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RTC TrailBlog

  • Jay Walljasper: Why Trails Are America's New Town Squares

    Special thank you to guest contributor Jay Walljasper, editor of On the Commons, for this great post on how trails are becoming the new town squares for people around the country. In today’s uber-busy society, many of us are seeking out the urban commons, a place to connect with our neighbors, understand our surroundings and gain a sense of place. And with a desire to keep our bodies active and our minds engaged, trails offer the best of all worlds.

    Americans are people on the go! The urge to move has been part of our national character since the beginning of the Republic and greatly influences how we spend our leisure time. 

    In the 19th century, Sunday drives in carriages (and later cars) became a favorite pastime. Urban planners responded by laying out lovely green ribbons of parkways—which remain beloved places to this day in many communities.

    But for harried 21st Century commuters, who spend long hours in cars or buses each week, driving seems too reminiscent of work. On evenings and weekends, they want to take off on bikes, skates, longboards or their own two feet. That’s why communities are now busy creating new trails and greenways across America and throughout the world.

    Trails are becoming the new town squares where people bump into their neighbors, sparking conversations and friendships. When speaking to audiences around the country, I often begin by asking people to name a favorite commons in their lives. More often than not, one of the first few mentioned is a local rail-trail or parkway.

    Let me map out some of my favorite pastimes here in Minneapolis. I bike a dozen blocks south from my house to Minnehaha Creek Trail, a green oasis lining a rushing stream that was protected from development in the 1880s. I follow its winding, wooded path through city neighborhoods to Minnehaha Falls, highlighted in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha.” Watching the water tumble over a 50-foot wall of rock endlessly fascinates and relaxes me. Then I amble over to Sea Salt, a café in an historic park building that serves topnotch fried fish, best enjoyed on the outdoor patio. Sipping a beer while waiting for my fried clams to arrive, I plot the rest of my journey. 

    From here, one trail leads along the Mississippi River to Fort Snelling, the first European settlement in Minnesota, built at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Or, I could follow a trail north along the river gorge and past St. Anthony Falls to downtown Minneapolis. Or south around the bend and through the woods to downtown St. Paul. Or I could turn back the way I came to explore Minneapolis’ fabled chain of lakes, six of which lie next to the trail in rapid succession. 

    Any route I choose will lead to more trails stretching miles in all directions throughout the region.

    The Minneapolis-St. Paul region is blessed with a superb network of trails—made possible by visionaries of the 19th century who fought to ensure public access to local lakeshores, riverbanks and creeksides for public use, and they have been impressively expanded in recent years thanks to the work of a new generation of visionaries. 

    Many communities large and small across the U.S. are now installing impressive trail systems and linear parks. Indianapolis’ new Cultural Trail, for instance, strikes a bold note by fashioning a new passageway separated from street traffic right through the heart of a built-up city. Detroit sports the impressive Dequindre Cut rail-trail, which connects the lively Riverwalk to the bustling Eastern Market. (Who says no one walks or bikes in the Motor City?) Even densely packed Manhattan is thrilled about the High Line, an elevated freight train track now reclaimed as parkland. With help from the Trust for Public Land, Chicago is at work on the 606, a 2.7-mile linear park and trail on an elevated freight line. Many suburbs now boast trails that don’t simply loop around a pond, but carry people to schools, libraries, farmers’ markets, restaurants or shopping districts. 

    Americans are not content to simply pedal or stroll along a trail; they want places to go and things to do.

    On a recent Sunday, I headed to the Midtown Greenway, a rail-trail a dozen blocks north of my house, and followed it more than 20 miles west through the suburbs to Carver Regional Park—a glorious expanse of woods and prairie dotted by lakes and more bike trails. I stopped for lunch at a deli in Victoria, a small town right on the trail. Eating some German sausage at a sidewalk table, I remembered how I felt moving to Minneapolis from Iowa many years ago. I immediately took to big city life—except for one thing. I dearly missed being able to bike all the way out into the countryside. The roads were too inhospitable in Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs. 

