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RTC TrailBlog

  • 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.

  • Delaware Affirms Commitment to Active Transportation

    The vision and leadership of Delaware Governor Jack Markell and the state's senior transportation officials continues to pay off for the citizens of their state.

    In a speech to mark National Bike to Work Day last year, acting secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Cleon Cauley, Sr., went on record as saying biking and walking were a growing part of the state's transportation needs, and "to ignore this trend is to do a great disservice to the people of Delaware."

    A little more than a year later, Delaware's transportation advocates are celebrating the opening of the long-anticipated Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail in the city of Newark. The two-mile walking and biking trail, which was funded in part by the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program and partly through a federal earmark, passes through downtown Newark, connecting transit hubs, a university campus and shopping areas with parks and recreation spots.

    Gov. Markell, U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Newark Mayor Vance A. Funk III are all planning to attend Monday's grand-opening celebration of a transportation and recreation facility that was the city's most-demanded project.

    "The goal is to encourage people to get out of their automobiles and either walk or ride their bikes to destinations where they might normally drive," Newark Parks and Recreation Director Charles Emerson told the Newark Post.



  • Court Win Preserves Medicine Bow Rail Corridor in Wyoming

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this week earned a significant win against ongoing litigation threats to preserving America's inactive rail corridors for public use.

    RTC General Counsel Andrea Ferster, assisted by pro bono counsel (and former RTC board member) Charles Montange, filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in a case in which private landowners were attempting to challenge the United States' ownership of the corridor, which was originally acquired by the railroad through federal land grants. 

    The rail line in question is on the same corridor as the popular Medicine Bow Rail-Trail, one of Wyoming's most successful trails, which was built by the U.S. Forest Service and spurred by the enthusiasm and monetary support of the citizens of Wyoming and nearby Colorado (right). The disputed section is approximately 30 miles east of the developed Medicine Bow Rail-Trail and represents a terrific opportunity to extend the Medicine Bow and transform a day-ride into an overnight destination trail and tourism asset .

    A small group of neighboring landowners, however, have challenged the right of the United States to preserve the corridor intact and for the public benefit, a right established under federal law, including Section 9(c) of the National Trails System Act.

    On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit rejected the appeal of the landowners, reaffirming the government's right under these federal statutes to secure the corridor for future conversion into a rail-trail. In doing so, the Court declined to follow a number of recent decisions from other circuits, which refused to recognize that the United States retains an ownership interest in all federally granted rights-of-way under federal law.

    Though it doesn't receive the public profile of many of our trail-building and advocacy efforts, the work of RTC's legal program, and our General Counsel Andrea Ferster, involves perhaps our most critical challenge: preserving the corridors. Each time these public assets are transferred into private hands and fragmented, America loses not only the opportunity to build a public pathway, a tourism asset, or a community connector, it also loses a piece of its railroading and pioneering history.

    For more about RTC's legal work to rail-trail future, visit www.railstotrails.org/ourWork.

  • With Highway Project Opposed, Trail Becomes Transportation Solution in Connecticut

    The proposed Norwalk River Valley Trail in southwest Connecticut continues from great idea toward reality, with the completion of a design for a 27-mile, mixed use trail, utilizing both active and disused rail corridors, between Norwalk and Danbury.

    According to newstimes.com of Danbury, the concept of a Norwalk River Valley Trail was launched years ago when the Connecticut Department of Transportation admitted it would never build a proposed limited-access four-lane highway between the two communities - a project opposed by locals for its nine-figure price tag. When the question arose of what might be done with the right-of-way the DOT acquired to build the road, the idea of a greenway, rather than a highway, got started.

    Two short sections of the trail have already been completed in Norwalk and Wilton. Locals hope that major portions of the trail can be completed over the next five years.

    In addition to providing a critical active transportation link between schools, offices and homes in this growing region, the Norwalk River Valley Trail would also connect to a number commuter train stations.

    Now the hard task of funding and constructing the trail begins. The good news, however, is that the communities involved understand the trail would be much more than a pleasant place of recreation.

    "You could take a train to work, then use a bike to get home," local trail planner Pat Sesto told newstimes.com. "We're quite serious about this."

    Photos courtesy Norwalk River Valley Trail



  • RTC Study of California DOT Reveals Need to Improve Bike/Ped Culture

    Growing support for active transportation has been manifesting itself into calls for more and safer opportunities for bicycling and walking all across the country. In some instances, this booming trend is the catalyst that pushes municipal planners to provide more bike paths, trails and pathways--a response to the demands of the population.

    But how prepared are the planners, designers, engineers and work crews of our state departments of transportation to deliver this active transportation infrastructure? Aware of the critical role of these staff in facilitating walking and biking, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently led a study of the California Department of Transportation's (Caltrans) bicycle- and pedestrian-related technical training for its staff.

    While California has made significant gains in its policies and procedures to improve its statewide active transportation system, the study reveals that there is still room for improvement.

