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RTC TrailBlog

  • Breaking News: Senate Rejects Amendment to Cut Funding for Trails, Biking and Walking

    Bipartisan support of funding for trails, walking and bicycling continues to grow in response to repeated legislative attacks on the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program.

    Today, by a vote of 60 to 38, the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) that would have shifted dedicated funding for walking and biking infrastructure to bridge repair, thus eliminating a hugely popular program that has been shown to improve safety, create jobs and efficient transportation choices for millions of Americans for the past 20 years.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our partners argued the amendment posed a false choice between TE and bridge safety, and we helped organize a national sign-on letter to senators encouraging them to vote against Paul’s Senate Amendment 821. (Read the original action alert and watch a video for more background on the issue.)

    “In truth, most states already have funds that they could use for bridge repair, but that instead go for new roadways,” says RTC’s Director of Policy Outreach Kartik Sribarra. “Further, last year, states sent back $530 million in unspent bridge funds. It’s shameful and disingenuous to claim to be promoting safety by pushing to cut funds for trails, walking and bicycling. 47,000 cyclists and pedestrians have died during the past decade, often because we lack the necessary infrastructure for them to be safe.”

    TE funds have substantially decreased these risks, using less than 2 percent of surface transportation funding.

    “An honest prescription for accelerating bridge repair would need to address either the overall level of investment in transportation infrastructure, or the tendency to prioritize new road capacity over maintenance of existing assets, or both,” Sribarra says.

    Thank you to everyone who contacted your senators! It seems like we face a new legislative attack on TE each week, but with your voices and backing, we’re able to defend this tremendous program, the largest source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling.

  • In the Deep South, Excitement Building Behind New Rail-Trail Project

    Today's edition of the Andalusia Star News in southern Alabama carries a story about significant progress on a project to convert 42.9 miles of out-of-service CSX railway lines in Covington, Coffee and Geneva counties into a recreational trail.

    The tracks throughout the section were removed earlier this year, and, according to Alabama Trails Commission (ATC) Chairperson Debbie Quinn, a number of grant applications to fund land purchase and trail construction have been filed.

    According to the Andalusia Star, the ATC has filed a notice on behalf of the three counties asking the federal government to grant interim trail use for the property.

    Quinn says that CSX "is in agreement with us to work on moving forward with the rail trail," that would connect the cities of Andalusia and Geneva. The next step is for CSX to come back to the ATC with a valuation of the property.

    "We'd love to see the project under way--and this is a very conservative estimate--in a year," Quinn told the newspaper. "We feel it is such a unique opportunity for this region of the state to obtain this corridor for a rail-trail, but it's also a great asset to the state and the region for tourism."

    Alabamans have an excellent example of the recreational and economic opportunities of rail-trails in their own 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail (above). Along with the Silver Comet Trail, with which it connects at the Georgia border, the Chief Ladiga is a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, and is the state's most prominent trail asset.

    Quinn has been an important figure in the growth of trails advocacy in Alabama in recent years. In 2010 the city of Fairhope Councilor was appointed to lead the newly created Alabama Trails Commission. Alabama lawmakers overwhelming passed HB 376 and SB 258, sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, (R-Alabaster), and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, (D-Luverne), creating the Alabama Trails Commission with the express mission "to advance development, interconnection and use of cultural, historic and recreational lands and water trails."

    In addition to the Alabama Trails Commission Advisory Board, the legislation also established a tax-deductible nonprofit foundation to advance the trail commission's goals by fundraising and supporting recreation in education.

    In 2011 Alabama held its first-ever statewide trails conference. During that groundbreaking event, the keynote speaker, Alabama Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, gave a ringing endorsement of the role that trail development should play in contributing to the state's future.

    "We must promote the many recreational venues we have in this state," Ivey said. "Ecotourism has the potential to economically jump-start many rural areas of Alabama."

    Photo of cyclists on the Chief Ladiga Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com/'onebengoss'.

