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RTC TrailBlog

  • 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


  • 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. 

  • 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.


  • 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




  • Awaiting a Decision in Missouri, We Ponder the Great Possibilities

    Rail-trail supporters in Missouri and across America have been holding their breath these past few weeks as they await a decision that could have lasting ramifications for the state.

    What will be Ameren's decision on the fate of the 145-mile Rock Island Line corridor? Will it be sold into private ownership or preserved in public ownership for development of a rail-trail? We expect an announcement any day.

    Here at RTC, too, everyone has their fingers crossed. All our staff members feel the weight of an opportunity that comes along but once in a very long while: the chance to preserve a connected corridor of such length is rare, and getting rarer.

    It's why we stepped forward and made a bid that, if accepted by Ameren, will result in the corridor being donated to Missouri State Parks and preserved through railbanking.

    Although a single rail-trail of 145 miles would be one of the longest in the country, what's particularly exciting is the corridor's connection in Windsor to the iconic 237-mile Katy Trail. Looking at this map, you can see that, together, the two rail-trails would create a loop of almost 400 miles and a remarkable destination for trail tourists.

    Looking further ahead, these connected rail-trails would form the core of a trail system stretching more than 500 miles across the entire state, ultimately connecting St. Louis and Kansas City. Very cool.

    So what's happening now?

    Ameren Missouri, the utility company that owns the corridor, is weighing up a number of bids for the corridorours among them. We are not certain when they will make their decision, but rest assured that we will let you know as soon as they do.

    Meanwhile, the people of Missouri are super excited for the benefits that such a destination trail system would bring to their communities. Mike Hendricks' story in the Kansas City Star yesterday offers a unique insight into how much Missouri businesspeople and leaders have riding on the proposal: "It's a great, great opportunity for Missouri," says Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.

    Whether no news is good news, at the moment we can't say. What we can say is that it is because of the people that contributed to our Rock Island Line campaign and our thousands of supporters that we are able to maintain a legal and trail assistance staff that can respond to opportunities like this one, and fight to preserve rail corridors for trail development nationwide.

    Stay tuned. And breathe. But keep those fingers crossed.

    Top photo courtesy Vicki Gibson via Flickr


    Jake Lynch is RTC’s marketing and media relations specialist. Born and raised in the wilds of rural Australia, Jake now helps tell the story of America’s rail-trails, from big cities to one-horse towns and everywhere in between. 



  • 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. 

  • You'll Be Seeing Bike Racks on Amtrak Very Soon!

    Some very exciting news for bicyclists!

    Check it: Amtrak recently announced that it is installing new baggage cars with bike racks to all its long-distance trains by the end of the year. This includes the Amtrak Capitol Limited train that runs between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pa.—creating a new connection for cyclists between the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the C & O Canal, and ultimately changing the way people tour, vacation and get around in the U.S. Awesome.

    Currently, only a small amount of Amtrak routes allow assembled bikes—and in limited amounts. But, as RTC covered in a blog last fall, Amtrak tested a brief pilot run of roll-on bike service with six vertically mounted bicycle restraints installed in a lower-level baggage area of a Superliner coach (departing from Pittsburgh). This breakthrough came after years of advocacy from local business people and bicyclists, who were frustrated by the lack of “roll-on” bike carriage service on Amtrak. Participants indicated that the tests were successful. 

    Amtrak had also been testing these bike racks in Michigan, New York and Vermont, but this was the first time they did so for a two-level Superliner.

    "After this test run of roll-on bike service, it's clear to me that carrying an unboxed bike on a train can work in the U.S., just as it does across Europe. My only concern is that on routes like the Capitol Limited, which serve bike-friendly cities and hugely popular corridors like the GAPCO and U.S. Bike Route 50, there won't be enough racks on each train to adequately meet demand,” said Champe Burnley of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, a long-time advocate for this issue.

    The new baggage cars to be installed this year—which are currently being tested in Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and the Northeast Corridor, according to an Amtrak blog post—will be used on all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, for the first time allowing the bicycling masses to transport their bikes without having to disassemble and pack them away during the train journey.  Nice—eh?

    For more information, check out this article by Jon Schmitz of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    “It’s great to have Amtrak understanding how important the bike tourism industry is,” Linda Boxx is quoted as saying. A former president and current member of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, Boxx has worked for years to persuade Amtrak to provide better accommodations for bikes.

    And check out this post that recently ran in Streetsblog.

    RTC acknowledges the incredible efforts of Boxx and Burnley in making this historic development possible!  And a special shout out to Amtrak for recognizing how important it is to create connections for people who are embracing active transportation and trail tourism—things that are helping communities thrive along the GAP, the C & O and all across America.

    Top photo courtesy Orin Zebest via Flickr.

    Right photo (October bike rack pilot test run) courtesy of the Virginia Bicycling Federation.


    Amy Kapp is RTC's content strategy manager and editor-in-chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.


  • 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



  • 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 



  • 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.



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