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RTC TrailBlog

  • In Brunswick, Md., Trail Business is Booming

    RTC's Jake Lynch is out on the 2012 Greenway Sojourn from June 17 to 24. He's visiting towns and exploring trail-related businesses along the route from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., and blogging about some of his experiences.

    I had read plenty of data and economic reports about the financial impact of trails tourism. And I had seen the trailhead parking lots full of vehicles with bike racks and horse trailers, seen the trail wayfinding signs going up outside small town burrito places, cafes and grocery stores. But arriving yesterday afternoon in Brunswick, a small town along the C&O Canal towpath in Maryland, I saw and felt the phenomenon of trail tourism like never before.

    I was the outsider in a car, having driven in with a bunch of ride supplies from Washington, D.C. First thing I saw was a group of five or six riders mulling outside a newly opened bike store; a compact, quiet, cinematic main street; one stop light; a place called Mommer's, a diner, an ice cream store, a sign welcoming home local troops.

    The next block along, I saw a genuine crowd. Outside Beans in the Belfrey--cafe set inside a beautiful old church--were a dozen bikes, and more riders looking for somewhere to lock theirs. Inside, the place was packed. There was barely a spare seat, and of the 30 or so patrons, 28 of them were riders on the Sojourn.

    I had to wait until the line went down until I could speak to the owner and ask her whether she notices if the trail has much of an impact on her business.

    "Days like this the trail is the business," she said, between customers. A few minutes later a third employee arrives to help with the rush.

    Out on the main street, I met a guy handing out an informational brochure of businesses and services available in Brunswick, and how to get to them. His name was Walt Stull, and he was one of those guys that every small community seems to have--councilmember, historian, on the board of the local railroad museum. We started talking, and I explained to him that I was from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and was working on a video about the economic impact of trail tourism.

    "As soon as I heard you guys were coming through, I called all the businesses and told them to stay open, even though it's a Monday," Stull said. He gave me a bunch of the brochures to take down to the Sojourn camp. Back there, I heard at least a dozen people talking about the cafe in the old church, stories of who bought what at the bike shop.

    But looking more critically, it isn't all bikes and bucks for the people of Brunswick. No doubt for every big day like this one, with 250 riders coming through in one hit, there are lulls, winters, ordinary mid-weeks. This kind of peak and trough commercial cycle doesn't often sustain a robust local economy in the long run.

    But the good news for the people of cities and towns like Brunswick is that biking and trails tourism are built on the most sustainable of passions: the outdoors, fresh air, physical exercise, adventure close to home, economical travel. And, like Brunswick, there are many main streets across America where a couple of new stores and a cafe where you can barely get a seat would be very welcome as signs of great optimism. 

    Photo of Beans in the Belfry by Jake Lynch/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

  • Train Trestle From Famous Film Soon to Welcome Hikers and Bikers

    For lovers of American cinema, the scene in the 1986 film Stand By Me where the young protagonists sprint madly across a towering rail trestle (right) to narrowly escape an approaching train is one of those classic moments.

    Now, Americans of all ages will be able to reenact that famous scene in a much more leisurely (and safe) fashion, with the announcement last week that an agreement has been struck to purchase the out-of-service section of rail corridor in northeast California and convert it into a rail-trail.

    The trail will be known as the Great Shasta Rail Trail (GSRT). The right-of-way along the 80-mile section of the McCloud Railway between McCloud, in Siskiyou County, and Burney, in Shasta County, was purchased from the property's owner, 4 Rails, Inc., by the Shasta Land Trust (SLT). Since 2009, SLT has been working with a coalition of local partners, Save Burley Falls, McCloud Local First Network, the Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership and the McCloud Trail Association, with the express intention of converting the corridor into a public recreation trail.

    This railroad right-of-way spans more than 80 miles through the forested mountains of northern California and is a significant property in the history of McCloud, Burney and the surrounding area.

    "It's not every day we get to announce the railbanking of 80 miles of corridor for a new rail-trail!" says a very excited Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "This trail will be a crown jewel across northeastern California."

    According to SLT Executive Director Ben Miles, 4 Rails, Inc. agreed on a purchase price well below its appraised fair market value, representing a considerable donation of value by the seller.

    The multiuse GSRT will benefit Siskiyou and Shasta counties and the rural communities of McCloud and Burney by stimulating tourism and recreation-related commerce, increasing neighboring property values, and attracting new businesses.

    The GSRT will connect with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, recreational facilities on adjacent national forest land, and will link to trails around the McCloud River Falls and McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. 

    SLT and its team of supporters is confident of raising the funds necessary to complete the purchase, and have secured a grant for more than half of the purchase price from the California Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program.

    For more information, or to find out how to contribute to the project, visit www.mccloudlocalfirst.org.

