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RTC TrailBlog

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photos courtesy of WABI Burien and Patti Means Project Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

    Describe your work involving kids and physical activity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photos courtesy of Chickaro Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Top photo courtesy Dr. Ted Eytan

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

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

  • Top 7 Reasons Happy Hearts = Healthy Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    4. Laughter really is the best medicine. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Where to Rent or Borrow Outdoor Gear in Washington

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

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

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

    Drummond writes:

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

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

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

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

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

  • Triumph on the Trails (Broken Hearts Repaired)

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

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

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

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

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

    And we did even better than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in White County, Indiana

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about Feb. 4, 2014, CSX Transportation filed for the abandonment of 9.67 miles of track between Monon and Monticello in White County, Ind. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A “boiler plate” letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-55 (sub-no. 712x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is March 6, 2014. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

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

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

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

  • Remain Active in the Golden Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Tomorrow Is National Wear Red Day

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy Heart Month!

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

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

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

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

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

    Bisbee writes:

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

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

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

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

  • The Effects of Disparities and Walkability on Health: A Closer Look at Washington, D.C.

    In the past decade, much research has been published about the affects of socioeconomic imbalances on health and wellness. In observance of American Heart Month, RTC is pleased to present this post by Dr. Ted Eytan, which discusses a factor that health professionals attribute as being particularly relevant to the short- and long-term health of communities: walkability.

    By using the rigorous methodology laid out in this 2007 survey study, Washington, D.C., is the most walkable city in the U.S.  

    According to the report: 

    Washington, D.C., could be the “National Model of Walkable Urban Growth.” The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has the most regional-serving walkable urban places per capita in the country, having 1 for every 264,000 people, and 1 of each of the 5 types of walkable urban places.

    However, the researcher, Christopher B. Leinberger, also produced this report in May 2012, which looks at deeper attributes of walkability, including the use of a 162-item audit tool, to assess “objective data on built environment characteristics hypothesized to be related to physical activity.” 

    They stratified walkability into five levels (5 = highest) and then looked at economic characteristics of these areas. The results confirm what was emphasized in the “Weight of the Nation” series, which is that lack of money is not the only problem that poor people have when it comes to their health. It’s the lack of walkability that results in poorer health outcomes. This report found that—

    • Walkable neighborhoods are more expensive to live in, which makes it harder for people with less money to move into them.
    • Walkable neighborhoods have much better access to jobs and recreational opportunities, and lower transportation costs (15 to 21 percent more jobs within 90 minutes and 340 to 360 percent more parks).
    • Walkable neighborhoods perform better economically, have higher housing values and have higher retail sales.
    • Walkable neighborhoods are not as capital intensive to improve as non-walkable ones.

    The study authors didn’t look at health outcomes, but I can tell pretty quickly from this map that the non-walkable areas of Washington, D.C., are the ones with an obesity rate of 42 percent—higher than that of Mississippi, the state with the highest rate in the U.S.—and the walkable areas shown have the lowest obesity rates, in the 13 percent range.

    It appears that we’ve arrived at a place where not having the ability to walk has far reaching associations with economic and physical health. 

    The authors make a good case for the consideration of “walkable placemaking” in the creation of policy and urban planning. 

    The scoring methodology provides a basis for understanding gaps that can be measured and closed for people who are disproportionately affected by an environment that conspires to reduce their individual effectiveness in being healthy and productive. 

    The health system is very much affected too; I can imagine that the hard work of doctors, nurses and health care organizations becomes less effective because of unsupportive community conditions.

    Data like this should hopefully stimulate all community stakeholders to understand the problem and work to reduce its unequal impact across the population. 

    ..................................................................

    Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH, is director of Kaiser Permanente's Permanente Federation, LLC, and is a member of the Partnership for Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Dr. Eytan's specialty includes working with large medical groups and technologists to leverage health information technology that ensures families can play an active role in their own healthcare.

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Racine County, Wisconsin

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about Jan. 28, 2014, Soo Line Railroad Company filed for the abandonment of 10.63 miles of track between Sturtevant and Kansasville in Racine County, Wis. The corridor represents a significant gap between the existing White River State Trail and Racine-Sturtevant Trail. 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-57 (sub-no. 61x). 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 Feb. 27, 2014. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all the paperwork or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing.

    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 Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • Healthy Young Hearts: the Beating Pulse of RTC's Mission

    Everyone that works at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is passionate about our mission, which includes the statement "Building Healthier Places for Healthier People."

    This, of course, has special relevance to our children.