    For example, during a series of interviews with Caltrans staff, it was found that fewer than 60 percent of planners, and fewer than 50 percent of traffic operations staff, were "moderately familiar or very familiar" with California Complete Streets policies, including Caltrans' own directive that all of its projects accommodate all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.

    Similarly, a majority of respondents (51.4 percent) felt that Caltrans did not do an effective job of advertising bicycle/pedestrian training for staff being offered by other districts or divisions.

    While bicycle and pedestrian facilities are often thought of as the province of local streets, and, therefore, local government, bicyclists and pedestrians have legal access on all conventional highways and State Highway System expressways, and about 25 percent of California's freeways. Of particular importance, state highways function as the main street for hundreds of communities throughout the state, especially in rural areas. This means that Caltrans' ability and willingness to prioritize walking and biking has a huge impact on access, safety and mobility in local communities.

    Among the recommendations of the study, which was led by RTC's Western Region Director Laura Cohen, and co-authored by California Walks, California Active Communities, and the California Department of Public Health, was that Caltrans needs to better integrate bicycle and pedestrian considerations early in the planning process.

    More difficult, but equally as important, Caltrans also needs to foster an organizational culture that treats bicycle and pedestrian transportation on par with other modes.

    Data for the report was gathered through personal interviews with more than two dozen Caltrans managers that play a role in bicycle and pedestrian projects, an online survey emailed to more than 1,000 Caltrans staff, and a review of current training offerings.

    The report, "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Training for Caltrans Staff," is now available in RTC's Trail-Building Toolbox at www.railstotrails.org.


  • What Sequestration May Mean for Trails, Biking and Walking

    There has been a lot of news coverage and analysis recently of a federal government sequestration and its potential impacts. At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, our experienced policy and research staff have been mining their sources and sorting through all available information to estimate what impact sequestration could have on our movement for better trails, biking and walking.

    The US Department of Transportation has determined that monies in the Highway Trust Fund are protected from sequestration. However, we can expect some cuts to transportation funds that do not come from gas taxes, which could marginally reduce road investments and multi-modal programs such as TIGER.

    In addition, programs administered by other federal agencies that promote healthy, safe transportation and trails may also be cut. These programs include the Community Development Block Grants, CDC Community Transformation Grants, Department of Interior funds for trails, and other programs.

    Here are some actions you can take to mitigate program losses due to sequestration.

    1. Push project sponsors and state agencies to obligate funds as early as possible. As time goes on there will be less money available for unobligated projects.

    2. Propose projects with higher than required local matches. Reducing the federal share will help the money go further.

    3. Encourage state DOTs to use money from their safety programs for projects that benefit trails, biking and walking. Safety programs aren't being subject to the same cuts and thus have more money available. These funds can be used for education initiatives, encouragement campaigns and safety improvements to roadways.

    Please take a moment to pass on this informational post to friends and colleagues in the trails and active transportation movement who might be interested. We will keep you updated as we learn more.



  • Rural Kentucky Primed for the Opening of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail

    Terrific news out of Kentucky this week with the date officially set for the opening of the first phase of the much-anticipated Dawkins Line Rail Trail, which now becomes the longest rail-trail in the state.

    "Developing Kentucky trails such as the Dawkins Line not only boosts tourism dollars, but those trails spur other new business and economic development in nearby communities," Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said during the project's groundbreaking in Royalton in September of last year.

    No sooner was the first sod turned than local businessman Don Fields was already looking for a location near the proposed trailhead, seeing opportunities to open a full-service bicycle shop, a shuttle service and a coffee shop, and exploring similar opportunities for businesses to cater to horseback riders.

    "The economic impact on those communities [with similar rail-trails] is in the millions every year," Fields told the local paper.

    Inspired by the example of the Virginia Creeper Trail in nearby southwest Virginia and eager to reap the same economic and recreational benefits for their community, regional leaders and locals have worked hard behind realizing the vision of the Dawkins Line. And their moment of reward is close at hand!

    The first 19 miles of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail will officially open on Saturday, June 15, at 10:00 a.m., with a dedication ceremony to held at mile marker 8.3. Anyone wanting more information about the event should visit the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council's facebook page.

    The Dawkins Line Rail Trail will eventually run 36 miles through the largely rural Johnson, Magoffin and Breathitt counties, and will be managed by Kentucky State Parks. Set in the Appalachian foothills and with a mild grade to accommodate bikers, hikers and horseback riders of all abilities, the Dawkins Line will, for the first time, connect locals and visitors with some of the most interesting and diverse countryside in Kentucky, and plug a number of small communities into a booming trails tourism economy.

    Congratulations, Kentucky. We can't wait to ride the Dawkins Line soon!

    Photo courtesy Kentucky Rails to Trails Council


  • Florida's $50 Million a Savvy Investment in the State

    Florida's decision this week to set aside $50 million for the creation of a 275-mile cross-state trail is not only great news for those of us who love trails, biking, riding and hiking - it is also a tremendous shot in the arm for thousands of main street businesses and the state's economy.

    Long gone are the days when a "trail" was merely a quiet place to take a leisurely stroll, pedal your bike and appreciate chirping birds and swaying branches.

