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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!

     

  • 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.  

     

  • A Big Notch in the (Shrinking) Belt of Pennsylvania Cyclist

    By T.C. Lumbar

    As bikemates 20 years his junior bowed out with sore legs and stiff muscles, Gus Rivera was proudly the last man standing. A year and a half earlier, and 75 pounds heavier, Rivera, 57, didn't even own a bike. 

    At the time, he had begun a weight loss journey, shedding his first few pounds by walking. But progress was slow. "It just wasn't working as much as I wanted it to," he says.

    Eager to try something new, and unable to run because of joint pain, he hopped on his first bike since childhood last July. "I was able to enjoy it enough to stay with it," says Rivera. "Little by little, I started seeing more and more weight drop off."

    Since then, the Mount Carmel, Pa., native has taken advantage of a bevy of trails within driving distance, gradually ramping up his ride lengths. With pounds quickly vanishing, Rivera set his sights on a new goal: completing a two-day, 140-mile round-trip ride between Jersey Shore and Wellsboro Junction, Pa., via the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a 62-mile bed of crushed stone that cuts through century-old hardwood forest.

    The Pine Creek Rail Trail once carried lumber, coal and cargo, but now delivers cyclists, walkers and the occasional equestrian into the mouth of Pine Creek Gorge. Steep tree-lined mountainsides, carved by melting glaciers during the last ice age, rise up nearly 1,000 feet along the edge of the trail, which runs creekside for all but seven miles.

    Gathering a few friends to join him for this journey through the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania," Rivera planned his test of endurance as a belated celebration of National Trails Day. 

    Rivera and his group set out on a Saturday morning, June 9, reaching their destination in Wellsboro, Pa., that evening for a hard-earned shower and steak dinner, after traveling nearly 70 miles with the ride into town.

    The next day, at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, Rivera was ready to saddle up for the ride back--but his partners weren't so sure.

    After a spin around the block to test their stiff legs, his aching friends agreed they'd reached the end of the road. Rivera realized he could go it alone or call it quits on a challenge five months in the making.

    "[At first], I wasn't gonna do it myself. But after a lot of thinking, I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna go ahead and give it a try,' and I set out on my own," says Rivera. "I really wanted to accomplish it."

    More than halfway back, the ride had been smooth sailing. But his luck turned, as Rivera's rear tire blew out--too badly for an easy change and fix, even though he had a repair kit. Feeling great physically, but worried about being stranded in the wilderness on shredded rubber, Rivera called his friends for a ride home.

    "I knew I was gonna make it all the way," he says, confident he had the stamina to make it, if not the wheels.

    The outcome was a disappointment, but Rivera came away reassured in his fitness and hungry for another shot. This October, he'll get it, returning to the Pine Creek Rail Trail for 50 miles out and back: his first attempt at a century ride.

    Until then, Rivera's satisfied knowing he's on the right track--and outlasting a group of 30-somethings didn't hurt.

    "No matter how far I made it, I made it farther than they did," he says with a laugh, "so that was something those guys will never live down."

    Photos courtesy of Gus Rivera. 

  • 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

     

  • 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!

     

     

     

     

  • Top 10 Trails in California!

    The trails of California are as diverse as the landscape itself.

    From the bustling urban pathways to the lost-in-the-wild tracks of the backcountry, the vastly different settings and styles of trails in California makes them almost incomparable. So we thought we'd compare them.

    Certain to spark furious debate from jilted trail fans, we present to you...

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Top 10 Trails in California!

    1. Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail

    Arguably the most scenic rail-trail in California, the spectacular 25.4-mile Bizz Johnson (right) was named to RTC’s Rail Trail Hall of Fame in 2008.

    What makes it so great? The scenery. Just east of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges, the craggy canyons and upland forests cycle through four distinct seasons. Carving through the Susan River Canyon, the Bizz Johnson also connects to the terrific trail community of Susanville, which has put much effort into making trail visitors feel welcome. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    2. Iron Horse Regional Trail

    Connecting 12 cities in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties outside San Francisco, the Iron Horse Regional Trail is 24.5 miles of urban rail-trail at its very best. It’s utility and popularity are set to expand even further with plans to extend the trail to 33 miles.