    Photo of the McCloud Railway trestle bridge over Lake Britton courtesy of Redbeard Math Pirate/Flickr

     

  • The Sojourn Experience

    By Becky Chanis, Magazine Intern

    Sojourn volunteers in front of the Battleship New JerseyFew interns get to say their summer job required them to bike more than 200 miles in a single week. Perhaps even fewer can say they asked to do it. Luckily, I am one of those few. On July 16, 2010, I packed two duffel bags and joined the staff of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) for the 8th Annual Greenway Sojourn in Camden, N.J. For one week, it would be my job to cycle from Camden to Jim Thorpe, Pa., and back again with a group of more than 300 Sojourners, experiencing and documenting the trip from their point of view.

    My main reason for volunteering for such a trip was that it, of course, seemed fun; however, the Greenway Sojourn quickly became something more than a quasi-vacation. It became a learning experience, in which I saw firsthand why the mission of RTC is so relevant.

    I learned that trails open up a whole new world to their users. As a lifelong city kid from Manhattan, I haven't spent much time around green things. The Greenway Sojourn often felt akin to discovering an alien planet or entering the Jurassic period: I was continually surrounded by foreign, lush landscapes. When it rained on Day 3 while we rode the Perkiomen Trail, I felt as though my senses were deceiving me. The shaded trail was filled with the dewy scent of foliage; water came down from the sky in torrents, turning a leisurely bike ride into a muddy adventure. It was all so new and fresh; I had never seen anything so beautiful. I realized trail riding was an easy way to welcome nature into my daily life.

    The Sojourners' use of rail-trails also contributed exponentially to the communities that had built them. Our visits to Conshohocken, Manayunk, Jim Thorpe and several other Pennsylvania "trail towns" helped support their local economies and encourage future development. We ate locally grown produce and patronized small businesses, from restaurants to bicycle shops. We learned about local history, natural life and politics. Our weeklong trip helped sustain these communities, as well as the beautiful land that surrounds them.

    It was also great to see that the support did not begin and end with the Sojourners. Fuji Bikes donated bicycles to the kids and staff from the LEAP School in Camden, N.J. (one of two schools that were sponsored to ride the Sojourn). For the adults, in addition to sponsoring the ride, Fetzer Vineyards held several wine tastings with dinner. And the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Coopers Ferry Development Association also generously and enthusiastically supported the ride.

    On a personal level, the Sojourn was a way of showing my friends, family members and others that sustainable, healthy living is a viable option when you have access to great trails. Although building rail-trails is the first step, the real benefits come from using them.

  • New Extension Brings Great Allegheny Passage Closer to Pittsburgh

    The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is one of America's best known rail-trails, winding more than 135 miles through southern Pennsylvania and just into northwestern Maryland. 

    The plan for the GAP has always been to provide a continuous pathway all the way into Pittsburgh. But as popular as the trail has been with all sorts of users, a few short, crucial segments south of the city remained undeveloped.

    Now, a huge step has been made toward that goal of bringing Pittsburgh onto the GAP.

    This Friday, June 17, a new three-mile section of the trail along the Monongahela River will open to the public, connecting the trail's current northern terminus at McKeesport up to Homestead, Pa.

    This extension means that just a single mile of additional trail into Pittsburgh is needed to complete a grand 150-mile route through rural Pennsylvania.

    At its southern end, the GAP connects with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Cumberland, Md., where the canal towpath follows a 184-mile route all the way to downtown Washington,  D.C. When the final northern mile of the GAP is completed, adventurous cyclists and hikers and users of every stripe will be able to travel under their own steam all the way from Pittsburgh to the nation's capital, passing through some the region's most beautiful scenery en-route.

     

     

    This new three-mile section, which passes by the popular Sandcastle Water Park and includes two new bridges over active rail lines, cost $6 million--$1.25 million of which came from federal Transportation Enhancements funding and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The trail also received significant financial support from Allegheny County and private charitable foundations.

    Over the past few years, Allegheny County has negotiated with 18 individual property owners to make way for the trail between McKeesport and Sandcastle.

    In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story on the development of the unfinished sections last year, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato described completing the missing links as "a transformational moment for our region, both economically and recreationally."

    For more information about next Friday's opening, or the GAP trail in general, visit the Allegheny Trail Alliance or e-mail atamail@atatrail.org.

    Photo: Great Allegheny Passage, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

  • Get the Conversation Started: RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative Summit

    Next week, more than 100 advocates of urban pathways, greenways and trails from cities across the nation--representing the nonprofit, private and public sectors--will meet in Cleveland for RTC's second Urban Pathways Initiative Summit. We'll be discussing the common issues we face in our efforts to encourage more physical activity on shared-use paths in urban areas, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.

    Registration has closed, but even if you aren't making it to Cleveland, be sure to sign up for e-mail updates from our Urban Pathways Initiative. After the summit is finished, you'll be able to watch video and listen in on some of the discussions.

    But don't wait until after the summit! If you're attending--or even if you're not--introduce yourself in the comments, and let's get this conversation started. What's the biggest challenge you face? The biggest success? What specific issues do you want to discuss with your colleagues during the summit?

