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RTC TrailBlog

  • America's Next Gen of Trail Cities - Not Where You Expected

    The great thing about what we're seeing with rail-trail development at the moment is that it's ignoring all the preconceived notions of what we think we know about American cities.

    Bike share programs? Innovative off-street networks? Bike-friendly mayors? Oh yeah, that's just Portland, Seattle, Boulder, right?

    Wrong. Lately the cities that have been really pushing the envelope are places like Memphis, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Houston, Atlanta and Kansas City.

    Get ready to add Omaha, Nebraska to that list.

    I read this morning about plans to convert a disused and overgrown rail corridor through Omaha's Midtown into a multi-modal transportation line carrying both light rail and a bike/ped trail.

    The Omaha project adds to a growing list of American communities discovering the efficiency of rail-with-trail - trails alongside active freight, passenger or tourist lines - which, when land is tight, make the most of a city's available transportation corridors.

    This story at Omaha.com says that the rail company's closure of service in the 1980s left swaths of derelict space, and contributed to a crisis in many inner-city neighborhoods. The rail-with-trail plan, being developed by Emerging Terrain, a nonprofit research and design organization, would connect northern and southern neighborhoods and connect to employment, shopping and transportation hubs.

    "The repurposed Omaha Belt Line could spark industrial and other development that could bring an estimated 9,000 jobs and 4,500 new homes in just one 3.5-mile stretch of the 20-mile corridor." These are estimations based not on wishful thinking but on the actual experience of communities across America - time and time again we have seen multi-modal transportation projects serve as the catalyst for rejuvenation.

    Still, there is untapped potential. The report refers to the bike/ped pathway as a "recreational trail." This vastly under-appreciates the function of urban rail-trails as commuter routes and critical transportation assets. Referring to such pathways as "recreational" ignores the millions of Americans who use them each day to get to work, to stores and other hubs, as a modern, economical and sustainable alternative to cars.

    We hope to see the local planners recognize the trails' potential as a "people mover" rather than just a "people pleaser," as this exciting new proposal takes shape. Way to go, Omaha.

    NB: This update from Sloan Dawson of the Metropolitan Area Planning Association: "Thank you for this piece! As one of the project team members, I wanted to clarify that we definitely see the trail component fulfilling commuter as well as recreational functions. The beauty of the geometry of the corridor is that it connects the city's lowest income neighborhoods into current and planned city/regional trails and on-street bike facilities. When paired with the transit function - and a regional bus rapid transit system - it would greatly enhance the mobility options of residents." Thanks Sloan!  

    Image courtesy Emerging Terrain/Omaha.com



  • In Tallahassee, the (Bicycle) House that Scot Built

    It was Scot Benton's father who inspired him to found Bicycle House Tallahassee, a Florida nonprofit that's part bike repair shop and training center, part "build-a-bike" program, part community development organization, part trail cleanup group and part kitchen/overnight space for travelers on the "Southern Tier" route from San Diego, Calif., to Saint Augustine, Fla.

    "My father said, 'get out of the house...and open the door,'" says Benton, matter-of-factly.  "I had a little money, and I just put that into the building, the bricks and mortar, and the tools. We had no idea what was going to happen."

    If the origins of Bicycle House seem simple, Benton's story is anything but. After a bike-filled childhood in Tallahassee, he moved to New England for college. He traveled cross-country on a bike several times.  He raced bikes regionally and nationally for 15 years; he was, as he puts it, a "very unsuccessful, hardworking racer." In 1998, while standing on the side of a street in Boston after work, he was struck by a car during an accident. He spent three months in a coma and another five years living with his parents.   

    When his father finally encouraged him to move out, it would spark a series of events that led to the opening of Bicycle House in 2009 (it received official nonprofit status in 2011). Since that time, the organization has, with the support of hundreds of volunteers, helped more than 3,000 people repair, rehabilitate and construct bikes.  

    And as the organization continues to grow, so too does Benton's vision for Bicycle House to become a full-fledged hostel. During its first couple years, Bicycle House served 20 or 30 tourists annually that stopped in. The "house" eventually started hosting travelers overnight, providing a hot shower, some rudimentary sleeping gear and, eventually, a kitchen.  Last year, Benton counted approximately 350 stop-ins.  

    Dedicated to advocating "safe, practical transportation and social responsibility," Bicycle House has multiple projects in the works to help improve the local community. A major focus-one that Benton is particularly passionate about-is the continued development of Lake Elberta Park (which sits less than a half mile south of Bicycle House) and the potential addition of a trailhead that will connect the park's paved, multi-use pathway to the northern-most section of the 20.5-mile St. Marks rail-trail. Currently, the nearest St. Mark's trailhead is located five miles further south.