    Trails are now multi-million dollar economic engines, critical investments at the heart of an outdoor recreation economy in which Americans spend $646 billion every year, $38.3 billion of that in Florida.  Did you know that Americans now spend more money each year on bicycling gear and trips ($81 billion) than they do on airplane tickets and fees ($51 billion)?

    Which is why $50 million to create a coast-to-coast trail across Florida is a savvy investment in our state's tourism infrastructure, and one which will pay for itself many times over in a few short years.

    This is not speculation. All across America, states with less-established tourism industries than Florida's are building sustainable, growing economies around destination trails. The prime example is the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage through western Maryland and Pennsylvania, which generates $40 million in direct spending by trail tourists each year, single-handedly sustaining small communities and sparking new commercial activity in large ones.

    But destination trails are also driving the establishment of new businesses and boosting local economies in Michigan, West Virginia, California, Ohio, Utah, Montana, New York... it's a long list, and growing.

    Republican Senator Andy Gardiner and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad head a group of officials and supporters who deserve credit for their leadership and for envisioning how this facility will help re-shape Central Florida and contribute to a new and evolving Spacecoast economy.

    RTC and our local partners like the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation worked closely with Sen. Gardiner in developing and promoting such an investment in Florida's trails. It is terrific to see an elected official who is listening to his constituents and understands the strong local support for such projects in the region.

    Already the national trail community is abuzz about the prospect of a 275-mile trail from St. Petersburg to Titusville. This $50 million investment to connect a number of existing rail-trails to create a continuous trail adventure across Florida will bring visitors from across America and around the world, and put this state at the forefront of a sustainable economic boom.

    There is already evidence of the economic potential of rail-trail systems that connect our communities here in Florida. In downtown Dunedin, private business occupancy rates increased from 30 percent to 95 percent following the establishment of the Pinellas Trail. The West Orange, Little Econ and Cady Way trails in Orange County supported 516 jobs and had an economic impact of $42.6 million in 2010, according to a study conducted by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. In 2009, Florida's eight state trails and the Cross Florida Greenway had more than four million visitors, generating an estimated economic impact of $95 million.

    This is without even touching upon the proven positive impact of local trail systems on real estate values and liveability indexes - two data points which are crucial to a region's ability to resist recession and retain residents and businesses.

    So, congratulations to Florida's elected leaders for their wise and far-sighted investment in the state. At a time when the public is demanding fiscal responsibility, this investment in creating a remarkable destination trail will continue to reap returns for Floridian residents and business for many years to come. 

    Photo of riders on the Pinellas Trail courtesy Pinellas County.
    Photo of trail-users at a local restaurant in Maryland by RTC.



  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania


    On or about August 30, 2013, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad Company filed for the abandonment of 0.79 mile of track within Harwick (Springdale Township) in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A "boiler plate" letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-88 (sub-no. 13x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is September 29, 2013. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its Web site, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing.

    The STB has imposed a $250 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project's progress. We also recommend contacting your state trails coordinator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

    Both of these individuals are knowledgeable about state laws and resources and may be able to assist your community with this rail-trail project. Also, you may want to contact the abandoning railroad to add your name to their service list.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC's website may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, the Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals. These resources can be found within the "Trail-Building" section of our Web site. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Pat Tomes at pat@railstotrails.org.

  • The Coast with the Most - Rail-with-Trail A Huge Boost for Santa Cruz County

    The setting is perfect - the unique coastal landscape of California, the shimmering Pacific Ocean, the calm, protected waters of Monterey Bay. When it's complete, some seven years from now, the 32-mile rail-with-trail running along the coastline a short trip south from San Jose, California, will without doubt be one of the most remarkable rail-trails in the country.

    Even more remarkable - the trail will share the corridor with an active tourist, and possibly transit, train service. Yet another project demonstrating the growing popularity of rail-with-trail, the proposed Coastal Rail Trail will be a tourism draw, a recreational amenity and a vital piece of transportation infrastructure rolled into one. Such is the efficiency of designing bike and pedestrian trails into rail reactivation plans.

    In 2010 the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission decided to purchase the 32-mile section of corridor from Union Pacific, fully aware of its transportation utility and recreation potential. Championed by U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, the project has inspired an organized and energetic local community of advocates, including Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT), People Power of Santa Cruz County, and the visionary folks at the transportation commission (confusingly known as RTC - hey, that's us...)

    One of my favorite things about this project is that, in addition to being just a short trip from the Bay Area, the trail passes within one mile of half the county's entire population and provides access to 88 parks and 42 schools.

    The Coastal Rail Trail in Santa Cruz will be a key segment of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network, which Congressman Farr is championing in part to foster appreciation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

    Although there is tremendous local and regional support for the project - residents have voted in favor of local tax dollars being directed toward acquiring the corridor - these things take time. Supporters hope to see the first section of the trail begin construction within the next three years.

    What a great day that will be for those Californians, like me, who believe that pathways for active transportation are terrific investments in the places we live.

    Photo courtesy FORT



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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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