    Photo: Area youth pedal to the Morgana Run Trail during the Slavic Village Bike-a-Thon. Photo courtesy of Slavic Village Development.

  • Tornado Levels Trestle on Virginia Creeper Trail

    In the violent storm system that tore through the Southeast a few weeks ago, one of the many tornadoes it spawned completely destroyed a trestle on the 34-mile Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail.

    The rail-trail runs from Abingdon to Whitetop in the far southwest corner of Virginia. It passes through rolling foothills and farm country and provides a huge economic boost to communities along its route. Local outfitters offer shuttle service for visitors who want to pedal the trail in one direction (and with a slight downhill grade), and community businesses, including bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants, advertise the Virginia Creeper as a valuable recreation option. 

    Hitting at the end of April, the tornado scattered trestle # 7, located about six miles from the Abingdon trailhead, like a pile of matchsticks. John Mongle, who lives next to the trail, took a few photos of the damage in the days after the storm. Mongle says he spoke with Kevin Worley, director of parks and recreation for Abingdon, and Town Manager Greg Kelly about plans to rebuild the structure. The trestle is insured, and planners are meeting with property owners along the damaged section--between mile posts 6 and 7--to create an alternate route so they can re-open the segment as quickly as possible. The town of Abingdon oversees this section, and managers ask that trail users reaching this break respect private property owners and not trespass on adjacent land. 

    If you are planning a trip to the Virginia Creeper, contact the town of Abingdon parks and recreation department at 276.623.5279 for up-to-date information on repairs and when this trail section will be open to users again.

    Photos by John Mongle.

  • Check out AAA Mid-Atlantic’s backyard, TE-funded trail

    In August, AAA Mid-Atlantic called for the elimination of critical, established programs that fund trails, walking and bicycling from our nation's transportation trust fund. De-funded programs would include Transportation Enhancements (TE), the largest funding source for trails and active transportation infrastructure.

    AAA says it supports all types of transportation, but that doesn't square with the above position, which would divert crucial money away from walking and bicycling and toward the highway system.

    Imagine our surprise when we learned that AAA Mid-Atlantic has a trail right outside their building that their employees get to enjoy every day... funded by TE! So we decided to go see it for ourselves.

    Ask AAA to be a part of America's transportation future - sign the petition now!

  • Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure

    By Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus


    Karin and I had started planning more than a month in advance. It would be a six-day, self-contained, inn-to-inn tour during the Labor Day weekend, leaving New York City on September 1 and returning September 6. Who knew the Northeast would be slammed by Hurricane Irene on August 28? 

    Our planned route was up to Pawling, N.Y., then across western Connecticut and north through western Massachusetts, finally crossing just into New Hampshire. We would return through the Berkshires and ultimately take the train back to the city from Wassaic.

    As the storm mop-up began on August 29, we watched all the flood warnings and road closure updates we could find. There were several places, particularly in Connecticut, where roads on our route were closed as of Monday, but we couldn't get any further updates as to whether they would be open by Thursday. And we had planned to take the South and North County trailways the first day, which we feared might not be cleared as quickly as the commuter roads. So on Tuesday, August 30, I scouted the southern section of the South County Trailway. Although it was still strewn with leaf and twig debris in many places, crews had already been out clearing the downed trees. We were confident it would be completely passable by Thursday...and it was! Luck stayed with us throughout the trip and we never encountered a closed road or bridge.

    Embarking on the journey as scheduled on September 1, we took the subway from Columbus Circle up to 238th Street in the Bronx, there being elevators at both those stations, allowing us to get our lightly loaded bikes down to the platform and then to the street easily. Thus we skipped the "junk" miles and started our tour close to the first entrance to the rail-trail. Starting with a trail was a good way to ease into a multi-day tour, putting us immediately into a touring frame of mind--an easy, relaxed pace, a chance to chat as we rode side by side, remembering to look at the scenery and maybe even stop for a photo. On a weekday morning, there were few other trail users.

    We were never without a little adventure, from missed turns that added eight miles to each of the first two days, to a hill that was 18- to 20-percent incline for about half a mile (yes, we walked), to on-the-fly route changes, to a power outage the third night that meant a bath in the swimming pool instead of the shower. On the fifth day, as we cycled over the mountains from Northampton to Great Barrington, we had torrential rain storms. The worst came as we started across Route 23 from Otis to Great Barrington. We didn't know there was road construction on the route, and some sections were now unpaved. At 3 in the afternoon, it might as well have been dusk, cycling in the pouring rain, unable to see more than a few yards ahead, on unpaved stretches with loose stones, ruts and mud, and a little lightning and thunder just to keep us alert! But we made it to our next inn, had a good dinner in town and spent the evening drying things out.

    Our route was specifically designed to accommodate visits with various friends and cousins in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. In addition, we met other fun and interesting people and animals along the way. Three nights were spent at bed-and-breakfasts, one of which, the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn, sits immediately alongside the Northampton Bikeway, which is a westward extension of the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Massachusetts. The inn is run by Craig Della Penna, who has been a lobbyist and advocate of trails and alternative transportation for a number of years. Needless to say, that was an interesting evening. 

