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RTC TrailBlog

  • Take Action: Help the River of Grass Greenway in South Florida

    An important study is being conducted in Dade County, Fla., to build more bridges on U.S. Highway 41 immediately west of Krome Avenue (outskirts of Miami) for the purpose of restoring water flow to the Everglades. The recommended $330-million plan for the Tamiami Trail Modifications (TTM) project includes 5.5 miles of bridges in a 10-mile project area, but does not include a pathway. These bridges span key sections of the proposed River of Grass Greenway, which, when completed, will link Florida's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Not including a pathway in the study would create huge barriers for this significant regional connection.

    Help convince planners to include a multi-use pathway by submitting public comments before July 27. Reasons to include a multi-use pathway in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) include:

    • Encouraging non-motorized transportation within the Everglades natural area will magnifiy the environmental value of this project.
    • A pathway will reduce congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependency on oil, and improve visitor mobility and accessibility.
    • U.S. Highway 41 is an integral transportation corridor, thus a full evaluation of transportation issues should be included in the EIS. U.S. Highway 41 is the only cross-state transportation corridor in southern Florida open to cyclists and hikers, and the sole access road to many popular Everglades destinations, such as Shark Valley.
    • A pathway is part of both a planned connection to Shark Valley and the cross-state River of Grass Greenway. It will be more efficient to incorporate the pathway into the TTM project now than to retrofit later, if a future retrofit is not precluded by design issues.
    • A pathway will provide an excellent opportunity for education of Everglades restoration. The TTM project has negligible educational value, yet a primary mission of the National Parks is education.

    See Friends of the River of Grass Greenway for more information and other useful links.

    Image courtesy of Friends of the River of Grass Greenway.

  • Transportation Bill a Step Back

    The Federal Transportation Bill finally presented to Congress today takes a step back from key reforms of recent decades, says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Vice President of Policy and Trail Development Kevin Mills.

    "It shrinks from the challenge of meeting America's need for forward-looking 21st century policy that provides balanced transportation choices and improves public health and safety, the quality of our environment and the livability of our communities," Mills says.

    "From a broad transportation reform perspective, there are many reasons for concern, including misguided transportation priorities and gutting of provisions that ensure public input and consideration of the environment in transportation decisions."

    "The core programs that support trails, bicycling and walking are seriously compromised, but not undone," he says.

    Much as in the Senate bill, the most significant changes include:

    • Merging the three core trail and active transportation programs - Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and Recreational Trails  -and forcing TE and SRTS to compete for severely limited dollars against expensive new eligibilities, including some road projects;
    • Reducing the initial amount of funds available to these programs by 25-30 percent, and greatly increasing the ability of states to transfer funds away from these core programs which could multiply the loss; and
    • On the positive side, the bill will provide for greater local access to the funds through sub-allocation for larger communities (regions of 200,000+) and focusing of state administered funds on local needs (except where states opt out altogether).

    In addition, a new Complete Streets policy that was in the Senate bill to require routine accommodation of all roadway users was not included in the final bill.

    "Some in Congress sought to undermine these vital trail and active transportation programs in more fundamental ways than the bill we have now," Mills says. "It is a credit to RTC's supporters and organizational allies that these more reactionary views did not carry the day. There are scores of people across the country working hard for a better transportation system for America - as volunteers, as advocates, as planners - people who are passionate about trails and know that active transportation is good for their communities. Because trails, bicycling and walking are critical to communities of all sizes and types, they will remain a vibrant part of America's transportation future."

    Final passage of the bill is expected by Saturday.



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

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

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

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

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

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

    Click here for a downloadable infographic outlining the criteria above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • 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!


  • What Happens When a Member of Congress Attacks Trail Funding?

    Though it may not have made news headlines in your community, last Friday a significant battle was won in our never-ending defense of America's trails.

    Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, had proposed an amendment to the Preserving America's Transit and Highways Act to eliminate funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), by far the largest dedicated source of funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.

    The simple fact is that without TAP, America would not have many of the trails and pathways we use today, and sometimes take for granted.