    But now, thanks to citizen advocates and park officials here who have built a stellar trail system throughout the metropolitan area, biking out to the country is now available to anyone in moderately good shape with a few hours to spare.  

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    Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about how to make our communities better. He is the author of the "Great Neighborhood Book." His website is JayWalljasper.com.

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Montgomery County, Ala.

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about July 15, 2014, Central of Georgia Railroad Company filed for the abandonment of 2.12 miles of track within Montgomery in Montgomery County, Ala. 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-290 (sub-no. 278x). 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 Aug. 14, 2014. 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 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 website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

    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 website. 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 Eli Griffen.

  • Miami the Latest to Say: All Aboard Florida Must Include Trail

    On Thursday, the commissioners of the City of Miami passed a resolution supporting a biking and walking trail component to the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail line plan.

    Miami now joins a groundswell of communities standing up and saying loudly that the rail project has the potential to transform Florida's transportation system for the betterbut only if it includes a parallel rail-with-trail pathway for biking and walking.

    (MIAMI RESIDENTS: If you haven't already, be sure to take this quick action to tell Mayor Tomás Regalado to sign the commission's resolution!)

    In recent months, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, Village of El Portal and Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee have all taken formal steps to secure the biking and walking plans in place for their communities, and to make sure All Aboard Florida maximizes its potential by including a rail-with-trail. Additional resolutions from other local governments are expected to be passed soon.

    "Trails and active-transportation facilities provide a choice of transportation modes while reducing demand and maintenance on the state's highways and local road systems," the City of Miami resolution reads. We agree.

    Pathways alongside active rail lines have been proven to not only give people mobility options but also to improve the capacity and functioning of the rail service itself. A rail-with-trail incorporated into All Aboard Florida will cut down on traffic by getting people to and from stations without having to drive, boost property values in nearby communities and offset a number of environmental and social impacts.

    Rails-with-trails are safer than riding next to a roadway and are proven community improvements. These days, modern and efficient rail transit projects are being built intentionally with bike and pedestrian access in mind, and rails-with-trails of this kind are becoming popular solutions to reducing congestion and improving safety for people moving across and along the corridor.

    Why this issue is especially pressing for a number of communities is that they've already made plans for biking and walking trails along the All Aboard Florida corridor.

    If All Aboard Florida doesn't allow for an adjacent rail-with-trail, it will be trampling over the local ambitions these places have been working toward for a number of years.

    The high-speed rail plan must recognize the importance of a balance of modes. Complementing the train service with an active-transportation pathway is an efficient and effective use of the corridor, and will serve a massive cross section of the community.

    Over the coming months, RTC is making sure the people of southeast Florida have a voice in this important discussion. The Florida Campaign is sending messages of encouragement to decision makers to include a rail-with-trail in the plan. Add your name to the list to make sure you have your say in decisions that could change the landscape of Florida for generations to come.

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    Ken Bryan is the Florida field office director for RTC. He frequently writes about pedestrian and bike-related infrastructure issues in the Sunshine State. 

     

     

  • Don't Take the Road Toward Health This Summer. Take the Trail!

    “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

    Walking is a great (and free!) way to get outdoors and get some exercise! 

    Walking is associated with reductions in risk of dementia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer (breast and colon in particular) and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, being outdoors and around greenery can help with concentration and stress recovery, and sunlight on the skin leads to vitamin D production, which helps fight off cancer, osteoporosis and heart attacks (scientists have even developed a calculator to help determine how much sunlight your body needs, and don’t forget that sunscreen!).

    In cities across the U.S., public leaders are emerging as real champions for the walking movement. For example, Nashville, Tenn., has invested more than $130 million in public infrastructure to support healthy, active lifestyles, including the building of new sidewalks and bikeways, as well as parks and multi-modal streets. And, Mayor Karl Dean recognizes that building infrastructure isn’t enough; residents need to be educated and encouraged to get outside and walk. 