    What makes it so great? Connectivity. The 20-foot-wide trail connects residences, shopping districts and places of employment with schools, public transportation options, parks and other trails systems. TrailLink.com reviews sometimes note who crowded the trail can get. That’s because it takes people where they want to go, a sure sign of a terrific urban pathway and an unbeatable justification for more like it. 

    3. Ojai Valley Trail

    A favorite among rail-trail enthusiasts, the Ojai Valley Trail (left) extends 9.5 miles through the scenic Ojai Valley. The trail also connects with the Ventura River Trail, which continues south to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

    What makes it so great? The rural serenity. And the bridge. Completed in 2012, the 480-foot bridge over San Antonio Creek, built of rust-colored steel and Brazilian hardwood, looks terrific and saves the trail from the frequent washouts that used to plague it. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    4. Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

    Winding 18 miles around Monterey Bay and along the Pacific coast, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail follows a Southern Pacific Railroad line that used to transfer goods between the historic fishing town of Monterey and the rest of northern California.

    What makes it so great? The ocean. In addition to its constant blue, shimmering presence, the Pacific flavors almost every attraction along the trail, too. In an area made famous by a number of John Steinbeck novels, the rejuvenated Cannery Row, scenes of its fishing past and present, a number of great seafood restaurants and the Monterey Bay Aquarium all make for a submersing trail experience.

    5. Bayshore Bikeway

    A long, smooth, palm-tree-lined trail (right) with stunning views of the Pacific, San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline, the 17-mile Bayshore Bikeway also provides easy access to parks, tot play areas and chic cafes.

    What makes it so great? The attractions. There's a lot going on around the Bayshore Bikeway. You've got the red-roofed Hotel del Coronado where they filmed Some Like it Hot, you've got the Ferry Landing Marketplace, the Navy SEALs workout spot, the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and, of course, the water, to name just a few. So close to a major metropolitan center, the bikeway sure has pulling power. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    6. Truckee River Bike Trail

    At one end is the smallest place in the world to ever host the Winter Olympics. At the other end is the peerless Lake Tahoe. Connecting them is the 6.8-mile Truckee River Bike Trail which follows the route of a tourist train that operated in the early 1900s.

    What makes it so great? Access to the outdoors. Rail-trails are ideal outdoor equalizers because of their typically flat grade and smooth surface. In a mountainous, rugged area marked by the majestic snowcapped Sierra’s, the Truckee River Bike Trail makes this stunning wilderness accessible for young families or older folks over their mountain biking days.

    7. Sacramento River Rail-Trail

    The spine of a burgeoning trail system in the city of Redding, the 11-mile Sacramento River Rail-Trail follows the river north out of town to the recreational expanse of Shasta Lake.

    What makes it so great? Riverfront revival. Locals say before the trail system the town was “built with its back to the river,” and little had been done to restore the waterway after years of mining and excavation. Now, the popular trails have brought renewed appreciation for the river and inspired a symbiotic movement of restoration. Photo courtesy Healthy Shasta

    8. Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail

    Though only a few years old already the impressively-named Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail has become a transportation staple for the booming neighborhoods in the San Bernadino Valley. Fast, flat and smooth, this 18-mile rail-trail connects residential neighborhoods with an array of parks, schools, shopping areas and commercial centers.

    What makes it so great? The utility. Another fine demonstration of the great land efficiency of utilizing existing railroad corridors, within its 10-foot width the Pacific Electric provides a critical recreation and transportation avenue for the hundreds of thousands of Californians that live within the trailshed. 

    9. Modoc Line

    Stretching 86 miles through the way-out-there wild country in the state’s north east, the Modoc Line is not one for those eager to socialize and people watch. The rough surface and isolation of the Modoc Line make it better suited to ATV’s than most bikes, however plans are in the works to improve some sections.