    And so Rails-to-Trails Conservancy realized the great threat that Toomey's amendment presented. We rallied our friends and partners around the country, and urged our individual supporters, people like you, to pressure Sen. Toomey to withdraw the amendment.

    What a response you gave. Our supporters sent more than 7,000 messages to Toomey and his peers in Congress voicing their enthusiastic support of TAP and urging elected officials to support programs that help build trails and active transportation facilities.

    In Pennsylvania, we quickly gathered a broad coalition of 85 groups representing trails, health, business, tourism and citizen groups to sign a letter to Sen. Toomey, and hand-delivered the letter to the Senator and all Pennsylvanian Congressional representatives, in person, at their offices.

    As they continued to apply pressure on Capitol Hill, late on Friday afternoon our policy and government relations staff received confirmation that Sen. Toomey had withdrawn the amendment.

    This victory is evidence of two things. The first is the great support in local communities for federal programs to support trails, biking and walking. Where the rubber meets the road, programs like TAP have real and positive impacts in neighborhoods and main streets nationwide. It gets projects built, and it changes lives.

    Secondly, it demonstrates the vital importance of RTC's work defending funding for trails. The behind-the-scenes work we do, utilizing relationships with trail building partners across the country, comes into play when we need to exert pressure on key decision makers to protect trails and active transportation.

    As a supporter of RTC, it is important that you see the results of your contribution, and enjoy the fruits of our combined labors! This victory - defeating Sen. Toomey's amendment - is a win for the millions of Americans like you who know that trails, biking and walking are key elements of America's future.

    Keep informed about RTC's work and trail building efforts in your state by signing up to our news feed: www.railstotrails.org/enews


    Patrick Wojahn recently joined RTC as the director of government relations. He focuses on national, state and local policy efforts to build broad support for trails across America.



  • Adirondack Corridor - America's Next Great Rail-Trail

    Though there are more than 1,700 rail-trails across America, covering all different shapes and sizes, a small handful stand out as true superstars of the rail-trail movement. Whether for the beauty of their surrounds, their length, or an indefinable charm and character, these rail-trails become beloved attractions drawing praise, and visitors, from near and far.

    On this list are  trails such as the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho, the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri, and Vermont's Island Line. Right now, plans are afoot for the conversion of former rail corridor that, when completed, will immediately force its way into that elite company.

    Running through the scenic Tri-Lakes region of upper New York is the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor (right). Currently, the line carries a seasonal sightseeing train, which through limited ridership hasn't delivered significant commercial returns in a picturesque region bursting with recreational tourism potential.

    Inspired by the ability of rail-trail projects elsewhere to boost recreational tourism, a group of locals last year formed the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA), with the goal of converting a 34-mile section of track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake into a multi-use trail.

    As they prepared to build a case to convince local residents and authorities of what such a rail-trail could bring to the area, ARTA turned to the experts. For the past year, Carl Knoch, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's manager of trail development in the Northeast, has been working closely with ARTA, evaluating the potential economic impact of an Adirondacks rail-trail, and studying ways and means to build it.

    Knoch's message to the communities between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake is the same message that has sparked the development of similar projects in his native Pennsylvania: Trails are good business for small towns.

    This is not just a gut feeling. Knoch's Northeast Regional Office is a national leader in compiling trail user data to assess the economic stimulus of trails to the towns and villages they pass through. This commercial impact--for hotels, campsites, food outlets and outdoor retailers--and the multiplier effect of an injection into the local economy--has helped promote the development of several renowned trails systems in Pennsylvania and secured the viability of towns once suffering the decline of industry.

    Knoch says the Tri-Lakes is perfectly placed to reap the same rewards.

    "The 60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail has seen about $3.6 million annually in new spending since the trail was created, with 138,000 users on an annual basis," he says of a comparable trail in the neighboring state. "What could 138,000 new users do for Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and Tupper Lake? In talking to the folks that own businesses along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, they basically say the conversion of that railroad into a multi-season rail-trail is the salvation of the valley."