  • South Dakota Surprise

    by Kartik Sribarra 

    After riding the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, the Route of the Hiawatha, the Great Allegheny Passage and other stunning rail-trails, I thought I'd ridden the best of the best. I've never heard of a disappointing rail-trail, but some just tend to stand out. No other trail could even approach the beauty I'd seen on some of these jewels, I thought.

    Then, a few weeks ago, I rode the George S. Mickelson Trail in South Dakota with some Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff and partners.

    In one word: wow.

    You want another? WOW.

    Heading south from the trail terminus, mile marker 109 in Deadwood (yep, that Deadwood), the trail surpassed even my tall expectations of riding South Dakota's famed Black Hills. The on-again, off-again showers and steady incline throughout most of the first day--both endemic of the section we rode from Deadwood to Hill City--couldn't put a damper on the heart-lifting experience delivered by thick Ponderosa pine stands and rolling landscapes.

    From Hill City, the landscape opened to sweeping fields, jagged rock formations, white-tailed deer and a bison calf zigzagging across the field, dancing away the gorgeous day just as were we. Riding along at a cyclists' pace, with the scent of pure, open air, I found myself envisioning settlers on horseback, Native Americans on the open plains, and bison as far as the eye could see. A bit overly romantic, perhaps, but such was the magic (fueled by a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument, mere steps off the trail).

    We were warned that the canyons and views at the southern end would blow our minds. Not having learned my lesson, I again assumed I'd seen the best and was somewhat dismissive of the cautionary words. As we rounded the bend to Sheep's Canyon outside of Edgemont, silence overcame the group as we all slowly pulled over and gazed; anywhere our eyes fell carried some secret waiting to be discovered. Though we did not spot any of the bobcat, elk or golden eagles said to make their homes in this area, the natural palette of wildflowers did not fail to impress.

    Maybe after three days spent on what is without a doubt the most amazing rail-trail anywhere on earth, I've learned that, no matter how memorable an experience, there's another one waiting just around the bend!

    Photos of the Mickelson Trail by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 

  • Crossing Mountains, Chasing Rivers

    By Tom Bilcze

    Can a bicycle ride transform your life? In late June of this year, my best cycling buddy Chuck Gough and I--we both live in the Akron, Ohio, area--ventured out on our first bicycle tour, a 325-mile, eight-day ride across the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Washington, D.C. For seasoned bicycle tourists, this ride may not seem that notable or challenging. For novices like Chuck and I, this trip became the ride of our lives.

    Some Background
    In the summer of 2008 I underwent laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (Lapband) weight-loss surgery. I was approaching 300 pounds and in poor health with multiple chronic diseases. I was extremely sedentary. In the summer of 2009, Chuck underwent Roux-en-Y (RNY) weight-loss surgery. Chuck weighed close to 350 pounds and had many of the same health issues. As with me, cycling and exercise were not part of his life.

    Weight-loss surgery changed our lives in dramatic ways. We lost considerable weight; 130 pounds for Chuck and 90 pounds for me. We adopted an active healthy lifestyle. Chuck ran a marathon in 2010; quite an achievement for a person who a year earlier walked with the assistance of a cane. Chuck and I met at our local weight-loss support group and both began cycling. We quickly became friends and formed a cycling club to encourage a fit and healthy lifestyle for weight-loss surgery patients.

    In early 2011 Chuck and I decided to cycle the GAP and C&O Canal trails. Taking on challenges had become a passion for both of us. This ride was just the ticket for this point in our lives. We spent considerable time planning and training for the week-plus of cycling. We christened our bicycle tour "Crossing Mountains, Chasing Rivers," with a byline of "Cycling the footsteps of history through the Alleghenies to the Chesapeake." (We chronicled our story on a blog, www.crossingmountains.com.)

    Our Tour
    On a warm, overcast Saturday morning this past June, we pedaled east from the waterfront retail development in Homestead, just outside of Pittsburgh. Our bikes were laden with food, clothing, camping supplies and the necessities for an eight- nine-day, self-supported bicycle tour. Day one proved to be somewhat challenging. We cycled almost 50 miles through the woods along the Youghiogheny River to the River's Edge Campground just west of Connellsville. We were both tired and exhilarated after completing our first day as bicycle tourists.