    What makes it so great? Big sky. Through remote ranch land and high desert landscapes, the Modoc Line has the character of an ornery outsider seeking refuge from the maddening crowds. You’ll find it out here, along with wide open skies and spectacular star gazing, many miles from the nearest city. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    10. Richmond Greenway

    Though only a short trail at three miles long, the Richmond Greenway represents the positive transformation of a railroad corridor that sat unused in the heart of the city of Richmond for more than 25 years. The Richmond Greenway provides 32 new acres of active open space in a densely populated, underserved community with few recreational opportunities and scarce green space.

    What makes it so great? The local community. A model of how community organizations can work together to invest local residents in the development of a public space, Richmond Greenway, Urban Tilth, Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides and Pogo Park have used free community events, working parties and other engagement strategies to make the Richmond Greenway a genuine gathering place.

    Definitely worth a mention: El Dorado Trail

    Along two different railroad corridors and stretching 28 miles across El Dorado County, the 28-mile El Dorado Trail showcases the unique natural surroundings and the history of the area.

    What makes it so great? The views. Atop the breathtaking 100-foot-high railroad trestle that crosses Weber Creek, trail users enjoy a spectacular view of the surrounding California foothills countryside and the endless acres of national forest surrounding Lake Tahoe to the east. Photo courtesy Friends of El Dorado Trail

     

     

     

  • Demolition of Historic Bridge Would Be Another Setback for Rail-Trail in Pennsylvania

    "Rome was not built in a day," as the famous saying goes. That's not a fact that needs to be pointed out to the people of Lancaster County in southeast Pennsylvania.

    It has been 22 years since the railroad company Conrail filed to officially abandon a section of the Enola Branch rail line, which runs through the townships of Bart, Sadsbury, Conestoga, Eden, Providence and Martic. In that time, widespread support for the conversion of the 23-mile section of rail corridor into a multi-use trail has been held up by costly and complex legal proceedings and title disputes, which has in turn delayed funding applications.

    This past summer many improvements were made on what is now referred to as the Enola Low-Grade Trail. A rough surface of crushed limestone was laid by Amtrak on one section of the trail, where it needed access for its trucks to install new power lines. And while technically the entire corridor is open to the public, significant improvements, and secure maintenance and funding agreements, are needed if the trail is to become the regional attraction supporters believe it should be. Trail users this month report at least one township had posted "No Trespassing" signs along the corridor.

    Though the painful progress is frustrating for everyone involved, the passage of time has produced a remarkably resolute group of local rail-trail advocates. The project's delay has given them ample opportunity to study the benefits rail-trails across Pennsylvania have brought to communities just like theirs, strengthening their resolve to make good use of the out-of-service corridor.

    One of these advocates is Mark Rudy, roadmaster and outgoing supervisor for Eden Township. According to an article at Lancaster Online, Rudy was once opposed to the idea of a recreational trail but changed his mind as the great public desire for a trail became evident.

    This month, Rudy is responding to a pressing threat that has the potential to set the rail-trail project back once again and rob the area of an irreplaceable piece of its rich heritage.

    An historic stone arch bridge, which once carried steam-powered locomotives into Eden at the turn of the 20th century, is set to be demolished as early as this spring. Demolition of the Pumping Station Road bridge, built with blocks cut by Italian stonemasons a century ago, was ordered by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 1997; in transferring the corridor to the six townships in 2008, Conrail's successor, Norfolk Southern, included the same language requiring demolition of a number of structures.

    Rudy is circulating a petition in the area to save the Pumping Station Road bridge. He is concerned not only for the unique historical value of the bridge, but also its function as a vital part of the rail-trail. Rudy estimates the bridge would last another three generations with no upkeep costs. Demolition of the bridge would not only cost tens of thousands of dollars, but would also necessitate the construction of a new bridge for trail users.

    It is very much the 11th hour for the bridge, and the immediate future of the rail-trail. Bids for demolition are due in mid-January, and the structure could be gone by spring.

    Rudy suggests anyone wanting to support the preservation of the Pumping Station Road bridge should contact PUC Chairman Robert Powelson at 717-787-4301, or Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Cutler at bcutler@pahousegop.com and 717-783-6424.

    If you are interested in supporting the Enola Low-Grade Trail effort, or for more information, contact Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Northeast Regional Office at 717.238.1717 or northeast@railstotrails.org.

    Photo courtesy of lancasteronline.com.

     

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