    Currently, nearly 24.7 percent of Nashville’s population of adults and 29 percent of children are obese, and the city also grapples with higher than average pollution levels. To help address these issues, Mayor Dean has launched a citywide campaign called NashVitality, which focuses on making both the city and its residents healthy and active. 

    NashVitality is primarily funded through an HHS Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant, which is intended to address obesity, one of the leading preventable causes of premature death and disability.

    The NashVitality website features a number of programs and resources to foster community engagement and healthy, active living. This year, Mayor Dean has also brought back the highly-popular Walk 100 Miles challenge for a third time, inviting all Nashvillians to join him in walking 100 miles during the summer of 2014. To meet the 100-mile goal, you can walk on your own, walk with a group or walk with the Mayor himself on weekly “Walk with the Mayor” group walks. We applaud Mayor Dean and Nashville’s commitment to walking and health!

    And if you’re not in the Nashville area, you need not be left out. Other cities have similar walking challenges of their own. Check out these great examples in San Franciso, Calif., Lake Oswego, Ore., and San Antonio, Texas.

    So let’s all take a page out of Nashville’s book, or these other great cities. No matter where you live in America, why not complete your own 100-mile challenge this summer on your local trail? Summer is only nearing its halfway point, so there’s still time!

    You’ll walk your way toward a healthier life, and have tons of fun.  

    Photo courtesy Five Rivers MetroParks via Flickr

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    Elissa Southward is RTC's healthy communities manager. Southward recently earned a Ph.D. in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol in England.

  • Tunnel Vision: New Mural on the Burke-Gilman Trail Gives Tunnel a Facelift

    Here’s a nice article from our friend Gene Bisbee, avid cyclist, author and man behind Washington State’s Biking Bis blog.  

    In his post, “Colorful mural replaces drab walls of bike trail tunnel,” Bisbee gives an update on the Wayne Tunnel on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, Wash. Named to RTC’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, the Burke-Gilman is a cherished trail by Seattle residents and visitors alike, and this mural is a beautiful addition!

    Bisbee writes:

    "Art is in the eyes of the bicyclists as they pass a brightly painted mural taking shape inside the Burke-Gilman Trail tunnel in Bothell, WA.

    I pedaled up there on Tuesday and saw a dozen volunteers enjoying their task of filling in the lines drawn by local artist Kristen Ramirez. It looks like they’re just about done with the project that started in early July."

    Click here to read the full story.

    Photos courtesy King County Parks - Eli Brownell

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • The Florida Campaign Rolls On – Are You Aboard?

    Our promise to Florida was to take on the big battles and win.

    For any Floridian who loves trails, biking and walking, 2014 is a year of massive significance. 

    Over the next nine months, a small handful of key votes, projects and funding battles will shape the landscape of Florida for decades to come. So RTC is making sure that everyone who uses and loves trails in the Sunshine State is heard during these vital decisions.

    This effort is called The Florida Campaign. The invitation to all Floridians is to help push the needle toward support for trails, biking and walking in your state.

    So far, The Florida Campaign is 2 for 2.

    In May, more than 1,000 Florida Campaign supporters voiced their passionate opposition to Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal to gut funding for trails. As it stands today, Rubio has not pursued the amendment any further. 

    Our next Florida Campaign call generated massive backing of the 2014/2015 Florida state budget, which contained important funding sources for trail building in Florida, including the first phase of work on the Coast-to-Coast Connector.

    Fully aware of the booming support for biking and walking projects among his constituents, Gov. Rick Scott signed the budget into law and left the trail funding pieces intact.

    Next up: We’re building support for a rail-with-trail component for the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project. And we’ll be keeping all our Florida Campaigners up to date on the schedule of All Aboard Florida public meetings, so you can advocate for trails directly to your local decision makers.

    If you use and appreciate trails in Florida, the only way to be a part of this grassroots initiative to build the Florida you want to see is get involved in The Florida Campaign.

    The actions are fast, free and simple, but your voice is important.