    On Sunday we got our first lesson in cycling a constant uphill grade with over-packed bikes. We crossed through the beautiful Ohiopyle State Park and stopped for lunch in Ohiopyle. It was at this point that we realized that our day's goal to reach Rockwood was unachievable. We re-planned and made a decision to end the day in Confluence. We opted to forego primitive camping and spend the night at the River's Edge Bed and Breakfast. We were to learn that this decision would positively impact the remainder of our ride.

    Monday morning saw Chuck and I each mailing 25 pounds of excess gear back home. With lighter loads, on-the-trail experience and much needed rest, we cycled with new vigor uphill through Rockwood and into Meyersdale. Much more confident and relaxed, we continued to climb the Alleghenies. It was on this day that Chuck and I became a team rather than two buddies cycling together. We learned the success of bicycle touring is about relying on each other's strengths and being responsive to each other's needs.

    Tuesday afternoon we crossed the Eastern Continental Divide and began our downhill descent into Cumberland. Scenic mountain and valley vistas combined with a series of tunnels made this a day to remember. We crossed the GAP Mile 0 mile marker and began our journey on the C&O Canal towpath at the Western Maryland Railway Station. We celebrated our 140-mile journey across Pennsylvania at the Crabby Pig with our pal Aaron, a Cumberland resident, who was our innkeeper for the night.

    At this point, we realized our limited vacation time and miles remaining did not add up. So on Wednesday morning, our friend Aaron drove Chuck and me to Fort Frederick, and Aaron cycled with us from there into Williamsport. (Also, by saving 60 miles of cycling, we assured ourselves a free day to cycle around Washington, D.C.) The views from the C&O around Dam 5 on the Potomac River were quite beautiful. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Desert Rose's in Williamsport before we said our goodbyes to Aaron and continued east. We set up camp for the night along the shores of the Potomac in Antietam.

    Thursday was our most enjoyable day of the tour. We cycled into Harper's Ferry and spent the afternoon exploring this historical and scenic mountainside town. In late afternoon, we cycled into Brunswick, where we would spend a few hours at Beans in the Belfry, a coffee shop and restaurant that was very welcoming to bicyclists. We concluded Thursday with a stay in lockhouse 28, a National Park Service program where we rented a restored lockhouse for a night. The day's lesson was that it is okay to take it easy now and then and to get to know the people and places along the trail!

    Friday was a day of anticipation and excitement as we cycled the final 48 miles into Washington, D.C. It was a day of memorable landmarks-crossing the Monocacy Viaduct, enjoying a mid-morning break watching traffic shuttled across the Potomac at White's Ferry, and resting in the shade watching canal boats at the Great Falls Tavern. On a hot and muggy Friday evening, in the middle of a holiday weekend happy-hour crowd, we cycled into busy Georgetown and crossed Mile 0.

    Saturday was our reward for our week of cross-country cycling. We cycled eight miles down the shady Capitol Crescent Trail from our hotel in Bethesda to the National Mall, where we did the typical D.C. sightseeing. It was such a dramatic change for both of us. The bikes were lightened of their 50-pound loads, and quiet trails were replaced with the bustle of the city.

    We returned home the following morning by car, covering the distance of our 325-journey in a matter of hours. In our hurried lives, we seldom venture off interstate highways. Trails such as the GAP, C&O and Capitol Crescent connect us with the people and places beyond the exit ramp. Our fondest memories are of the innkeepers, servers, shopkeepers and locals we met a long the trail. I thank Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and local trail organizations for their tireless work to expand and maintain this trail network so that we can enjoy more of these experiences in the years to come!

    Photos courtesy of Tom Bilcze and Chuck Gough. 