    We are inspired by the challenge of helping future generations reverse the trend toward inactivity and obesity that health experts say is the most pressing public health crisis since the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    It's why we work on Safe Routes to School (SRTS) projects and help local groups provide trails and safe pathways that allow students to ride or walk to and from school. It's why we've put a lot of time and resources into developing "Earn-a-Bike" programs, particularly in low-income and under-served neighborhoods. These programs allow children the chance to learn life-long skills in bike maintenance and safe riding, as well as equip them with their own bike and helmet to get them moving toward a healthier lifestyle.

    RTC staff work tirelessly around the country on projects that open up opportunities for children and their families to get outside, get active and ultimately be together. We believe that trails are one of those special places where families can not only spend quality time together, which is so important, but also allow for that special time to be spent making every family member healthier through movement.

    What better gift can we leave our children than an appreciation for being together, being healthy and being active? As an RTC staff member, I am proud to be a part of the movement to create places that make this possible.

    ..................................................................

    Trail Development Manager Eric Oberg works out of RTC's Midwest office. He periodically blogs on topics related to trail building, economic development and community trail events in the Midwest. 

     

  • Ten Great Things Happening in Washington State

    It’s impossible to hit even 1 percent of the things that make Washington a mecca for self-propelled transport and trail development. The state is a long-recognized national leader in these areas, harnessing federal funds, and promoting and enacting policies that have led to some of the most walkable and bikeable communities in the country. In 2013, Washington was named the most bicycle-friendly state in the U.S. for the sixth year in a row by the League of American Bicyclists. And, Washington continues its commitment to smart growth, demonstrated in part by its 20-year plan to enact strategies addressing $1.6-billion-worth of bicycling and pedestrian improvements.

    There’s no denying that Washington is a place where nature, development and active transport are one with each other (for real; see bike-in-tree story by Discover Washington State)—but we’ll let the evidence “speak” for itself.

    Kicking off our month, here’s a list of 10 great things making the Evergreen State evergreener.

     

    1. Bridging the Gaps from Mountains to Sound

    For more than 30 years, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has served as a place for outdoor experience, recreation, education, agriculture, development and opportunity in the 1.5-million-acre area spanning from Seattle and across the Cascade Mountains into Central Washington. Such an iconic place deserves attention, and so it was music to our ears to hear that the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust is leading the creation of a 3.6-mile trail connection near the I-90/I-405 interchange from Factoria Boulevard to the eastern end of Bellevue. This will be a vital regional trail link providing a safe, active transportation option for families in this very urbanized area. Photo courtesy Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust Facebook page


    2. Get On the “Schoolbike”

    Here’s what fifth-grader Clara had to say to Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle: “We all live in a community, and it is up to us to take care of it. Biking to school makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the earth. If you bike to school one time, it makes you want to do it again and again.” It’s kids like Clara, a year-round bike commuter, that have inspired the club in partnership with Washington Bikes to promote the creation of more bike-to-school programs in the state. On Feb. 8, the partners are holding a workshop for educators, community leaders and the like who wish to start their own programs and promote a bike-friendly culture in schools. And the best part: it’s free!

    Fun fact: The Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation runs bike-to-school programs that impact 3,500 kids annually.

     

    3. Speaking of Washington Bikes…

    This statewide bicycle advocacy organization—which aims to “cultivate the growth of bicycling”—has helped ensure the passage of a majority of bike legislation adopted in Washington for the past 25 years. This past year, their impressive wins included the signing of the Neighborhood Safe Streets Bill into law by Governor Jay Inslee and the restoration of the Safe Routes to School Grant Program to its pre-2012 level, resulting in $18.45 million in investments between 2013 and 2015. (This is the highest rate of investment in Washington State history.)

    And one win that’s really cool: In Senate Bill (SB) 5263, Concerning motorcycles overtaking and passing pedestrians and bicyclists, an amendment facilitated by Washington Bikes and Cascade Bicycle Club added a three-foot passing distance requirement for motorcycles overtaking cyclists and pedestrians in the travel lane. Safe routes for all.

     

    4. Badger Mountain’s Friends – Part 1

    We were pleased to hear from Fun, Fit and Over Fifty Club President Dennis Trimble. His Richland-based group is dedicated to bringing adults aged 50 and over together for all things active + outdoors, in order to promote “physical, intellectual and social health.” They are particularly fond of the 5.5-mile trail system at the 574-acre Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve; many club excursions take place in this beautiful scenic escape, and the club is also serving as a sponsor for the Badger Mountain Challenge ultramarathon 15K this spring. It’s news like this that proves active lifestyles and active transportation are truly lifelong pursuits. Photo courtesy Fun, Fit and Over Fifty Club Website

    A shout out to Trimble for bringing this next set of business to our attention…


    5. Badger Mountain’s Friends – Part 2

    There are some exciting developments taking place with regard to the aforementioned trail system. According to Friends of Badger Trailmaster Jim Langdon, “There are plans in play to connect a trail from Claybill Park in Richland to the Yakama River near Benton City—a length of around 20 miles.” Major, right? Especially when he adds that the end result will be a trail system that connects Badger Mountain with the ridges of Candy and Red mountains.