    Will Florida continue with the plans and policies that have made it the most dangerous state for walking and biking for much of the past decade? Or will it support the innovative trail projects that boost Florida’s tourism base and attract new businesses and residents?

    You can help make that decision. Add your name to the groundswell of support for biking and walking in your state.

    In 20 years time, when your children and grandchildren enjoy a healthy, safe and happy Florida, you can say you helped make it happen.

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    Ken Bryan is the Florida field office director for RTC. He frequently writes about pedestrian and bike-related infrastructure issues in the Sunshine State. 

  • What Happens When a Member of Congress Attacks Trail Funding?

    Though it may not have made news headlines in your community, last Friday a significant battle was won in our never-ending defense of America's trails.

    Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, had proposed an amendment to the Preserving America's Transit and Highways Act to eliminate funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), by far the largest dedicated source of funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.

    The simple fact is that without TAP, America would not have many of the trails and pathways we use today, and sometimes take for granted.

    And so Rails-to-Trails Conservancy realized the great threat that Toomey's amendment presented. We rallied our friends and partners around the country, and urged our individual supporters, people like you, to pressure Sen. Toomey to withdraw the amendment.

    What a response you gave. Our supporters sent more than 7,000 messages to Toomey and his peers in Congress voicing their enthusiastic support of TAP and urging elected officials to support programs that help build trails and active transportation facilities.

    In Pennsylvania, we quickly gathered a broad coalition of 85 groups representing trails, health, business, tourism and citizen groups to sign a letter to Sen. Toomey, and hand-delivered the letter to the Senator and all Pennsylvanian Congressional representatives, in person, at their offices.

    As they continued to apply pressure on Capitol Hill, late on Friday afternoon our policy and government relations staff received confirmation that Sen. Toomey had withdrawn the amendment.

    This victory is evidence of two things. The first is the great support in local communities for federal programs to support trails, biking and walking. Where the rubber meets the road, programs like TAP have real and positive impacts in neighborhoods and main streets nationwide. It gets projects built, and it changes lives.

    Secondly, it demonstrates the vital importance of RTC's work defending funding for trails. The behind-the-scenes work we do, utilizing relationships with trail building partners across the country, comes into play when we need to exert pressure on key decision makers to protect trails and active transportation.

    As a supporter of RTC, it is important that you see the results of your contribution, and enjoy the fruits of our combined labors! This victory - defeating Sen. Toomey's amendment - is a win for the millions of Americans like you who know that trails, biking and walking are key elements of America's future.

    Keep informed about RTC's work and trail building efforts in your state by signing up to our news feed: www.railstotrails.org/enews

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    Patrick Wojahn recently joined RTC as the director of government relations. He focuses on national, state and local policy efforts to build broad support for trails across America.

     

     

  • Trail Towns Roll Out the Red Carpet: "Impressions" of a Greenway Sojourner

    My absolute favorite part of RTC’s 2014 Greenway Sojourn (June 22-27) was talking to many of my fellow 300 riders about their experiences as we made our way from just outside Wierton, W.V., to Cumberland, Md. Every evening, I would strike up a conversation with someone about the day’s ride; some exhausted after, say, their first 50-mile day, others eager to share their list of wildlife sightings, and all excited for what would come next.

    One topic that everyone wanted to talk about was the communities through which we passed. We let our hard-earned dinners settle in our bellies, and the stories of trail-town interactions carried the conversation.

    Confluence, Pa., where we spent our layover day (Day 4), truly rolled out the red carpet for us. Confluence is one of nine Trail Towns along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which are dedicated to maximizing the economic potential of the trail for their communities.  

    We were greeted on the edge of town by Scout and Addie, two of Confluence’s local young ladies, who handed out information about the town and “Tourism Tokens” to redeem at the local bike shop, Confluence Cyclery. Balloons tied to “Welcome, Sojourn!” signs led riders from the trail to the town square and pavilion where Sherman’s Old Fashion Ice Cream Parlor was passing out free ice cream.