    When Knoch first began traveling to the Tri-Lakes to discuss a rail-trail conversion, he encountered a good deal of local opposition. But after a number of public meetings and a period of outreach and education, business owners, residents and town officials are now supportive of removing the train tracks to construct the optimal rail-trail.

    However the state Department of Transportation (DOT), which has jurisdiction over the corridor, has indicated they plan to leave the little-used corridor, deteriorated in sections, as it is. Undeterred, local officials have begun petitioning the DOT to revisit its management plan for the corridor, which hasn't been reexamined in 17 years, despite the evaporation of rail service in that time. The locals' frustration is evident.

    "...[T]he taxpayers are paying huge unanticipated sums each year to subsidize a money-losing operation while simultaneously blocking one of the best economic development options open to the North Country," Saranac Lake resident Lee Keet wrote to the editor of the Times Union recently.

    Aware that hard data and the recorded experiences of similar communities tell the most compelling story, RTC recently published a study of the proposed 34-mile section, featuring estimated trail-user numbers and related economic impact based on data gathered from similar rail-trails in the Northeast. This study found that a rail-trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake would attract a midpoint estimate of 224,260 visitors annually, each spending between $63.86 and $99.30 per day--worth an estimated $19.8 million to local economies.

    The cost of constructing the 34-mile segment would be approximately $2.2 million, which could be offset by $5.3 million of income from the salvage and sale of the tracks and ties. Knoch says the $3.1 million excess could be applied to construction of future sections of the trail, or maintenance.

    To read and download the Adirondack Rail Trail study, and other RTC research publications, visit community.railstotrails.org/media

    Photos of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor by Carl Knoch/RTC.



  • 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!


  • Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to defend rail-trails in the Supreme Court: Wyoming landowner threatens public ownership of rail corridors

    A case scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court over the next few months could threaten America's ability to convert disused rail corridors into public multi-use trails.

    At issue in Marvin S. Brandt Revocable Trust et al., v. United States is whether the American people retain a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after railroad activity has ceased on the corridor. It is only the second time that a rail-trail case has been heard by the nation's highest court.

    The corridor in this case passes through a segment of land surrounded by Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming that the U.S. Forest Service patented to the Brandt family in 1976. Bisecting that parcel is a 200-foot wide corridor of federally-owned land that had been granted to the Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railway company in 1908, for the purpose of constructing a railroad.

    These federally-granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and ATV pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    Recognizing the great importance of providing public access to the nation's public lands, in 2007 the U.S. Forest Service and local groups converted most of that disused corridor into the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, which has become one of the most popular rail-trails in America.

    This spectacular 21-mile rail-trail, which has provided a significant boost to the state's trails tourism economy, has but one disconnection point - the Brandt property. The Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Pacific Legal Foundation are behind the Brandt's effort to sue the United States to bring the public corridor into private ownership and prevent its reuse as a publicly accessible rail-trail.

    The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming and, later, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the United States did have a reversionary interest in the corridor, that this federally-held right-of-way could be made available as rail-trail, and rejected the Brandt's claim of ownership. However, unsatisfied with these rulings, and supported by well-financed interests, the Brandts continue to appeal.

    As the only organization in America committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court this month defending the grand vision of our forefathers that explicitly held that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. 

    The case affects more than a century of federal laws and policies protecting the public's interest in railroad corridors created through public lands - and could have lasting impacts on the future of rail-trails across the country. Just like our national parks and treasured lands to which they connect, these rail corridors are protected assets in which the public has a unique interest.

    A loss before the Supreme Court would not only potentially block the public rail-trail providing access to Medicine Bow National Forest, but would also threaten rail-trails across America that utilize federally-granted rights-of-way.

    Oral argument in the case is expected in January, with a decision expected later in 2014.

    Learn more about our previous court win in this case ⇒

    For the latest on the case and to get the up-to-date news on trails from across the country, sign up to be a part of our online community.

    Photo of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail courtesy Cycle Wyoming


  • Adirondack Community Rallies Around Rail-Trail Potential

    Crucial to the success of any new trail project is the formation of an energetic and motivated group of local advocates and volunteers.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is always eager to provide planning expertise, assist with securing state and local government support, and mobilize our national network of members and supporters. But unless a strong local organization is in place, it can often be very difficult to get a new project off the ground.