    Congratulations to Langdon, who was recently honored with a 2013 Conservationist of the Year award by the Benton Conservation District for his work related to creating and maintaining the Badger Mountain trail system. 

     

    6. Bike Swapping in Spokane and the Centennial Trail

    Now in its third year, the two-day Spokane Bike Swap and Expo (April 12-13, 2014) brings together a couple thousand people, 40-some vendors and hundreds of used bikes registered for sale. What’s even more inspiring: The funds raised are donated to Friends of the Centennial Trail, a group dedicated to maintaining and developing the 20-year old and as yet, unfinished, 37.5-mile Spokane River Centennial Trail, and its adjacent parkland. 

    And they're really churning it out; the friends group has just completed gap closures at the Washington-Idaho border, Veteran’s Park and Kendall Yards (providing a vital connection to downtown Spokane), and the group is actively working on eight more connections along the trail. Photo courtesy TrailLink.com


    7. Washington Trails Association Gets Top Honors x 3

    Just a few months ago, the Washington Trails Association—which mobilizes more than 3,000 volunteers annually to repair and maintain trails—was recognized by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Funding Board for three projects as part of the Recreational Trails Program. This means $150,000 green ones to help support volunteer trail teams who maintain more than 600 miles of trails in the Evergreen State. Recognition like this is imperative, we think, in a state where outdoor recreation contributes more than $11.7 billion annually to the local economy. 

    “Our state’s mountains and forests are important recreation areas. Without these grants, many trails would not reopen after winter storms and summer fires,” says Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. “The work done by the trails association and its volunteers keeps trails open for countless numbers of hikers, mountain bikers and others.”


    8. WABI-ists of Burien

    What’s in a name?  Sometimes everything.  WABI Burien is short for Walk/Bike Burien, an organization dedicated to nurturing a walk-bike culture in their 100-year-old waterfront community along the Puget Sound. We were pleased to hear about their recent bike-rack effort, which according to WABI Burien President Maureen Hoffmann was an original raison d’etre when she and other local walking/biking advocates set up as a nonprofit a few years ago. And in 2013, in partnership with the city’s parks and recreation department and with support from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board, they saw this goal fulfilled, installing 23 custom bike racks in the downtown area (with plans to install 18 more in the coming future).

    "Through the Downtown Burien Bike Rack Project, we want to encourage people to be active and healthy, to shop local and to consider alternate ways of getting around town,” Hoffmann recently told RTC. Photo courtesy WABI Burien


    9. Eastside Rail Corridor Trail Emerging in Kirkland

    We like writing about game changers, and it’s looking like the Eastside Rail Corridor trail has the potential for such a moniker. 

    Thanks to some great updates via Tom Fucoloro’s Seattle Bike Blog, we’ve learned that a group called the Eastside Trail Advocates is leading the charge for a high-quality paved trail along the corridor that could rival some of the best trails in the Seattle area.

    And we were especially pleased to find out that earlier this year, the City of Kirkland was given the go-ahead to create an interim crushed gravel trail on the portion of the corridor running through their jurisdiction. They are also in the process of developing a master plan for the trail corridor, which will likely include a paved hiking and biking trail. Check out the latest update by Fucoloro, or learn all about the project on Kirkland's website. Photo courtesy Marie Stake and Jim Eagan via Kirklandwa.gov


    10. Northgate Link Light Rail to Be “Feet Friendly”

    In 2012, the Sound Transit Board voted to allot up to $10 million for pedestrian infrastructure at the future Northgate Link Light Rail station, scheduled to open in 2021 to connect the Northgate, Roosevelt and U District neighborhoods to downtown Seattle and the airport, thanks to some serious local advocacy. We want to shout out Feet First—a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting walking, and the rights and interests of pedestrians—for leading the charge. It’s estimated that by 2032, 92 percent of 15,000 daily riders will access the station by walking, biking or bus. We can’t think of a better reason for the pedestrian-friendly design.

    But if you’re still not sold, check out this Youtube video by Feet First and the Rainier Beach Touchstones project.

     

    We know there's a lot to highlight in Washington this month, and we've just scratched the surface. So we want to hear from you! Do you know of a trail, project, local organization or citizen that deserves recognition? Tell us! Email amy@railstotrails.org, or share through our facebook, twitter or instagram feeds - #RTCWAState

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