    Some riders opted for a break from sleeping in a tent each night and capitalized on the cozy bed and breakfasts of Confluence. Dinner was catered by a local restaurant on the first night and the local fire department on the second. This offered us the opportunity to taste the local fare and get to know our hosts, and infused a substantial chunk of change into the community! On the night before our departure, I followed the laughter and music over to the Lucky Dog Cafe and found the entire place packed with sojourn riders in vacation mode, more than willing to spend some cash on a beverage or two with new friends.

    It was clear that the whole town had mobilized for the event, and the effort did not go unnoticed. Sandy Younkin, president of the Confluence Tourism Association, explained that Confluence is serious about trail tourism, stating, “This whole town makes an effort to make this a welcoming place. We welcome [the sojourn riders] back at anytime!” 

    Younkin, owner of the bed and breakfast and catering company, Confluence House, explained that more than 70 percent of her business comes from the trail. In fact, six folks who rode last year’s sojourn came back two weeks before this year’s sojourn on their own private trip. They had such a great time on the GAP and in the towns along its route that they returned—and brought their friends.

    “We’re trying to make this a trail that you want to come back to!” Younkin said.

    The trail town model fits many of these small communities quite well, and we have heard from business owners in the past about how important the trail is to their success. Trails mean business, and this couldn’t be more true in Confluence. 

    Other towns along the 191-mile sojourn route held our hearts in their own ways; I heard from my fellow riders about the welcoming interactions in the bike shop in Connellsville, the pub in West Newton, the coffee shop in Frostburg. A young girl showed me a pair of earrings that her mom bought her in Ohiopyle, I shared laughs over ice cream (my favorite treat on a bike trip) with a ride volunteer in Rockwood, and I heard tales of great beer and dancing in Myersdale. And the list goes on.

    The trail is a central part of these communities—geographically in some cases, but more importantly, in terms of their economic value to the towns themselves. From earrings to ice cream to bike parts, the towns along the trail are providing what visitors need, and small town charm keeps visitors coming back to these charismatic communities, year after year.

     

    Header photo - a pitstop along the GAP, top right - a concert in Confluence, left - a bike shop along the GAP (photos by Katie Harris); bottom right - Sojourner Bill Trainer enjoying an ice cream break (photo courtesy Bill Trainer)

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.
  • Tales from the Trail: RTC's 2014 Greenway Sojourn

    Here's a great wrap-up of the 12th Annual Greenway Sojourn by RTC's Katie Harris!  Katie talks about the impact of the trip on her, her fellow riders and the communities through which they had the pleasure of passing through during their six days together.

    This year marked RTC’s 12th annual Greenway Sojourn, which brought 300 riders on a 191-mile, six day trip on three renowned rail-trails: the Panhandle Trail, the Montour Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage. Here’s what happened!

    The sojourn began on the Panhandle Trail, right outside of Wierton, W.V. Eager to hit the trail after the bus trip from Cumberland, we enjoyed the 27 miles to Cecil Township, Pa., connecting to the Montour Trail about 20 miles into the ride. Day Two was a much bigger feat, with 51 miles to tackle before we arrived at Cedar Creek Park, but the Montour Trail kept all the riders captivated. 

    We rolled into Glassport, Pa., around lunchtime, and the folks at Max and Odi’s were ready for us! The Montour Trail’s eastern terminus is right outside of Glassport, and the connection through town to join the Great Allegheny Passage is on road. This was an opportunity for sojourn participants to give feedback to the town through a bikeability survey conducted by RTC. Through this survey, riders will help shape the way Glassport serves cyclists visiting their community. 

    The remainder of our ride was on the famous Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), the longest rail-trail east of the Mississippi and a member of RTC’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. Following the Youghiogheny River, commonly referred to as the “Yough,” and then the Casselman River a few days later, was a highlight for me. From the screeches of glee from whitewater rafters on the lower Youghiogheny to the serene fisherman along the banks near Confluence, it was evident that the people in this part of Pennsylvania were enjoying their time outdoors. 