    By that measure, the future looks pretty bright for the proposed Adirondack Recreational Trail.

    In the Tri-Lakes region of upper New York State, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake currently carries a seasonal sightseeing excursion train, which many residents say has not delivered significant economic benefits to a picturesque region bursting with potential for recreational tourism.

    The newly created Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) hope to see that track converted into a 34-mile recreational trail, following the lead of many communities like theirs which have converted their natural resources and historical rail lines into sustainable local economies. They are spreading word of their cause and hope to recruit 500 members in order to persuade local politicians and planners that this project is a development that residents and business people want.

    In August, Carl Knoch, manager of trail development for RTC's Northeast Regional Office, met with area residents to present a message that has sparked the development of similar projects in his native Pennsylvania:  Trails are good business for small towns.

    That's not just a gut feeling. Knoch's office is a national leader in compiling trail user data to assess the economic stimulus of trails to the towns and villages they pass through. This commercial impact--for hotels, campsites, food outlets and outdoor retailers, and the multiplier effect of an injection into the local economy--has helped promote the development of several renowned trail systems in Pennsylvania, and secured the viability of towns once dying with the decline of industry.

    Knoch says the Tri-Lakes is perfectly placed to reap the same rewards.

    "The 60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail has seen about $3.6 million annually in new spending since the trail was created, with 138,000 users on an annual basis," he says of a comparable trail in the neighboring state. "What could 138,000 new users do for Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and Tupper Lake? In talking to the folks that own businesses along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, they basically say the conversion of that railroad into a multi-season rail-trail is the salvation of the valley."

    Knoch will continue to work with ARTA to recruit new supporters, seek grant opportunities and develop plans for the trail from the concept stage to a more concrete reality.

    Support, spread the word, or keep tabs on this exciting rail-trail project, at www.thearta.org.

    Photo of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

  • In Search of the Fountain of Youth Along Ohio's Little Miami Scenic Trail

    by Abbey Roy

    It started out as a Father's Day excursion. My brother Ben, The Amateur Jetsetter, was leaving on Father's Day morning for Morocco, with a layover in Paris for a few obligatory shots of the Eiffel Tower. The least I could do as the only remaining (nee) Stirgwolt sibling in the country was to offer some sort of consolation prize for the man who has put up with our shenanigans for the last quarter century, give or take.

    For my dad, though--and me, too--our Little Miami Scenic Trail bike trip would be more than mere consolation. It promised to evolve into a belated coming-of-age tale; an exclusive chance to experience our beloved Buckeye State in a way we never had--on two wheels.

    The logistics as initially planned were daunting for two amateur cycling enthusiasts without the hours to devote to training: two days, 70 miles apiece. Our own miniature GOBA (that's Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure) minus the $200 entry fee and 2,000 other cyclists.

    Just me and Dad, a fanny pack, our cameras and our bikes.


    Dad spent weeks working out the details. They changed a few times, eventually shrinking to a single-day, 75-mile trip the Friday after Father's Day (thanks to rain delays and conflicting dentist appointments), beginning in Cincinnati and ending in Springfield, where Mom, having freshly returned from a day of antique shopping, would pick us up and haul us back to Newark, Ohio.

    On Thursday, the day before we left, Dad called me between work meetings to tell me how excited he was. He had been telling me that for weeks. It was cute. He was like a little kid--a 59-year-old kid--getting ready to go to Disney World for the first time.

    Friday was gray and intermittently drizzly and generally unpleasant, which didn't much matter after several days' worth of delayed plans: It could have been hailing and we would still have left the house by 8 a.m. to drive to Cincinnati in hopes that the sun eventually would peek out.

    Sitting in the back seat with Dad at the wheel took me back to the summer vacations when the four of us piled into our 1991 Plymouth Voyager, camping gear and a week's worth of supplies jammed in the back, ready for untold adventure. On this particular day, my parents were old enough to get senior discounts at most sit-down chain restaurants, my brother was spending two months in North Africa and I was leaving behind a 23-month-old and husband.