    We had planned to do a few sections on rail-trails and ended up doing about 75 miles (out of a total of 350-plus miles) on eight different trails and greenways, including the Putnam Trailway and Harlem Valley Rail Trail in New York, and the Still River Greenway and Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Connecticut. The trail systems in the Northeast continue to grow; we probably could have done more miles on trails had we done a little more research beforehand. Some trails we either came upon serendipitously or were told about along the way by local folks, and some of the roads we were on are now marked as bicycle routes. These trail and bike route systems are making multi-day touring safe and possible for even novice cyclists. 

    The innkeepers where we stayed, as well as local residents we encountered, see rail-trails as an asset and an economic boon to the community. Wherever we stopped to ask about trail facilities, local merchants and residents knew the information and were very helpful. Along the way, we encountered many smiling cyclists and other trail users who exhibited good trail etiquette. The whole experience came together so nicely.

    Light-loaded inn-to-inn touring is an easy way to take a short, inexpensive vacation. Karin used her road bike and a large Carradice bag that attaches firmly to the seatpost. I used my touring bike with a rack and Topeak MXP rack trunk with small drop-down panniers. Each of us carried between 10 and 15 pounds extra, including gear and tools, an extra cycling kit, a set of off-bike clothes and lightweight shoes, plus whatever toiletries and necessities we needed. Ziploc bags and dry bags protected most of our stuff, even in the downpour. With a spirit of adventure, you can handle anything that happens (especially when you're not camping). And when you're touring by bicycle, you can count on folks to help you out along the way. 

    There are plenty of interesting places you can see in a two- or three-day trip if you want to dip your toe in without making a big commitment. But we've also done 10-day trips covering 600 to 700 miles, still only lightly loaded. (For some of us, camping is not in the cards--we like our creature comforts!) This style is very different from doing club rides, but it is another gift your bicycle--and trails--can give you.

    Photos courtesy of Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus. 

  • Making Trails Truly Multi-Use: A Perspective From the N.Y. Equestrian Community


    On rail-trails throughout the country, local managers and planners make decisions about the types of users a pathway will support. Rail-trails generally allow for a wide spectrum of activities, from cycling and horseback riding to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, depending on the season and region. But these various user groups often require specific trail conditions and amenities, whether it's asphalt for skate wheels or space in parking lots for horse trailers. And even though these users all support a common cause--trails--tension over permissible uses can still occur on some pathways.

    In almost every case, though, improved communication and understanding among trail groups can prove the greatest asset in promoting shared uses on a trail--and making sure future trail projects are designed to allow as many user types as possible. Each group offers something valuable to the trail community, from economic impact and trail maintenance to vocal support at the legislative level. Learning about the roles these different users play is a central part of appreciating the shared nature of the rail-trail movement.

    In that spirit, we recently connected with Sharon Young Slate and Gary Slate of the New York State Horse Council, and we asked for their take on trail access and involvement with the New York equestrian community.

    From the Slates: The New York State Horse Council serves as an umbrella organization for the many diversified equine interests in the state. One purpose of the Horse Council, stated on our website, is to "facilitate grassroots efforts to educate N.Y. State Legislators regarding the tremendous economic impact ($4.8 billion dollars) provided by our horse industry and develop appropriate equine agricultural legislation." While some people see New York as pavement and skyscrapers, the top industry in the state remains agriculture--and horses are a valuable part of this industry, taking second place only to dairying. There are more than 200,000 horses in New York, representing everything from racing interests to a significant number of show horses, hunters and jumpers, draft horses and lesson animals, and a very large pleasure horse and trail riding horse population (in fact, 70 percent of New York's horses are involved in showing and recreational riding). The Horse Council works to create a "strong and unified voice for all those interests toward the preservation of a future for horses in New York State."

    Several trails open to horses do exist in the state, but the unrelenting push for more development in many areas--and the fact that many small farms have closed--often leaves riders without spaces and areas previously open to them. This shortage of publicly available land is likely true in many other states as well. The Horse Council has been a strong supporter of groups developing trails, and the large horse-owner population in New York has been diligent in working alongside other groups in maintaining these trails wherever possible.   

    Trail users, whether hikers, cyclists, runners, inline skaters or horseback riders, have far more in common than many of us realize. The majority of horse owners we know are responsible trail users and are grateful for the opportunity to share these trails with other interests. While basic rules of trail etiquette must be established, and appropriate footing (surface) is necessary for horses, we have found that all users can coexist when we work together in planning and management.

    In some cases and when possible, a parallel trail to that used by pedestrians and cyclists works best for horses and keeps users simultaneously and safely on the corridor. In others, where trails have a solid base and are sufficiently wide to allow for quiet passing where and when necessary, the same trail can be used, providing the footing is appropriate for horses. An appropriate footing would be dirt, grass or a very fine gravel base, well packed and well settled ("stonedust," for instance). Any pavement such as blacktop or cement is dangerously slippery for horses, and gravel, especially if it is sharp or at all large, can pose real problems for hooves.