    The rail-trails in the region fit into that picture perfectly. I was inspired to see smiles plastered on the faces of our riders, but I was equally excited about the grins of locals out enjoying the trail by foot or on bike. These trail systems are used by tourists and attract cyclists from around the country, but the trails here are also cherished by the local communities as well—as an incredible asset.

    The Greenway Sojourn is a far cry from the traditional, supported ride. The vast majority of riding during the sojourn is on trails, away from traffic and within corridors of green space. Furthermore, the sojourn offers opportunities to gain insight on the trail building process. This year, sojourn riders were able to be a direct part of two projects: a groundbreaking for a section of the Montour Trail (with gold shovels and all!) and the Pinkerton Tunnel project, presented to the group during an evening session by Linda McKenna Boxx, president emeritus of the Alleghany Trail Alliance. The Pinkerton Tunnel is in the fundraising stages, and riders learned about the history and future plans for the structure during Boxx’s presentation on the fourth night of the trip. 

    The following day, riders approached the barricaded tunnel and envisioned how the ride would be different after the project is completed. “You peer through the tunnel; it is 800-feet long but you have to ride one and a half miles around!” said, Boxx, adding that the winters are harsh in that region of Pennsylvania, and that is why the tunnel deteriorated. “RTC stimulated our thinking about how to get this done,” she said.

    And it’s not just visitors that want to see this project complete. Boxx recounts a story about a local donor’s desire to see the tunnel in working order. “I had a 90-year old gentleman who made a donation, and he saw me on the street and said, ‘When is that tunnel going to be opened? I’d like to see it during my lifetime.’” They are working toward their $100,000 goal, and with contributions from the Confluence Tourism Association, RTC, and individual sojourn riders, they are on their way.

    Day Four signaled a break in the biking action as sojourn participants enjoyed a day off from riding and used the free time to go whitewater rafting, stroll around the local town and visit the architectural wonders of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. The day concluded with a concert in the pavilion in the quaint town of Confluence, our home for two nights. The only thing that broke the attention of the audience was the occasional train that rumbled past. Between strums on their guitars, the musicians informed us: “We’re used to it by now; we just have to figure out how to work the train into the song!”

     The town rolled out the red carpet for the sojourn and stole the hearts of a few of the riders. Stay tuned for more details about Confluence and other towns along our route.

    It was back on the bikes on Day Five for a shady and scenic 32-mile ride to Meyersdale. A few riders took a long lunch in Rockwood—some to watch a World Cup soccer match, others to visit the restored Opera House. As was the case in most of the towns we rode through, I arrived with a list of things I wanted to see and left with an even longer list of reasons to return.

    Our departure from Meyersdale on Day Six was bittersweet. Between the lasagna dinner and the pancake breakfast, local organizations fed us well and made us want to linger. But the trail was calling, and the perfect weather and the promise of a long downhill from the Eastern Continental Divide to Cumberland got me on my bike. I savored those last miles, cruising along the GAP in the warmth of a June afternoon. We were expecting to see the train that runs from Cumberland to Frostburg, and when we heard it approaching, we returned the waves of the train passengers with equal enthusiasm, all of us thrilled to see the rail-with-trail in action.

    It was a journey of 191 miles over six days. Some of the riders were seasoned sojourn veterans, others were new to the sojourn, and others were taking part in their first multi-day ride. One thing we all had in common, however, was a passion for being out on the trail.

    This ride requires tremendous effort from local communities and volunteers, and a big thanks goes out to all that contributed to this year’s event. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is a major partner, and RTC thanks them for their support. Tom Sexton, RTC's northeast regional director, has been orchestrating this event since the beginning and deserves a round of applause for the hard work he has put in year after year. It is the enthusiasm of the event organizers, participants and community contributors that make the sojourn a success. We hope you’ll join us next year!

    Interested in seeing photos from the 2014 Greenway Sojourn? Check out our Flickr album

     

    Top two photos by Cleo Fogel; middle photo by Akram Abed; bottom two photos by Katie Harris

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • Making the Most of the Met (Metropolitan Branch Trail, That Is!)

