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RTC TrailBlog

  • Duluth, Minn., Is Striving to Become North America's "Premiere Trail City"

    There is a hidden gem nestled in the North Shore of Lake Superior, a city with a bold trail-system vision and a passionate citizenry. Duluth, Minn., is striving to create a community where people want to live, work and play, and much of that is coming from their focus on active transportation. 

    Mayor Don Ness, Duluth’s champion for trails, issued a challenge to the Duluth Trail Advisory Group—that “Duluth should be the premier trail city in North America”—and he is taking action to make that vision a reality. In 2011, the final draft of the Trails and Bikeways Master Plan was published, creating a blueprint for the future as the city moves forward. 

    Even with a clear community vision and local government on board, Duluth still must address some major challenges. An 800-foot ridge rises from the lakefront, dissuading many would-be bikers and walkers. Lisa Luokkala, director of the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition, says that Duluth’s transit system plays a major role in addressing this “vertical challenge.”

    In Duluth’s business community, there is a diversity of players at the table who have differing ideas of what a robust transportation system looks like. Reconciling those differences is a challenge, but it is one that Duluth is not stepping down from. Duluth also faces the question of how to finance and organize ongoing maintenance of existing trails, a discussion that is happening in communities across the country.

    According to Luokkala, there is a ripple effect influencing trends in Duluth. “Young people are moving from larger metropolitan areas like Minneapolis and Chicago, where biking and walking infrastructure is becoming an expected norm,” says Luokkala. “This is pressuring mid-sized governments to consider and support active transportation amenities to attract new residents.” 

    And with the mayor’s goal of growing the city to 90,000 residents by 2020, decision makers are taking note. By instituting a Complete Streets policy, the City of Duluth requires transportation planners and engineers to consider all users—bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit riders—when designing, planning and renovating the streetscape. 

    Last year, Healthy Duluth hosted a hugely successful Active Transportation Week, which included Safe Routes to School seminars, tree planting along the trails, an Active Transportation and Business Entrepreneurship workshop, and a luncheon with James Oberstar, who, while in Congress, was a leader for the bicycle and pedestrian movement and continues to advocate broadly for active transportation. The outpouring of local support inspired organizers to extend the event into a month-long series this year, and by renaming the event Bus.Bike.Walk Month, Healthy Duluth highlights the importance of a comprehensive, multimodal transportation system. 

    And Mayor Ness wouldn’t miss it; he is leading the 3rd Annual Mayor’s Bike Ride, this time going west, heading into the historically blue collar regions of the city where much new trail development is occurring. 

    It has taken tremendous effort by many community members, local leaders and decision makers on the national level to bring Duluth’s trail system this far—and the work continues. One of the most exciting developments is a trail that would span the city, connecting universities and local schools and linking the Willard-Munger State Trail to the Lakewalk. Some segments of this “cross-city trail” are currently under construction, with an estimated 2017 completion date for the important connector.

    Growing demand and shifting trends are pushing local government forward, and input from the community is integrated into the decision-making process to ensure that the city continues to prioritize active transportation. It won’t come easy, but Duluth continues to build a framework to become North America’s “premiere trail city.”

    Top and right photos - Annual Mayor's Ride in Duluth; Bottom left photo - Congressman James Oberstar loads his bike after the ride.

    All photos by Bryan French

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    Katie Harris is RTC’s transportation policy intern. She joined our team this spring in the national office.

  • It’s All About Connections: A Vision for the Dakota Rail Regional Trail

    As an important transportation bill continues to move through Minnesota’s state legislature, RTC continues its focus on trail projects with the potential to greatly impact communities across the North Star State.

    Smooth, paved bicycle paths? Check. Lakeside vistas and activities? Check. Scenic rural trails? Check. Connections to nearby trails? Well…not just yet. 

    Welcome to the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, a pathway currently less than 30 minutes west of the Twin Cities by car. As you may have guessed from the name, the trail was a railroad corridor owned by several companies over the years, including the Dakota Rail. Before its closure in 2001, the railroad ran through three counties from Wayzata, Minn., to Hutchinson, Minn., in McLeod County. 