    To allow equestrian use, bridges should be sufficiently sturdy and wide and provided with safe railings. A metal deck should be avoided where horses will be involved. Parking areas need to be large enough to accommodate trucks and horse trailers, leaving ample room for riders to tie their animals to the trailer to tack up and prepare to ride.

    Not every trail can or should be a multi-use trail that is accessible for horses. However, where horses are welcome and appropriate, horse owners and supporters will gladly carry their share of the load. Horseback riders, like others who enjoy nature and the use of trails, are eager to share in the development or opening of these trails, would unite to stand against their closure, and would be willing to stand side by side with other users to help with maintenance.

    Trail horses can share an appropriate trail happily and comfortably with hikers, cyclists and other users. The continued development of rail-trails provides an expanding and exciting opportunity for those of us who enjoy the natural beauty of our nation--and who promote recreational facilities that many Americans can enjoy in their own way.

    Photos: Sharon and Gary Slate, by Ralph Goldstrom; riders on the Paulinskill Valley Trail in New Jersey, by Boyd Loving.

  • Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn

    For people who love trails, long rides, picturesque towns, farms, mountains and rivers, Pennsylvania is a great place to be. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has a long history of involvement in Pennsylvania, helping local trails groups, volunteers and agencies develop some of the best trails networks in the country. Our annual Greenway Sojourn has had a lot to do with that, highlighting opportunities for new trails and celebrating existing routes. 

    This year's Sojourn took us to an area that is fast developing a reputation as the new destination for trails enthusiasts: the northern Laurel Highlands, east of Pittsburgh.

    For the first three nights of the Sojourn, we set up camp in a great spot next to the Ghost Town Trail in the town of Ebensburg. About 100 riders chose to join us for an optional first day ride on Tuesday, down to the Path of the Flood Trail, through Franklin and into the historical city of Johnstown.

    While there were many highlights that day, such as passing through the oldest railroad tunnel in America, traveling up the world's steepest vehicular incline (the Johnstown Inclined Plane), and visiting the Path of the Flood Museum, the day was particularly significant for another reason. This ride was the first time a group had passed along the newly cleared route from the Staple Bend railroad tunnel, where the Path of the Flood Trail now ends, through to Franklin and Johnstown. As those of us who braved it know, much work remains to be done before it is rideable--most Sojourners had to walk their bikes through the thick brush. But by beating a path for the Sojourn, RTC and local trails volunteers have forced the issue of what remains to be done to complete this vital connection. 

    Talking with some riders later that night, I was told that one local cyclist, on seeing the Sojourners emerge from the wilderness on their way to Johnstown, expressed his great excitement that such a connection was in the works. Hopefully the energy of more locals like him will push the project forward!

    But our trails pioneering wasn't done yet. With the remainder of the 250 Sojourners joining us for the official kick-off the next day, we headed west along the ever-present Ghost Town Trail through the town of Nanty-Glo. There, RTC's Mr Sojourn, Tom Sexton, unveiled the brand-new Cambria and Indiana Trail (C&I). Named for the railroad company that operated the original line the trail follows, the C&I loops north off the Ghost Town and reconnects in the town of Vintondale. 

    There is no denying it, the C&I also needs some smoothing work; loose ballast and BMX-style humps were a bit much for some riders, and it will be a little while yet before this rail-trail can be opened to the public.

    But, like the path through the wilderness from the Staple Bend Tunnel, by bringing the Sojourn to this region RTC has taken some crucial first steps to develop all the trail assets and connectivity of the region. 

    There must be something about the Sojourn that brings the hot weather! As has been the case in previous years, this year's Sojourn coincided with a newsworthy heat wave, with temperatures about 15 degrees above the average. It occasionally made for tough riding, but everyone was careful to drink plenty of water and look after themselves.

    Still, in 90-plus degrees, the 52-mile ride along the Ghost Town and West Penn trails from Ebensburg to Saltsburg was hard on a lot of folks. When the riders finally pulled in to the sumptuous grounds of the Kiski School above Saltsburg, sweat, exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment mingled in equal parts. The indoor and outdoor pools were popular spots over the next few days, with the Pittsburgh kids putting on a spectacular display from the diving board. 

    After many hot miles on the bike, the canoe and kayak trip down the Conemaugh River on the third day was a welcome change and allowed us to experience a different kind of recreational pathway. Enjoying this perfect antidote to the heat, Sojourners spent as much time in the river as in their boats, drifting slowly down the river swollen by a specially timed release from the Conemaugh Dam upstream. 

    A small group of dedicated riders took up the invitation of some local cyclists to explore the myriad of trails around Saltsburg, including the Westmoreland Heritage Trail and the Roaring Run Trail.