    On June 25, Kathy Blaha, board member extraordinaire for both RTC and City Parks Alliance, posted this great blog on the programs helping to make the Metropolitan Branch Trail a true neighborhood gem. Programming is a valuable strategy for increasing trail use among individuals and families in local communities across the U.S., as RTC's trail development director, Kelly Pack, discusses in the blog.

    Thanks to the City Parks Alliance for letting RTC repost!  Happy reading!


    Urban Trails, Neighborhood Partnerships: D.C.’s Metropolitan Branch Trail

    Posted on June 25, 2014, by Kathy Blaha

    Abandoned rail lines running through city neighborhoods can be the perfect solution for creating a park in a high density city with little other available real estate. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has nearly a 30-year history of providing leadership in the creation of more than 20,000 miles of new trail across the country. Today, it finds itself increasingly working in cities to forge the last connection to a regional trail system. This means tackling the shorter rail lines where their proximity to where people live, work and play makes them a good choice for getting people walking and cycling.

    But these urban trails require a lot more attention to get people to use them for recreation and transportation, and RTC finds itself increasingly involved in programming trails as well as building them.

    “RTC used to say, ‘build it and they will come,’” says Kelly Pack, RTC’s director of trail development. “Now we say, ‘build it, maintain it, program it, and they will come.’ In urban areas, people have a lot more choices. Being more engaged on the programming side really helps to build awareness and get people hooked on their own neighborhood trailsand then hopefully onto regional trail systems.”  

    Stretching 8.25 miles from Union Station in downtown Washington, D.C., to just across the border in Silver Spring, Md., the Metropolitan Branch Trail has long been a goal of neighborhood residents and planners in the region. RTC has been extremely active in organizing activities that encourage greater use of the Met Branch Trail.

    Read the full blog post on the City Parks Blog.

    Photo by Richard Anderson

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

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

    Some very exciting news for bicyclists!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And check out this post that recently ran in Streetsblog.

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

    Top photo courtesy Orin Zebest via Flickr.

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

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

     

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Marion County, Ind.

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL 

    On or about June 16, 2014, CSX Transportation, Inc. filed for the abandonment of 1.49 miles of track within Indianapolis in Marion County, Ind. The corridor is located just south of the existing Central Canal Towpath. 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-55 (sub-no. 709x). 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 July 16, 2014. 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 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 website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

    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 website. 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 Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • RTC's 2014 Sojourn Kicks Off!

    On Sunday, more than 250 trail enthusiasts from across the country convened in Maryland to start RTC's 12th annual Greenway Sojourn.

    This year's route began in Wierton, W.V., and will finish in Cumberland, Md., 191 miles, three states and four trail systems later. A new addition to the 2014 Sojourn is the walking option, and we're excited to have a strong group of walkers to launch the program!

    For many on this year's trip, the sojourn is not only an opportunity to ride on famous trails, like the Great Allegheny Passage, but also a chance to bring attention to gaps in the trail system in meaningful ways. On Monday, sojourners will give feedback to the town of Glassport, Pa., as they look into improving their town's bikeability.

    Tom Sexton, RTC's northeast regional director, reminded this year's participants of the impact that past sojourns have had in the trail world. "Every year, I have someone approach me, whether that's an elected official or a member of the chamber of commerce [from a local community along the route], and say 'Yeah, now I get it!' A light goes off, and it's a beautiful thing," he says.

    The kickoff day concluded with pulled pork sandwiches, local live music and ice cream! Needless to say, we're looking forward to the week ahead!

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    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

     

  • Get Out On the Trail in Celebration of Great Outdoors America Week!

    Hey Trail Lovers!

    June 23 to 26, 2014, is Great Outdoors America Week in Washington, D.C.!

    As one of the largest annual conservation and outdoor-focused events in the District, Great Outdoors America Week, or GO Week for short, brings together hundreds of diverse organizations and activists to meet with lawmakers and government reps. and advocate for an outdoor way of life. Throughout the week, many organizations also take the opportunity to hold events that raise awareness of, and celebrate, nature and the outdoors.