    The recently formed Friends of Lake Elberta Park, a group started by Benton and other passionate locals, is also advocating for turning an abandoned Church's Fried Chicken building that sits adjacent to the lake path into an outdoor center. Benton believes this would not only strengthen the blighted African-American community surrounding the park, but result in enhanced recreation opportunities for the entire city.

    "The city would greatly benefit from a place-a hub-where people of all different outdoor interests could come together," says Benton. "In addition to enhancing the recreational opportunities and networks in the city, it could serve as a great economic and social stimulus for the surrounding community."

    It's the diversity and comradery-in the form of volunteers, riders and visitors-that Benton highlights as the essence of Bicycle House.  He uses an anecdote to illustrate the point.

    "We had a guy come in a couple months ago from Holland who decided to stay the night. He's an electrical engineer. When he woke up the next morning, he asked how he could help. I wanted to go for a bike ride, so he told me to take the day off and volunteered to look after things for me.  I come back and he's running the place! Three of my volunteers are in the master's in electrical engineering program at Florida State University. One is from India, and one is from China. They and a couple others are talking to him about electrical engineering while working on a bike for a homeless gentleman who needed assistance. 

    "He asked if he could show his slides from his trips around the world, so we threw an impromptu show-and-tell and promoted it through Facebook. Fifteen people came and enjoyed his slides over a beer.

    "That's Bicycle House. That's how we work."

    Want to see more? Check out this great slideshow on the Bicycle House website.
    Photos courtesy of Bicycle House



  • Top 10 Trails in the Evergreen State

    Hey Washington, you spoke—we listened.  

    As we round out the month of February, RTC is pleased to present this list of top 10 trails that are making the Evergreen State first rate for walking, biking, skiing, hiking and the myriad outdoor activities the state is well-known for.

    We want to thank our readers and members for the overwhelming response we got when we asked for trail votes.  Here are the ones that rose to the top!

    1. John Wayne Pioneer Trail

    Crushed stone, gravel – Adams, Grant, King, Kittitas, Spokane and Whitman counties

    The John Wayne Pioneer Trail spans more than 250 miles from Rattlesnake Lake to the Washington-Idaho border north of Tekoa. Named after the group who named themselves after the famous cowboy actor—the crushed stone and gravel trail is well-known for its absolutely spectacular views, tunnels and trestles. 


    2. Spokane River Centennial Trail/Centennial Trail State Park

    Asphalt – Spokane County

    Running more than 37 miles from the Washington-Idaho state line to Nine Mile Falls, the Spokane River Centennial Trail boasts both metropolitan offerings (downtown Spokane's Riverfront Park) and more rural settings as it follows the Spokane River. “Centennial” refers to the trail’s initial construction period. 


    3. Olympic Discovery Trail

    Asphalt, crushed stone, gravel – Clallam County 

    The full route of the Olympic Discovery Trail traverses 130 miles across the Olympic Peninsula; the trail is bordered on the south by the Olympic Mountain Range and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. One of the natural wonders is a sand spit, created by tidal currents, extending six miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca!


    4. Chehalis Western Trail

    Asphalt – Thurston County

    The Chehalis Western Trail was borne from the Chehalis Western Railroad, which operated from 1926 to the mid 1980s.  The trail passes through many beautiful ecosystems, and urban and rural environments, and provides access to many amenities, including 170-plus acres of park land and Puget Sound. It is also a major link in a larger, 48-mile planned trail system.


    5. Foothills Trail

    Asphalt, Ballast, Dirt – King and Pierce counties

    The Foothills Trail, a 12-foot-wide, non-motorized, asphalt trail and linear park, was first started in 1982 by “Dr. Tate,” a Buckley physician and visionary.  When complete, the trail will be more than 28 miles in length, forming the backbone of a 50-mile trail from Mt. Rainier to Tacoma. Efforts by the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition have seen some 18-plus miles completed thus far!


    6. Burke-Gilman Trail

    Asphalt – King County

    The Burke-Gilman Trail was one of the earliest rail-trails built in the nation (1970s), helping to inspire dozens of similar projects around the country. It was named after the two original founders of the 1885 railway, Daniel Hunt-Gilman and Thomas Burke. It’s proximity to the University of Washington helps make it one of the busiest commuter trails in the country.