  • Trail Voices: Drew Snodgrass

    Snodgrass on the Met Branch Trail.by Marshall Pearson

    Up to four times each week, second-grade teacher Drew Snodgrass can be seen pedaling his vintage red Schwinn road bike along the Metropolitan Branch Trail, enjoying the early morning solitude before the forthcoming deluge of classroom activity. Joggers training for a marathon and other commuters punctuate the landscape, and Snodgrass has even witnessed the talents of muralists as they covered an adjacent wall with silhouettes of cyclists. He says the subdued activity on the trail has had a calming effect and makes it easier to teach throughout the day.

    Snodgrass recently moved to Washington, D.C., to teach at DC Preparatory Academy, a public charter school. He has been a bicycle enthusiast since his days living in Chicago before attending Illinois Wesleyan University. In a metropolitan area where traffic is congested and car parking is scarce, Snodgrass found himself biking from classes to his job on almost a daily basis, depending on weather conditions. A move to the northwestern corner of Mississippi as a Teach for America corps member position saw his riding transition mostly to trail activity, and cycling was no longer a viable commuting option. However, Snodgrass moved to Washington sans automobile and, once again, he turned to his bicycle as a primary mode of transportation.

    After discovering the eight-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail, or Met Branch, on Google Maps (which uses trail data from RTC's online trailfinder, Traillink.com, to formulate bicycling directions) and hearing about the trail from co-workers planning to start a girl's running club, he began utilizing the new path and has integrated it into his daily life.

    "I don't own a car, but even if I did, I think biking on the Met Branch Trail is a quicker and easier way to make the commute," he says. "It's such a nice and convenient route between my house in Capitol Hill and my school in Edgewood. There's no direct street route connecting those neighborhoods, but the trail goes straight from M Street Northeast and drops me [right] at the backdoor of my school-and it's a relatively flat and easygoing ride."

    Snodgrass merges with the trail near M Street, less than a mile from his home in the Capitol Hill area, and exits near Edgewood Street and the DC Preparatory Academy. All told, the journey takes approximately 20 minutes.

    "Sometimes I catch a ride with a co-worker, and by the time we fight traffic, find parking and walk from the parking lot to the school, I could have saved 10 minutes by biking," he says.

    Even though Snodgrass tethers his Schwinn to the school's chain link fence before the start of the school day, he allows his renewed hobby to follow him into the classroom. In fact, he recently created an assignment based on The Important Book, written by children's author Margaret Wise Brown. For the task, his second graders wrote a short story about an object of their choice. While his students may have selected an action figure or stuffed animal for their tale, Snodgrass chose his bicycle (you can listen to his story below).

    This teacher's active commuting and lifestyle has significantly increased his passion for cycling as a recreational activity--and everyone at DC Prep has taken notice. After all, his students know him as the teacher who rides his bike to school.

    Drew Snodgrass - My Bicycle by railstotrails


    Photos by Stephen Miller/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Note: This post has been edited from its original version. Drew Snodgrass moved to Mississippi, not Alabama, as was previously written.  

  • Washington: Tunnel Reopened and Others in the Works on Iron Horse Rail-Trail

    By Jake Lynch

    Washington's Iron Horse State Park is one of America's iconic rail-trails. Following the path of the former Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad east out of Seattle, the 82-miles of the Iron Horse pass through the stunning scenery for which the Pacific Northwest is famous, from the base of Rattlesnake Mountain all the way to the Columbia River.

    However for the past few years much of the trail has been out of action, with falling debris forcing the closure of a number of the historic railroad tunnels that are a feature of the rail-trail and carry it through the topographically challenging region known as the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

    Water infiltration and many decades of freeze-thaw cycle led to "spalling" in the concrete tunnel liners, with fragments of material flaking from the walls and roof. After a safety assessment, Washington State Parks decided to close them until they could be repaired.

    Now, some great news for rail-trail fans. After two years of engineering and construction work, last summer Washington State Parks, which manages the corridor and the tunnels, was able to reopen Snoqualmie tunnel 50. And work is now underway to repair the lining inside tunnels 48 and 49, to the east.