    The county would like to add 22 miles to the existing trail—and another check mark on its list of benefits for communities and trail users—but for now, the 25-mile paved trail only runs through two counties, snaking its way around Lake Minnetonka and Lake Waconia to end at the edge of Carver County. 

    Unfortunately, the trail abruptly ends near the county line, and because of unsafe bridge conditions over the creek, it is impossible to reach the City of Lester Prairie in McLeod County without doubling back to the nearest road.

    For years, Lester Prairie and the McLeod County Parks Department have struggled to extend the trail just two miles into town. Like many trail projects, their main challenge has been funding, but Lester Prairie isn’t deterred. Never one to give up, Chris Schultz, a member of the town’s Parks Board, is planning to submit a Minnesota Legacy Grant application—their fourth—this fall. He is hopeful that, this time, their application will be successful.

    In the short term, Schultz says that extending the trail to Lester Prairie will bring visitors to the small city, and the economic revenue that comes with visitors would benefit the local population of just less than 1,700 people. More importantly, he believes the trail connection will raise the quality of life and contribute to the vitality of the community, adding an intrinsic value worth more than any dollar amount. 

    Thinking long term, Schultz and the parks department envision much more for the Dakota Rail Regional Trail than just the small extension into Lester Prairie. The county would like to extend the trail west to the city of Hutchinson. For them, the big picture is all about connections. The 77-mile Luce Line State Trail runs north and parallel to the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, and an extension of the Luce Line to Hutchinson is already in the works. Linking the Dakota and Luce Line trails in Hutchinson would create the “longest contiguous trail section that is closest to a major metropolitan area in the Midwest,” according to Schultz. 

    The goal is not to simply pave another mile of trail for the sake of paving another mile of trail, but to make strategic connections and to build a network of trails that benefits users.

    The vision is for residents in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to be able to start in Wayzata, ride the trail all the way out to Hutchinson on the Dakota Rail Regional Trail and come back on the Luce Line Trail as a weekend trip. Schultz hopes trail users will come out to enjoy the beautiful rural setting and the aesthetic value of country life. 

    Not bad for a trail only half an hour away.

    Top photo courtesy of Three Rivers Park District

    Right photo courtesy of MN Bike Trail Navigator

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

  • Rich with Heritage: Minnesota’s Root River Trail System

    Minnesota is full of hidden treasures. Tucked away between the bluffs of the southeast corner of the state, a 60-mile, paved trail meanders along the winding, trout-filled Root River. This region is rich with the wildlife, scenery and Scandinavian heritage that’s so celebrated in Minnesota, and it can all be seen along the Root River Trail System!

    Referred to by some as the “Cadillac of Bike Trails,” this system is made up of the 42-mile Root River State Trail and the 18-mile Harmony-Preston Valley Trail. Together, they form a destination—a reason for visitors to come down to the southeast corner—as the trail showcases the best of what each community along the way has to offer.

    Gail Boyum, president of Root River Trail Towns and Peterson City councilwoman, conveyed the natural splendor that can be seen along the trail as she explained how visitors “pedal through towering bluffs that are home to more than 300 species of birds throughout the area. Foxes roam, deer peer through the wooded bluffs, wild turkeys abound and the sounds of wildlife surround you as you breathe in the scenery.” 

    Although train traffic along the old Milwaukee Corridor is a thing of the past—the last Milwaukee train car unloaded in the late 1970s—railroad heritage is still very much present and alive. This is particularly true in Peterson, where the old train station has been transformed into a visitor center and museum in which people can learn about railroad history and research their Norwegian ancestry. Many of the depot’s original furnishings remain. 

    The “Driftless Region” of Minnesota has an incredible amount to offer, and the trail towns present their food, crafts and history to all visitors. During three weekends in September, nine towns participate in the Taste of the Trail, providing visitors a chance to indulge in sumptuously prepared and locally sourced cuisine showcasing the region’s best. 

    The towns along the Root River Trail and adjoining Harmony Preston Trail have the capacity to host overnight trail visitors. In fact, Lanesboro is touted as the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota. All of the towns along the way have camping and B&B options for overnight riders.