    7. Snohomish Centennial Trail

    Asphalt – Snohomish County

    The popular Snohomish Centennial Trail was started in 1989 during the state centennial. The trail is open to cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians (it's flanked by an equestrian trail) and is accessible for people of all abilities. At the Machias trail head sits a replica of the old railroad depot built in the 1890s, and the trail is well known for its public art installations.  


    8. Interurban Trail

    North: Asphalt – King and Snohomish counties

    South: Asphalt – King and Pierce counties

    The Interurban Trail (North) follows the old route of the Seattle-Everett Interurban railway, which connected the two cities in the early 20th century. The Interurban Trail (South) follows the historic route of the Puget Sound Electric Railway, which shuttled between Tacoma and Everett until 1928.  


    9. Green River Trail

    Asphalt – King County

    The Green River Trail is an entirely paved trail spanning 19.6 miles from Cecil Moses Park near Seattle’s southern boundary to North Green River Park in south Kent, near Auburn. Riders will pass through industrial lands, parks, communities and beautiful landscapes along the Green River and associated river valley. The trail also offers some great views of Mt. Rainier!


    10. Cedar River Trail

    Asphalt, Gravel – King County

    The 17-plus-mile Cedar River Trail follows an historic railroad route between the river and State Route 169, offering views and access to Cedar River, Lake Washington, a variety of parks, woods, downtown Renton, Maplewood Golf Course and Maple Valley. The trail is a good spot to view birds, such as Blue Herons and Bald Eagles, year-round.

    Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 courtesy TrailLink.com

    Photo 2 by Nick Bramhall

    Photo 6 by Gene Bisbee


    Amy Kapp recently joined the RTC team as a content strategist and managing editor of Rails to Trails Magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.

  • 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.



  • 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


  • Historic Moment for Great Allegheny Passage as Amtrak Tests Roll-On Bike Service

    Rail and trail is a match made in heaven. All over the world there are great examples of rail operators and trail users working together for mutual benefit. Sometimes that involves trails connecting with light rail stops, or it could be a train carrying riders back to the trailhead so they can enjoy a one-way ride. 

    For years, visitors to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) have expressed their frustration at not being able to combine their ride along the GAP and C&O Canal with trips between popular destinations on the Amtrak Capitol Limited train that runs between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh (and Chicago), and stops at a number of wonderful trailside communities including Harpers Ferry, Cumberland and Connellsville.

    Why? Amtrak wouldn't allow roll-on and roll-off bike service on the train.

    Local businesspeople and trail advocates were frustrated, too, as they related feedback from overseas and interstate trail tourists that they would be much more likely to visit the area frequently if the same bike carriage service common to many countries, and a number of other rail lines in the U.S., was available along the GAP.

    Finally, progress is being made toward what could be a tremendous partnership between the many thousands of people that use the GAP each year, and Amtrak, which is eager to boost ridership. On Tuesday, Amtrak conducted a very brief "pilot" run of allowing roll-on bike service, with six vertically-mounted bicycle restraints installed in a lower-level baggage area of one Superliner coach.

    As Malcolm Kenton of the National Association of Rail Passengers reports, riders secured their bikes by hooking the front wheel to a padded metal hook, then sliding the rear wheel into a U-shaped metal restraining device that springs up from the floor to prevent the bike from moving.

    According to our friend Champe Burnley of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, though there have been several other roll-on bike tests in Michigan, New York and Vermont, this is the first time that Amtrak has equipped its two-level, Superliner rail cars with bike racks.

    The six slots were quickly snapped up by some of the trails and bike advocates who have been working toward this moment for a number of years, eager to be a part of this historic trip. The Allegheny Trail Alliance, the Virginia Bicycling Federation, and many others deserve credit for urging Amtrak to consider the great potential represented by biking customers. Tuesday was at least some recognition that the penny is starting to drop.

    Largely ceremonial though it was, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and our local partners hope Tuesday's test run is a pivotal moment in our efforts to better integrate train service and trail use along this heavily travelled corridor. As Champe puts it:

    "After this test run of roll-on bike service, it's clear to me that carrying an unboxed bike on a train can work in the US, just as it does across Europe. My only concern is that on routes like the Capitol Limited, which serve bike-friendly cities and hugely popular corridors like the GAPCO and US Bike Route 50, there won't be enough racks on each train to adequately meet demand. If ever there were an opportunity to fill our trains with cycling enthusiasts and grow choice ridership, this is it."

    Photos courtesy Virginia Bicycling Federation


  • 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. 


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