    One of important requirements to keep energy levels up after a long ride or paddle is good food. We were fortunate this year to again have the services of Dave Rose and Galloping Gourmet catering, which consistently dished up delicious and nutritious meals, often sourced from local farms and producers. That baked chicken was especially tasty!

    Thankfully, things cooled off just a little for the final two days. On Saturday the Sojourn pulled up stakes at the Kiski School for the 32-mile ride to Indiana, following the West Penn Trail and the meandering Conemaugh River back east, before turning north through Black Lick on the Hoodlebug Trail.

    The Indiana University of Pennsylvania playing fields made a fine home for the Sojourn's last night of camping under the stars. As in Saltsburg and Ebensburg, we were a short walk from downtown, and a number of riders made the most of this vibrant college town.

    The reception at the Jimmy Stewart Museum was a definite highlight--thank you to our impersonator and interpreter Chris Collins, who provided a Jimmy Stewart experience few Sojourners will forget! 

    By Sunday, many of the Sojourners were ready to return to a few home comforts. As wonderful as the trails were, after six nights in a tent, a cozy mattress and a long bath starts to look pretty good.

    So the final day's ride back to Ebensburg was a nice time to reflect on the many miles we had traveled in the week behind us, the people we had met, and the summits we had bested, actual or otherwise. And for some it was one last chance for a refreshing soak in Blacklick Creek! 

    Many thanks to the volunteers and Sojourn supporters who do so much to make this ride possible every year. And thanks also to all those who took part, this year and in years past. Your passion for trails, and your support of RTC is enormously important, and much appreciated.

    We hope to see you sometime soon, out and about on the trails!

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy - click on any of the photos for a slideshow of images from the Sojourn.

  • Watch: D.C. Residents Meet the Met Branch Trail

    On June 5, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy celebrated National Trails Day by hosting an event with Kaiser Permanente on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The event, called Meet the Met: Party on the Met Branch Trail, introduced surrounding communities to a new pathway that had opened only one month before. While some area residents had been involved with the long history of getting the trail built, many in the surrounding neighborhoods didn't know that the trail existed. By working with our partners to host a celebration that included something for and from all parts of the community - free bike repairs and rentals, garden plantings and shows by cheerleaders from nearby Beacon House - we hoped to christen the trail and introduce it to all of Northeast D.C.

    Nearly 1,000 people turned out on a hot June day for the celebration, and of the over 200 we surveyed, nearly half had never been on the Metropolitan Branch Trail before. Photos and video (embedded above) can give you a flavor of the day's events, which included salutes to longtime trail advocates, a bike rodeo to teach kids safe riding skills, live music along the trail and a raffle of four bicycles donated by local shop Arrow Bicycle.

    Meet the Met is just the beginning. A new listserv connecting neighbors who care about the Met Branch Trail attracted more than 100 members in its first week and a meeting is being held on July 8 to move the conversation from the online world to the real world. Even with community support, this trail faces challenges, such as littering and public safety. But the Met Branch is not alone. As part of RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative, this trail is connected to dozens of others across the nation addressing similar issues, providing a support network to learn about best practices from other cities.

  • Join Us in West Virginia to Celebrate the Greenbrier River Trail

    Situated in some of West Virginia's most scenic countryside, the 77-mile Greenbrier River Trail in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties has fast become a favorite excursion for locals and visitors alike. Anyone who has visited it is immediately charmed by the peaceful surroundings, lush landscapes, historical tunnels and bridges, the West Virginia townships along the waym and of course the constant presence of the lovely Greenbrier River.

    Given that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) D.C. headquarters, and our regional offices in Pennsylvania and Ohio, are all just a short drive away, many of us here at RTC have a real soft spot for the Greenbrier River Trail!

    So it is with great pleasure we announce that this wonderful rail-trail is to be inducted into our Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

    RTC began formally recognizing exemplary rail-trails around the country in 2007. The first Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductees were the Great Allegheny Passage (Pa./M.D.), the Katy Trail State Park (Mo.) and the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail (Fla.). The most recent addition was the High Line in Manhattan (N.Y.).

    Deservedly, the Greenbrier River Trail finds itself in good company.

    Inductees are selected on merits such as scenic value, high use, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, excellence in management and maintenance of facility, community connections and geographic distribution. The Greenbrier River Trail is a model in each of these areas.

    To celebrate, we are hosting a community event in Marlinton, roughly at the halfway point of the trail, on National Trails Day, June 2. And we'd love for you to join us!

    In addition to the official Hall of Fame dedication and a free barbecue lunch in Marlinton's downtown park, a feature of the day will be a ride along the Greenbrier River Trail hosted by West Virginia State Parks District Administrator Robert Beanblossom. For those who prefer a more leisurely tour, there will be a guided walk on the trail hosted by a local naturalist.

    The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. at the Greenbrier River Trail trailhead at the intersection with Ninth Street, downtown Marlinton. All are welcome to attend.