    "If the weather holds, we believe we can finish all the structural work this year," says Nikki Fields. Washington State Parks trails coordinator. "We will still need to come back in the spring to do the final trail grading, ditch reshaping, and hydroseeding. Weather permitting, we expect them to be completely done by next summer."

    Of course, such work is not cheap. Tunnels 46 and 47, further east near the town of Thorp, remain closed for now, pending funding to work on them.

    "They may require a different solution than the other tunnels because they were constructed through loose material, instead of through solid rock," Fields says. "We need funding to design and then carry out those repairs."

    Of course, when that funding becomes available will dictate when the necessary work can be done and the tunnels reopened. Like many states, Washington is facing the challenge of fitting important improvements and services into an ever tighter budget, and is being forced to form strict priorities to decide what gets funded and what does not. 

    As not only an incredible adventure for local trail users but also a national and international tourist destination and a unique treasure of the nation's railroad history, the Iron Horse State Park has great importance to the state of Washington and the American trail community. Supporters are urged to contact the office of Governor of Washington Christine Gregoire to let her know that repairing the Iron Horse State Park tunnels should be a priority.

    For updates on the tunnel repairs visit www.parks.wa.gov/parks

    Photo of Iron Horse State Park, top, by RTC
    Photo of tunnel inspection courtesy Washington State Parks 

     

     

  • The Prevention Fund: Smart Money For Local Programs. So Why is Congress Trying to Kill It?

    When a neighborhood in Seattle realized it desperately needed to make it easier for local children to walk or ride to school in order to keep those kids healthy and active, the Prevention Fund helped them do it. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington used Prevention Fund money to find and map the safest routes to schools in that neighborhood, and trained teachers on how to encourage the kids to bike or walk.

    In southernmost Illinois, one rural community was suffering from high rates of obesity caused, in part, by a lack of close and affordable recreation facilities, such as gyms and pools. That community was able to use Prevention Fund money to print and distribute maps of trails in the area where people could get regular exercise for free. They also produced bold signs that said "Start Walking" - nothing like a little encouragement!

    Already, the people in that community are getting healthier. Talk about bang for your buck - a few maps and some signs as a way of solving the most pressing public health challenge of our time. Simple, smart.

    When it comes to making positive changes to local communities, our experience tells us that nobody does it better than the people who live in that community. Locals groups and leaders are invested in the place, and so their solutions are appropriate for that place, creative, cost-efficient, and driven by community understanding and passion.

    Created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Prevention Fund is the nation's first large dedicated source of funds for preventing health problems. As we see in the above examples, making it easier for people to regularly walk or bike is a simple but powerful preventative medicine. Thanks to the Prevention Fund, relatively small investments in promoting walking and biking are saving the nation many billions of dollars in future health care costs.

    That is why I am alarmed by continued efforts by some in Congress to undercut the Prevention Fund.  Working with allies in the public health community, we are monitoring threats to the Prevention Fund as Congress works towards a budget for next year. 

    You can see why the Prevention Fund makes good sense - for our nation's health and its bottom line.

    We are going to need your help in the next few weeks to protect the funding for this vital program. I hope you will take the time to act when, as we expect, the Prevention Fund faces an imminent threat. All you need to do now is take a few moments to sign up for our Action Alerts, and you'll be the first to know when the trails and health community is ready to rally to the defense of the Prevention Fund.

    Image courtesy www.pedbikeimages.org / Dan Burden

     

     

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

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

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

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

    What are Michigan's Top 10 Trails?


       Upper Peninsula

    Iron Ore Heritage Trail - 30 miles: Marquette County

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

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

     

       Northern Lower

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

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

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

    Leelanau Trail - 15.5 miles: Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties

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

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

     

       Mid Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

       West Michigan

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

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

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

    Muskegon Lakeshore Trail - 12 miles: Muskegon County

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

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

     

       East Michigan

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

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

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

     

       Southeast Michigan

    Downriver Linked Greenways - 50+ miles: Wayne County

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

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

    Detroit Riverwalk - 3.5 miles: Wayne County (below)

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

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

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

    All photos courtesy TrailLink.com

     

  • RTC Wins Pacifico Challenge!

