biking and walking were before was only a narrow and dangerous road shoulder that actively discouraged such activity.

    More good news to come: Construction of Phase 2, a 3-mile stretch between the Hillsborough-Pinellas border and Bayshore Boulevard, is scheduled to begin in early 2014. Image courtesy Tampa Bay Times.


    3. The Trail Network Developing Out of Palatka: There is a real buzz around St. Johns and Putnam counties in the northeastern part of the state, and a lot of that has to do with a burgeoning trail system that is attracting the attention of tourists and planners across America. Emerging from the city of Palatka, this incredible trail network, that includes many miles of rail-trail, will eventually connect St. Augustine and Lake City and cross over the St. Johns River, a distance of more than 100 miles through seven counties.

    And locals and really starting to embrace what the new trail will mean to their economy. Organizations like Putnam Blueways & Trails are promoting great new initiatives like "Bike to Eat" and the 2014 Florida Paddler's Rendezvous. Sounds delicious. And fun.


    4. Friends of the Legacy Trail: This very-switched on nonprofit group out of Sarasota County (legacytrailfriends.org) has for many years helped drive the development of the 10.6-mile Legacy Trail, which since 2008 has become one of the most beloved recreational and tourism assets along the Florida Gulf Coast. (Thanks Mike Gippert for the great pics!)

    Now, this energetic org is partnering with the Community Foundation of Sarastota and local businessman Jesse Biter to rally support for an eight-mile extension of the trail into downtown Sarasota. So far their passionate advocacy has helped secure $75,000 in county funds for an estimated $150,000 expansion study, and the partners are currently hard at work on raising the rest! Go team!


    5. Completing the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail: It might seem like an impossible task - building a rail-trail of more than 100 miles leapfrogging across the spectacular Florida Keys. But it's happening. Spearheaded by Florida's excellent Office and Greenways and Trails and a host of local agencies and supporters, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is two-thirds of the way to realization.

    And, as the rail-trail becomes a massive attraction for tourists, local businesses and residents are leading the chorus of support for its completion. It goes to show, where there's a will there's a way.


    6. Where It's At - Volusia County: The opening of the first section of the East Central Regional Rail Trail in 2013 was just the latest manifestation of the tremendous energy for biking and walking in this growing region of the state.

    Thanks to terrific champions like councilmember Patricia Northey, Volusia has decided that Florida must improve on its ranking as the most dangerous state in America for pedestrians. With a proactive council, a business community focused on tourism and attracting new entrepreneurs, and local residents eager for healthy recreation and transportation options, Volusia is well on its way as the rising star of the Florida trails scene. (Want to get rolling? Check out the Daytona Beach Bicycle Club - very cool). Photo courtesy Volusia County.


    7. Dedicated Volunteers of the Withlacoochee: Already one of the longest rail-trails in Florida at 46 miles, the Withlacoochee State Trail north of Tampa is getting a lot of love these days from a tremendous volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining and promoting the trail.

    Managed by the Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee Citizens' Support Organization, this volunteer Friends of the Withlacoochee group recently renovated a trestle bridge in Inverness, saving the State of Florida $50,000! And, twice a week you're likely to see these committed locals  trimming trees and brush, repairing asphalt or refurbishing shelters or benches. They even have a volunteer who builds bluebird houses and monitors their fledges. Sounds like a true "calling." 


    8. Miami's Booming Bike Scene - Part 1: Riders in Miami have had huge success in growing the local biking culture, boosting ridership numbers and putting active transportation in the main stream in Florida's vibrant heart. Through events like Critical Mass, bicyclists and other self-propelled commuters such as skateboarders, inline skaters and roller skaters are taking to the streets in record numbers. Since 2007, Critical Mass, propelled by the excellent advocacy blog www.themiamibikescene.com, has boomed from about 20 riders to more than 3,500 participants per event.

    And America is taking notice - Miami was recently named a top 50 bicycling city in America by Bicycling Magazine. Photo courtesy Miami Critical Mass' facebook group


    9. Miami's Booming Bike Scene - Part 2: We are huge fans of the Magic City Bicycle Collective, a nonprofit, community-driven bike center managed by volunteers. Since June 2012, the collective has served as a workspace for bike repairs and bike education and repository for affordable bicycles, and is supported almost entirely by donations. The collective's goal: empower the local biking community.


    10. The Power of Pedals in South Florida: For children to develop into strong leaders, they need the right tools. In South Florida-that's wheels! At least it is for four community-serving orgs, Lauderdale Lakes Community Redevelopment Agency, Urban GreenWorks, FLIPANY and Pinewood Elementary. Through RTC's Earn-A-Bike program in South Florida, they are empowering more than 200 underserved children in local neighborhoods to "earn-a-bike" and learn life skills through extracurricular programs that teach bike safety, maintenance and laws-of-riding. 

    "Most of our students walk to school because they don't have an alternative," said Pinewood Elementary Principal Karla Gary Orange. "It is such a powerful feeling to be able to show our students that if they can perform throughout the year, they will earn a bike at the end of the year."


    We know there's a lot more out there that deserves attention. So we want to hear from you! Do you know of a trail, project, local organization or citizen that deserves recognition in our celebration of Florida this month? Tell us! E-mail jake@railstotrails.org., or share through our facebook, twitter or instagram feeds -#RTCFlorida.

    We'll be covering great stuff happening in Florida all this month, so be sure to stay in touch for the big news and best stories out of the Sunshine State.



  • 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


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