    The free barbecue lunch, with live local music in the Marlinton Park Gazebo, will follow the ceremony at about 1:30 p.m. The guided ride and walk will leave the Marlinton trailhead at about 3 p.m. Remember, if you'd like to ride, it's B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bike). There will be limited bike rentals available in Marlinton.

    Even if you can't make it to our celebration in West Virginia, National Trails Day - hosted by the American Hiking Society - is a great excuse to show some love to your local rail-trail, whether it's with a clean-up event, fun run or walk, or simply by getting out and using the trail.

    To RSVP, or for more information on the event in Marlinton, contact RTC's Communications Manager Jake Lynch at 202 974 5107, or jake@railstotrails.org.

    Photos of the Greenbrier River Trail by RTC.

     

  • From the Ashes, Hopewell Junction Depot a Model of Community Effort

    It was great to see the Poughkeepsie Journal give such hearty props to the community volunteers responsible for the restoration of the Hopewell Depot train station in Hopewell Junction, New York.

    "Four cheers: To the remarkable hard work and perseverance it took on behalf of the Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation - all volunteers - that resulted in last Wednesday's grand opening of the restored train station," the Journal wrote April 29.

    The depot will now serve as a visitor center and gathering point at the eastern terminus of the popular Dutchess County Rail Trail.

    Built in 1873, the depot at Hopewell Junction was moved a number of times from its original home at the intersection of Bridge Street and Railroad Avenue, as lines expanded and changed route to make way for more freight service.

    However, the glory days of what was originally the Dutchess and Columbia line out of Fishkill Landing began to fade in the second half of the 20th century, and by the early 1980s the tracks passing through Hopewell Junction had been removed and the depot fell into neglect.

    But it was 10 years after arsonists set fire to the depot in 1986 that a concentrated effort to restore the depot was formed, under the leadership of a number of locals eager to see a key part of the area's history preserved. They formed the Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation in 1996, and so began a remarkable transformation.

    That transformation was completed last week, with the grand opening and dedication of the restored Hopewell Depot train station, April 25.

    Not only is the restoration itself an inspiration for other communities across the country considering a similar effort, the Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation, too, is a model of community organization. Their website is rich with history, photos, links to their sponsors, and just about every piece of information a visitor or interested local could want.

    For more information, visit hopewelldepot.org.

    Congratulations to the people of Hopewell for providing such a wonderful amenity for the Dutchess Rail Trail and for your community.

    Photos courtesy of Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation

     

     

  • LaHood Hails "Eye-Opening Report on the Value of Investing in Nonmotorized Transportation"

    Since the nation's first-ever experiment to gauge the impact of concentrated investment in biking and walking infrastructure in America was launched in 2007, lawmakers and transportation planners have been awaiting this moment - the publication of the project data evaluating the real impact of this infrastructure on communities.

    Now, the numbers are in-and data counts reveal a more positive impact than even the program's most ardent advocates anticipated.

    The U.S. Congress last week was handed the statistical analysis of the first three years of the groundbreaking Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), which dedicated $25 million to each of four communities across the country to accurately demonstrate whether such investments equate to significantly higher levels of walking and bicycling, and a reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

    Between 2007 and 2010, new multi-use paths, bike lanes, pedestrian routes and trails in the four pilot communities - Minneapolis, Minn., Sheboygan County, Wisc., Marin County, Calif., and Columbia, Mo. - resulted in an estimated 32 million driving miles being averted. Non-motorized transportation infrastructure enabled local residents to choose to walk or bike for local trips, reducing traffic congestion and pollution, improving physical activity rates and sharply cutting into time spent driving.

    Counts in the four pilot communities revealed an average increase of 49 percent more bicyclists and 22 percent more pedestrians between 2007 and 2010. The mode shift in these communities - how many people switched from cars to biking and walking for trips - also far outstripped the national average for the same period.

    U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today described the release of NTPP data as an "eye-opening report on the value of investing in nonmotorized transportation."

    Established and funded by federal transportation legislation SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) in 2005 - and with management support from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) - NTPP set aside $100 million for biking and walking infrastructure in four communities of varying size across the country.

    "Anecdotally, we have already heard overwhelming evidence of how each community's investment in bike lanes, trails and sidewalks has returned myriad benefits," says Marianne Fowler, RTC's senior vice president of federal relations,. "Not just helping people get from A to B but also increasing physical activity levels and energizing downtown shopping districts. These effects have been hailed by everyone from business leaders and elected officials, to health workers and teachers, across the four pilot communities. It is great to see those outcomes reflected in hard data."

    Fowler says that with the evidence now in black and white before them, Congressional representatives across the nation must be compelled to recognize that continued investment in walking in biking represents terrific value for American taxpayers. Multiply the data from these four communities on a national scale, after all, and the results are simply astounding.