    Thanks to the overwhelming support of members and supporters across the country, we won the most votes in Pacifico's summertime "Make Adventure Happen" promotion! Your votes throughout the campaign, and in particular during a few days at the end, helped vault us into the lead and secure the grand prize.

    All told, you helped us earn more than $50,000 for our trail-building work around the country!

    That's an incredible boost, and we can't thank you enough for participating and supporting us. We also want to thank Pacifico for including us in this fun promotion alongside three other worthy organizations: Surfrider, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Best Friends Animal Society. 

    We have a lot of exciting programs and projects this money will help fund, and we'll keep you posted in the coming weeks and months about how your support--in the simple act of voting for us--will make a huge difference in our trail-building work across the country. Thank you!

    Victory toast by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

  • The Most Amazing Rail-Trail on Earth?

    By Kartik Sribarra

    It seems I never learn.

    Last year around this time, I wrote about a gorgeous ride I was lucky enough to take on the George S. Mickelson Trail, running through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    In that piece, I recalled how each rail-trail we had ridden over the years was more glorious than any previous one we'd explored. A group of friends and rail-trail supporters has been taking this annual ride for a few years, and we've made some good choices. First, the Great Allegheny Passage. The next year, the Paul Bunyan Trail in Minnesota. Then came the twin wonders, the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho. The Mickelson, it seemed, trumped them all and became, as I put it then, "without a doubt the most amazing rail-trail anywhere on earth."

    And now, we can add the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail in central British Columbia, Canada, to this little game of one-upmanship.

    This rail-trail--part of the evolving Trans Canada Trail--is unlike anything I've experienced here in the United States. The first day, through Myra Canyon outside of Kelowna, B.C., felt similar to our route two years ago, winding our way down the Route of the Hiawatha, feeling like we were in a land untouched by humanity, but for the trestles. These sheer wonders of engineering ingenuity were actually replicas reconstructed by the Canadian government following the terrible Okanagan Mountain Park Fire that ravaged the region in 2003.

    During the next several days we rode through on-again, off-again rain showers as we made our way past the various unique views along the trail. We rode through Rock Oven Park, where we saw numerous rock ovens that were built and used by the railroad workers a century ago for fresh bread as they constructed the rail line deep in the Okanagan Valley. We came across views of Christina Lake that almost seemed to physically slow our tires as we ground to a halt in awe. We rode through vineyards, past strongly aromatic groves of sage, along corridors with the rails still in the ground, and over trestle after trestle, through tunnel after tunnel. The connection to the region's rail history was not to be forgotten.

    At one point along the ride, as we gazed out at yet another phenomenal view of mountains, lakes and conifers as far as the eye could see, I commented to my riding companions that it reminded me of New Zealand. "When were you there?" asked another rider. I confessed that I'd never been, but that the Lord of the Rings trilogy made me feel as if I understood the similarity in the landscapes. Moments later, another rider commented that the views here exceeded anything she had seen in her years of international riding, including such destinations as Nepal and Switzerland.

    As is often the case on such a ride, we could not help but compare the various trails we've ridden over the years. As such, our mantra for this year's trip, coined by one rider referencing a comment from my post from last year, was, "How big can you write the word 'WOW?!'" Thereafter, each new view, each trestle more formidable than the last, each mile pedaled seemed to elicit the same jaw-dropping "wow" reaction.

    So, despite previous claims of having ridden what must be the most gorgeous rail-trail anywhere, the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail proves that I need to keep biting my tongue and just take in the views. After all, somewhere, somehow, yet another rail-trail might possibly rival even this one!

    And I'm determined to find it and make its acquaintance.

    Photos of the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail by RTC.