    Certainly a lot had changed over the years, but there was no doubt about it: The same old excitement was there.


    In the passenger seat, Mom worked to double-, triple- and quadruple-check the directions from the Cincinnati trailhead to the Springfield antique mall. It was obvious she had a few misgivings about the operation, but after 36 years of marriage, as I understand it, you have to pick your battles. This was a battle Dad had won.

    We arrived at the Little Miami Golf Center around 11 a.m. and learned during our short passage from the entryway to the parking area that there's actually such a thing as lawn bowling, though the foreboding clouds evidently had discouraged enthusiasts from demonstrating that morning. We prepped the bikes, changed into our gear, said bye to Mom, suggested that she try lawn bowling and were off.

    The journey started out chilly with a tinge of nervousness about the drizzle, as we'd both packed only short sleeves. But we warmed up as we pedaled and chatted about our plans for the trip, wished Ben could have been there and marveled at the beauty of the trees arcing over the path and the river--muddy as it was--along the route.

    Within the first 10 miles we were planning a similar trek upon Ben's return--maybe a two-dayer in the fall.

    Dad was in the lead as we held about 16 mph, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. I followed close behind with a goofy grin on my face for no other reason than that this was shaping up to be a pretty darn good day.


    We made several stops along the way, once to lunch at a Loveland coffee shop that was absolutely fitting for a journey like this, packed from wall to wall with quaint cottagey decor and fitted with a bathroom that doubled as a storage closet. I took a picture of the aprons hanging on the door.

    Over peanut butter granola bars, we waited out a pesky rainstorm in Corwin under an empty picnic shelter; I took advantage of the down time to snap a few close-ups of the specks of mud that had sprayed from the bicycle tires onto my legs as we rolled over the wet path.

    We moved on.

    As the miles added up, we talked less and looked more. I led for a short while at Dad's urging, but eventually traffic on the path died down and we fell to riding side by side.

    By the time we were a few miles away from Xenia, after more gradual climbs than I'd counted on or prepared for, the thought of stopping early crept into my mind. But every time I'd glance to my left and see Dad, his "high-vis" neon green bike shirt nearly glowing beside me, I put my head down and forced my legs to move up, down, up, down, around and around, rotation after rotation, mile after mile.

    He had 30-plus years on me. Didn't he ever get tired?


    We kept going despite mounting protests from our saddle-sore and pedal-weary bodies, stopping briefly in Xenia before coming to the unpleasant realization that more dark clouds were approaching. As we ducked under a maple tree to wait out the downpour, we actually discussed stopping.

    "You don't want to bag it here, do you?" Dad asked.

    I had been thinking of it. We'd come nearly 60 miles, a record for both of us. But we'd wanted to reach 75, to make it to Springfield.

    I paused a moment before replying.

    "Part of me knows the next 20 miles are going to be grueling," I said. "But the other part of me hates quitting early."

    I knew I got that from him.

    Finally we agreed to ride to Yellow Springs before calling to Mom to pick us up, presumably with a stash of great antique-store finds. It seemed like a nice compromise. By the time we arrived, it was around 5 p.m. and we were shivery from the combination of rain and a light wind that seemed to have come out of nowhere. The sun had just come out and we dismounted--stiffly and triumphantly--stretched and relished the feeling of being off the bike seat.

    I took a picture of the Yellow Springs sign and the cute fabric flowers that adorned it, and the mile marker from where we stood to Cincinnati: 68 miles, it said. We enjoyed a nice dinner with Mom and, though slightly disappointed we didn't finish out at an even 70 miles, agreed we were pleased with the day's accomplishments.

    As Dad drove the van back to Newark and I devoured most of the remaining Twizzlers in our snack stash, I took my place in the back seat and thought about the many times during those 68 miles I'd thought I'd like to slow down.

    And how, every time, I'd look over at Dad--the little kid in a big kid's body--pushing forward almost effortlessly, as if the Magic Kingdom were just ahead.