    The report on the impact of the NTPP comes at an opportune time, with the House and Senate still locked in debate over the passage of the next federal Transportation Bill. With opponents of walking and biking infrastructure claiming it is a frivolous use of transportation funding in these tough economic times, the testimony of state and local leaders, businesspeople, residents and health officials as to their cost-efficiency and effectiveness, and data supporting their improved functioning of transportation systems, will be welcome messages.

    "These are not all typical, bike-friendly cities," Fowler says. "These four communities represent a solid cross-section of America. Even in places like Sheboygan, which doesn't have urban density, has cold winters, and has had almost no experience with biking and walking initiatives in the past, locals have rapidly become champions because they have seen the real-time effects, the actual benefits to their community. The incongruous thing is that Congress, with a simple, low-cost solution to so many transportation problems right here in front of them, can't see the people for the cars."

    Kevin Mills, RTC's vice president of policy and trail development, says that even though the findings of this report are already compelling, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

    "Changes in behavior related to infrastructure take years to emerge, as bike paths and trails and sidewalks become familiar parts of people's daily lives," Mills says. "That we are already seeing such significant increases in biking and walking in these communities is encouraging. But it is just the beginning of the amazing shift in travel behavior that we expect to see."

    "By every measure, this program has been a raging success for these four communities," Mills says. "They prove that concentrated investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure produces a significant shift in the way people get around. These documented increases in trips taken on bike and by foot represent significant reductions in vehicle miles travelled, helping to cut congestion, pollution and health-care costs while increasing mobility for all citizens. These improvements represent a terrific return on investment. We hope that this compelling evidence will catch the eye of those lawmakers who are, as we speak, making decisions about America's transportation future."

    The report estimates that boosting the amount of pedestrian and bicycle activity in these communities reduced the economic cost of mortality by about $6.9 million. Doctors and the broader public health community have long been advocating increasing opportunities for biking and walking as a cost-effective strategy to reduce illness and wasteful spending on reactive health care.

    "From the public health perspective of reversing the intertwined trio of obesity, type II diabetes and physical inactivity, the NTPP represents a true front line intervention," says Kristina Jones, RTC's healthy communities manager. "In addition to the human burden, diabetes and prediabetes alone cost Americans $218 billion in 2007. We know that physical activity is crucial to prevention and control - prevention that in the coming years will save these communities many millions of dollars in unnecessary reactive health care."

    More data on the success of the NTPP will be made available in the coming months. Stay tuned. 

     

  • In New York, Completion of Dutchess Rail Trail Raises Prospect of Link Over The Hudson

    The development of the Dutchess Rail Trail in Dutchess County, N.Y., is one of the defining achievements in the 20- year tenure of County Executive William R. Steinhaus.

    And so it is fitting that one of his final tasks before leaving office for retirement last week was to approve plans for the final phase of the rail-trail, which will join two unconnected segments and provide a crucial step toward an extensive rail-trail network throughout the region.

    Stages one, two and three saw the construction of more than 10 miles of trail from Hopewell Junction to the outskirts of Fairview, east of Poughkeepsie and the Hudson River. But the trail was divided into two segments by an undeveloped section of a little more than one mile, through which passed the six busy lanes of State Route 55.

    Stage four, which Steinhaus signed off on last week, will see the construction of a 900-foot, five-span bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over SR 55 and Wappinger Creek, as well as the completion of the missing section of trail. Design work on the $4.3 million project is under way, and construction is expected to begin in May or June of this year.

    The completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail will no doubt draw attention to the exciting possibility of connecting the Dutchess to the remarkable Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and on to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the opposite side of the Hudson River. The Dutchess Rail Trail and the Walkway Over the Hudson are separated by just one mile of unused rail corridor (see map, above). However, negotiations between Dutchess County and CSX Transportation Corp., the owners of the corridor, have not yet resulted in a sale or transfer of the property.

    But Steinhaus is optimistic about a future connection between the two trails.

    "I believe there will be a meeting of the minds sometime next year that will finally allow for the acquisition of that final piece of property and the linkage between the [Dutchess Rail Trail] and the Walkway to become a reality," Steinhaus told the Poughkeepsie Journal.

    Elsewhere in New York, there was great news for the people of Columbia County, with the Copake Hillsdale Rail Trail Alliance announcing it was a step closer to extending the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.

    The group announced it had raised the matching funds required by a $121,965 New York State grant to create a conceptual design and final construction drawings, as well as necessary supporting studies, for the five-mile extension.

    The new section will run north from Copake Falls through the hamlet of Hillsdale, near the state's border with Massachusetts. The expanded trail will link the two communities to the new Roe Jan Community Library and Roe Jan Park with a safe, off-road path for bikers, walkers, runners and cross-country skiers.

    Officials of Hillsdale and Copake view the trail extension as vital to bringing more tourists to their communities and attracting new stores, restaurants and other services.

    The extension is being coordinated by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, a nonprofit group that oversees the existing trail, and Columbia Land Conservancy, which has been instrumental in working to extend the trail to its ultimate destination in Chatham, N.Y.

    Map image and photo of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail courtesy of www.TrailLink.com.

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