     

     

  • RTC Reaches Big Trail-Mapping Milestone

    As part of our mission to promote the use and enjoyment of America's spectacular array of trails, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been working hard during the past few years to provide precise Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps for as many of these pathways as possible. 

    Accurately mapping and describing our nation's trail networks is a crucial step in making them more accessible to all users, through our series of regional guidebooks and at TrailLink.com, our free, one-stop trail-finder website. 

    But TrailLink.com and the guidebooks are just the end product of the time-consuming and technically challenging process of producing, collecting and filtering a myriad of geographical data and converting it to user-friendly forms.

    Sometimes it's hard to mark major progress with so many minute details to absorb and verify. But this summer, our hard-working Information Technology team celebrated an important milestone in their mission to catalog the pathways of America: hitting 20,000 miles of mapped trails.

    According to RTC's GIS Specialist Tim Rosner, it's great to reflect and take stock of the library of trail information compiled so far. Yet he says with new data coming in every day, and new trails projects under way all over the country, a finish line is not in sight just yet. Since RTC is the first organization to attempt to compile such detailed trails information on a national scale, it is impossible to know how many miles remain to be mapped.

    "There is really no way of knowing how many trails there currently are," Rosner says. "We're just going to keep collecting data until there is no more to collect."

    RTC has made a dedicated effort to ramp up its trail mapping capacity in recent years. When Rosner joined the team in 2008, we had mapped about 5,000 miles. The increase since then has been fueled by a combination of data submitted by RTC members and through TrailLink.com, Global Positioning System (GPS) data collected firsthand by RTC staff, existing trail maps compiled by city and county GIS officers, and information gleaned from high resolution aerial and satellite imagery.

    Collecting the data is only half of the work. A major challenge is making sure it is accurate before we pass it on to the general public.

    "We quality control check every piece of data we receive," Rosner says. "It is one of the exceptional pieces of our data set."

    The increase in our mapping efforts is a key element of RTC's goal for 90 percent of Americans to live within three miles a trail system by the year 2020. In order to track our progress toward this goal, we need accurate data on where those trails are.

    As with anything to do with technology, it is important to move with the times. Not only is RTC employing some of the latest GIS techniques in collecting data, we are also working on innovative ways to get that information to you, the trail user, including software and applications specially designed to bring mapping information to mobile technology like smart phones. Stay tuned.

     

  • From Polio to a Passion for Cycling

    For each issue of Rails to Trails, the official magazine of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we invite our readers to submit a short essay in response to a specific question in our "Trail Tales" department. We then publish one of the responses in the next magazine issue.

    For the Spring/Summer 2011 issue, we received our most responses yet to "Trail Tales," and we ended up choosing an inspiring story from Margaret M. Frey of Sun City, Ariz.. Enjoy her essay below!

    What did you love most about cycling when you were a kid?

    I dreamed of riding a bicycle as a child, but physical limitations from polio held me back. My brothers and sisters zoomed around on bikes, yet I could only watch. 

    For a family of 14, our two to three bicycles were in high demand. However, one day I did pick up an old Schwinn that lay on its side. At 12 years old, I began my pursuit to ride. In those days, there was no such thing as adjusting seat height-and it was high. I wore a brace on my weakened right leg, so the effort would come from my left side.

    I found a high spot in the yard which became my take-off point. The slight downhill grade proved helpful. I practiced and fell, got on again and fell. Day after day, I attempted to sail through the streets as others did. Then it happened! I was up! I stayed up!

    At 20 years old, my first paycheck bought me a new Schwinn 10-speed. At 40, a Trek was my dream bike. At 60, I received a retirement gift of a Gary Fisher comfort bicycle and all the gear. My husband and I travel and camp. We have ridden many roads and trails throughout the Western states. The rail-trail movement has provided us grand opportunities for sharing and solitude.

    We now live in Sun City, where bicycling is a means of transportation. We eliminated one car. My endurance for walking has decreased (a fold-up cane fits nicely on a bike), but my passion for cycling still grows. For that I am thankful. 

    Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Frey.