    It always made me smile despite my fatigue, and it kept us going--together.

    Abbey Roy is a native of northeast Ohio and transplant to central Ohio, where she is a newspaper reporter, wife and mom. When she was five, her dad insisted on teaching her to ride her bike without using training wheels. She's been rolling ever since. 

    Photos courtesy of Abbey Roy.  


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

    The Land of 10,000 Lakes 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 Minnesota.

    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!




  • Opportunity Knocks in Missouri: RTC Steps In to Save 145-Mile Connection to Katy Trail

    On July 28, the chance to save a 145-mile segment of inactive rail corridor dropped out of the sky. The opportunity to preserve an intact corridor of this length was more common 20 years ago, but rarely happens today.

    The corridor in question-which hasn't seen train traffic in about 30 years-is a segment of the old Rock Island Line that run from Windsor to Beaufort, Mo. What makes this doubly exciting is that this corridor intersects the 237-mile Katy Trail in Windsor. With the successful preservation of this corridor, it would not be hard to imagine a world-class trail system of more than 400 miles that would span the entire state of Missouri, connecting St. Louis and Kansas City.

    This corridor has long been on our radar. For almost two years, RTC staffer Eric Oberg has been providing technical assistance to local activists who are intent upon turning this unused rail line into a trail. While we were aware that Ameren, the electric utility company that owns the corridor, was soliciting bids for its purchase, we thought a local nonprofit organization would submit the bid.

    Help Make It Happen: Sign the Missouri Bike Federation's petition urging Governor Nixon and the owners of the corridor to allow the creation of a rail-trail.

    On Monday afternoon, we found out that wasn't going to happen. If we didn't quickly step in to submit an offer to purchase, the corridor would likely be lost for both trail development and the possible future reactivation of the line for rail service. Long story short-we kicked into high gear and submitted a bid just before the deadline on Thursday.

    I will admit some trepidation when I signed an eight-figure offer to purchase a piece of real estate, particularly when such an action wasn't even remotely contemplated when I arrived at work on Monday morning. (It is important to note that RTC is not shouldering the financial burden of the purchase alone; our pockets aren't that deep. Rather, the deal is structured so that RTC will be working with two private sector partners to secure the purchase the corridor.)

    It's impossible to know if our bid will be accepted. But if all goes as planned, a multi-step transaction will unfold over several months. The critical step in that process will be ensuring that the corridor has been "railbanked" to preserve it intact as a transportation asset for the American people. With that step completed, the sale would finalize, and at the moment that we own the property we would donate it to Missouri State Parks for development as a trail. And it could be spectacular!

    I am proud of the role that RTC has played in this effort, particularly Andrea Ferster, our general counsel, who is among a handful of national experts on the arcane details of railroad real estate law.

    But if the future includes a ribbon cutting on a fantastic new trail, the bulk of the credit will go to those local activists who envisioned all the many benefits that such a trail would bring to their communities. So it is with gratitude that we look forward to a long partnership with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation and Missouri State Parks to make the vision of such a trail a tangible reality.

    Help Support this Great Effort
    Sign our petition urging the owners of the corridor to allow the creation of a rail-trail. Sign Now >>

    Keith Laughlin is the President of RTC. Prior to joining the organization in 2001, he was the associate director for sustainable development on the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, the continuation of a career focused on environmental conservation and livable communities. In recent years, Keith has guided RTC's effort to become a national leader in the trails and greenways movement.

  • Great Adventures on the GAP: Memoirs of an 11-Year-Old Bicyclist

    RTC is shining the spotlight on the state of Pennsylvania during September. When it comes to trails, Pennsylvania is doing it right! Check back throughout the month to learn how unique collaborations and forward-thinking agencies are coming together to help communities realize their trail visions and make Pennsylvania a leader in the trails world.

    We want to extend a special thank you to Mae Nagel and her father David for this very heartfelt and very candid peak at their recent bike trip through part of the Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania!

    When my dad told me we should take a father-daughter bike trip along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. First, we realized that I needed a new bike because my other one was too small, so we went to a bike shop. I was so excited about getting a shiny, brand new bike!