    In celebration of GO Week, Outdoor Alliance for Kids is hosting an OAK Youth Outdoors Event at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park on Wednesday, June 25. 

    Or, for those of you living in D.C., there are a number of trails that suit every age, ability and mood; whether you want to take a short walk or a long bike ride (or vice versa), there is a trail for you! Here's a list to get you started!

    Shorter outdoor excursions:

    Some a bit longer:

    And those for an all or multiple-day trail adventure:

    And of course, we at RTC encourage you, whether you live in Washington D.C. or not, to get outdoors and onto a trail!

    Photo courtesy Rudi Riet via Flickr

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    Elissa Southward is RTC's healthy communities manager. Southward recently earned a Ph.D. in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol in England.

  • Fighting for TIGER: Thousands of Trail Supporters Speak Out

    On Monday, we asked trail users like you to support TIGER, a critical federal program that supports investments in trails, walking and biking. In just a few hours, thousands of you wrote to your representatives, and thanks to your swift action, support for TIGER has only grown.

    The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER program, is a federal grant program. It gives communities the freedom and flexibility to invest in their unique transportation needs, whether that is a marine port upgrade, a new bus center or 10 miles of new paved trail. TIGER grants have provided approximately $153 million to pedestrian and bicycle projects alone, with hundreds of millions of dollars more awarded to projects that have walking or biking as a component. The grants can have a profound, positive impact on communities, helping families connect to jobs, giving children a safe way to get to school and strengthening local economies by moving products and goods.

    Every year, Congress decides how much general revenue will be dedicated to TIGER. This year, some members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee not only slashed funding for the program in their annual budget bill, but also restricted eligible projects to just three types: roads (including bridges and tunnels), ports and freight rail. This decision ignores the significance and importance of walking, biking and public transit in America, even going so far as to declare them “unessential.” It was a clear swipe at walking, biking and trail projects, which is why RTC, working with members of Congress, sprang into action. 

    In committee, Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.-04) proposed an amendment to restore all the eligibilities to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development budget bill. It garnered support but was ultimately defeated. When the bill reached the House floor, we asked RTC members to urge their representative to advocate for trails, walking, biking and the TIGER program. 

    As a result, 15 representatives spoke out passionately and loudly in support of restoring all eligibilities. Led by Reps. David Price (N.C.-04) and Mike Quigley (Ill.-05), the “TIGER line” of representatives stood up one after the other to “Strike the Last Word” and ask the House to restore all eligibilities and funding to TIGER. It was inspiring to see so many members of Congress ready, organized and passionately speaking out for trails, walking and bicycling. 

    Ultimately, the House passed the bill (H.R. 4745) with wording that strips walking, biking and transit eligibilities from TIGER, but the organized effort of those 15 representatives was still a win. Your voices as constituents, and the voices of your representatives who spoke out, showed that there are many who believe bicycle and pedestrian projects have a place in TIGER and in America’s transportation future. When the bill text is negotiated between the House and the Senate, it will put supporters of walking and biking in a favorable position to restore those eligibilities to TIGER. 

    It should also be noted that as a result of your actions, several representatives who were not able to join the “TIGER line” on Monday night reached out to RTC the next day and expressed an interest in supporting trails, walking and biking in future legislation. To everyone who wrote in: Thanks for your support! This is a perfect example of how contacting your elected officials can have an impact on policy decisions. In short, never doubt that your voice can make a difference. The fight for trails, walking and biking in TIGER isn’t over yet, and RTC will continue to follow this important issue. Stay tuned!

    Not on our e-mail list but want to get involved? Sign up for RTC Online and we’ll let you know of important trail developments in your area. 

    Photo courtesy of Radloff via Flickr.

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    Leeann Sinpatanasakul serves as advocacy coordinator for RTC's public policy team. She focuses on generating grassroots support in America for state and federal trail funding.

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