  • California's Gold Rush Country Celebrates New Rail-Trail

    Photo and story by Steve Schweigerdt/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Trail advocates in El Dorado County, Calif., celebrated the opening of a new 2.75-mile stretch of the El Dorado Trail on October 17 at the County Government Center. Passing through California’s historic Gold Rush country, the newly paved section forms an important link between Placerville and Diamond Springs, including the Weber Creek trestle that dates back to 1903 and towers about 100 feet above the creek. The trail winds along the mountainside through mixed forest cover and is already heavily used by community bicyclists, equestrians and runners, or those looking for a quiet stroll.

    The local group Trails Now has been pushing for the trail to connect all the way from the American River Bikeway and the Pony Express Trail that leads to South Lake Tahoe. Additional sections are planned in the near future to connect to downtown Placerville and to continue from Missouri Flat Road southwest to the town of El Dorado and Mother Lode Drive. The route will traverse the site of a historical lumber mill, and connect with the future site of a county railroad museum.

  • Once By River and Rail, Travel By Trail Now Thrives Along the Susquehanna

    The Susquehanna River (right) is one of Pennsylvania's most loved natural features, a broad, hearty current that winds southward through the state before emptying in Chesapeake Bay.

    It has also been one of the region's most important transportation routes, host to numerous ferry and cargo operations and the spine of two canal systems. With the emergence of the rail industry, train tracks were laid down right beside the obsolete canals, and so the Susquehanna continued to serve as a tracing point for the movement of people and goods through the Northeast.

    With many rail operations going the same way as the canals, those tracks along the Susquehanna are now the base of a remarkable landscape of rail-trails, with more than a dozen separate trails lining its winding route through the state.

    Thanks to the people of Manor Township, and a generous donation from railroad company Norfolk Southern, that landscape is set to expand, with news last week that the Manor Township Planning Commission has voted to recommend the approval of a plan to develop a rail-trail along the river.

    According to The Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster County, Pa., the trail will run from north of Turkey Hill to the southern Manor Township municipal line and into Conestoga Township.

    The cost of developing the six-mile trail is being almost entirely offset by a generous $1.25 million donation from Norfolk Southern, and $1 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

    For the staff of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office, which is based in Camp Hill, Pa., the news out of Manor was especially pleasing, as this section along the Susquehanna would perfectly complement a hoped-for connection from the Enola Low-Grade Trail, to the east.

    "Though still a work in progress, the Enola Low-Grade has had a tremendous benefit for the townships it passes through," says Pat Tomes, RTC's program manager in the Northeast. "For the past few years we've been working with the communities along the corridor, providing technical assistance as they seek a way to extend the rail-trail west to the river. This connection would then meet up with Manor Township's proposed trail into Conestoga. What a terrific system that would be."

    Photo of the Susquehanna River courtesy of the State of Pennsylvania.
    Photo of trail users on the Enola Low-Grade courtesy of TrailLink.com.

     

  • Rail Corridor Acquisition a Key Link for Michigan Trails

    Rail-trail advocates in Michigan are celebrating this week with news that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) has recommended a $3,755,400 grant to acquire a section of out-of-service Coe Rail Line in Oakland County, about 35 miles northeast of Detroit.

    In addition to the 33-acre parcel of rail corridor, the grant will also enable the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway Management Council, a joint effort of the three townships along the route, to purchase the Walled Lake Train Depot, with plans to convert the historical building into a visitor center or community gathering place.

    It was third time lucky for the people of Oakland County, who had seen two previous applications for funding to purchase the land rejected.

    The proposed Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway would provide a valuable connection between two popular existing trails, linking the West Bloomfield Trail, in Bloomfield, and the Huron Valley Rail-Trail in Wixom.

    The new trail would also fill another gap in the ambitious plan for a Great Lake to Lake Trail, formally known as the Michigan Airline Trail, a cross-state trail network utilizing Michigan's thousands of miles of rail-trail and other multi-use pathways.

    Photos courtesy of Kristen Wiltfang/Oakland County

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