    On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 5, at 4:15 p.m., after a piano lesson we were late to (and missed), we set out. We got to Café Bruges in Carlisle, Pa., around 6:30 p.m. for dinner. I had corned beef for the first time, and their Belgian fries were delicious! We also had delicious chocolate mousse for dessert. Then we set out for the Lodge at Chalk Hill in western Pennsylvania where we would begin our adventure. 

    On Wednesday morning, we woke up to cold, rainy weather. We thought to ourselves, Oh no! It can’t be raining. We were very disappointed. I guess singing “Rain, rain, go away, don’t come back until…Sunday!” really works because the rain stopped, and the sun came out. Hooray! We were so relieved. We drove to the start of the GAP in Connellsville, where we loaded up our bikes with panniers, sleeping bags, a tent and luggage of all sorts. The best part was putting my teddy bear, Beary, in my pannier with his head sticking out so he could watch the scenery.

    At the very beginning of the trip, the trail was paved, so it was easy riding and smooth. After about a mile, the trail was flat with packed gravel. I was really excited, but after about nine miles, I was surprised we had only gone that far. We kept plugging away, but after a while I was really anxious to get to our midway point in Ohiopyle. I was wishing I had a super power that would make me be in Ohiopyle—right then and there.

    Experiencing Challenges

    After that, when I thought we’d gone three more miles, my dad checked his odometer and realized we had only gone one. “Ugh!”  It wasn’t that bad, though, because we had snacks and played games like 20 Questions and This or That while we were riding, which made the time pass more quickly. Along the way we saw waterfalls that were pretty and picturesque. The trail was peaceful, and there were nice overlooks. Thinking back, though, we were like Dory in Finding Nemo, singing, “Just keep swimming; just keep swimming.”  I learned to just keep going.

    Finally, we arrived in Ohiopyle, where we decided that going the additional 11 miles to Confluence would be just too far. I admit I was a little upset, because we didn’t have our car, and the town was unfamiliar. We had lunch and ice cream, but that didn’t help much.  

    We realized we needed to book the campsite for one more night (we were originally going to stay in Confluence for one night), so we asked around and finally found the park office. My dad called Ohiopyle State Park and asked if we could have a campsite for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, instead of just Thursday and Friday, and fortunately we could. The woman at the trail office directed us to where it was. We found the path to the campground, but it was a quarter mile of steep rockiness, and after a long, hard day, you don’t think anything can get worse, so that was hard. 

    We finally found the check-in office at the campground, and the lady was very nice. She gave us cookies. Then, we heard thunder and felt a gust of wind, and it started to pour. Now things really couldn’t get worse! Fortunately, the nice lady let us stay under the porch, and my dad pulled out some jellybeans! Yummy! When the rain stopped, we went to set up our tent, and everything felt better that evening.

    Brighter Days Ahead

    The next day, the ride back was a TON easier. Maybe it was because the route was slightly downhill, and we didn’t have our panniers—we left them at the campground—but we went eight to 10 miles per hour! I was relieved that we had gone halfway so quickly. I had so much fun, and the trail was beautiful.   

    It was really fun to watch the river and hear the train go by on the other side. There were lookouts and waterfalls, and benches at which to stop and have a snack. We arrived back in Connellsville in two hours and 20 minutes. It was a breeze! We got our car and drove back to the campsite. After that, we went to some natural water slides at Ohiopyle, and we stayed two more days.  

    On Friday morning, we visited Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, and in the afternoon we went to Cucumber Falls at the campground and enjoyed the nice water. The next morning, we packed our bags and headed back to Philadelphia.  

    Now that I know what to expect, I’m excited to go on my next biking trip. 

    For me, the 17 miles there and back were a big accomplishment, and all in all, it was an excellent adventure that I’d highly recommend.

    Just don’t forget the jellybeans! 

    Photos courtesy David Nagel


    Mae Nagel is an 11-year-old from Pennsylvania. With her father David, she completed her first bike trip along the Great Allegheny Passage this August.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo courtesy Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center


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