    The Root River Trail System includes more than forty wooden bridges that cross crags, creeks and rivers. There are countless opportunities to purchase local arts and crafts, not to mention the myriad culinary options that tempt cyclists in each village along the way. It’s pretty clear to see how the Root River State Trail System has earned recognition as one of the “Best in the Midwest!”

    Don’t miss—

    Photos courtesy of Root River Trail Towns

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    Katie Harris is RTC’s transportation policy intern. She joined our team this spring in the national office.
  • Question of the Month :: Which trails are the Top 10 Trails in Minnesota?

    The Land of 10,000 Lakes has some amazing trails, and we want to hear which beautiful pathways you think should be on our list of the Top 10 Trails in Minnesota.

    Chime in below and let us know your favorites. Feel free to name more than one or two! You can reply to the below facebook or twitter posts, reply in the comments at the bottom of this page, or send your input to amy@railstotrails.org

    Don't be shy, give us your best — and happy trails!

     

     

     

     

  • From Recreation to Transportation: Minnesota’s Lake Wobegon Trail

    Lake Wobegon may be a fictional town in Garrison Keillor’s popular radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” but the Lake Wobegon Trail is a real, 62-mile pathway from Osakis to St. Joseph that is perfect for bikers, walkers and trail lovers.

    When Lake Wobegon Trail Association President Cliff Borgerding talks about Lake Wobegon, it sounds like a trail enthusiast’s dream, with activities and amenities on nearly every part of the route. 

    In Osakis, visitors can grab locally made ice cream and enjoy an idyllic lakeside view. Further down the trail in Melrose, Riverside Park lies just off the trail on the Sauk River; it’s touted as a perfect spot in which to stop for an afternoon. In Freeport, travelers can duck in for a caramel roll at Charlie’s Cafe or a pint at the Pioneer Inn, both said to be the inspirations for the fictional Chatterbox Café and Side Track Tap, respectively, in “A Prairie Home Companion.” By the way, caramel rolls are a staple in the area, and the trail association will host its annual “Caramel Roll Ride” on June 14, with shops selling the sweet treat along the route. Each rest stop on the ride will have free caramel rolls for the riders!

    Moving further down the trail, the city of Albany has a café and public library with Internet access. The city of Avon boasts a public swimming beach and a fishing pier. Between Albany and Avon, you will find Minnesota’s state flower, the Showy Lady's Slipper. Flower lovers take note. The trail association is hosting a “Lady Slipper Nature Ride” on June 21.

    Between Avon and the end of the trail in St. Joseph, you can visit St. John’s University for Men and a Benedictine Abbey for monks. Then in St. Joseph, you'll find the College of St. Benedict for Women and a Monastery.

    From start to finish, the Lake Wobegon Trail offers something for every visitor, but trail enthusiasts aren’t stopping there…

    “Saintly Seven” Trail Connection

    The Lake Wobegon Trail is already well-connected to other great trails, including the Central Lakes State Trail (in Osakis) and the Soo Line Recreational Trail (just past Holdingford). Presently, a seven-mile extension from St. Joseph to St. Cloud is also in the works! The extension will link up with the Mississippi River Trail that runs more than 3,000 miles from the headwaters of Lake Itasca, Minn., to the river’s end in New Orleans, La.

    According to Borgerding, there are challenges involved, not the least of which is coordinating 19 federal, state, city and township agencies. The other challenge: funding. 

    Local legislators have introduced a bill to complete funding for the first stage of the project; and this bill could do for the Lake Wobegon Trail what a statewide bill (HF2395 and SF2107) could do for biking and walking infrastructure across Minnesota. Alternatively, local and state advocates recognize the potential for the statewide bill to fund the Lake Wobegon Trail extension if the project is deemed important for transportation. 

    When asked about the future of the trail, Borgerding said he envisions that this project, though in its infancy, has great potential to be used “not just for recreation opportunities but as a viable transportation option” for residents and visitors.

    That could likely be the case, given that the trail extension links St. Joseph and towns along the trail to the metropolitan city of St. Cloud. Commuters, students and families can take advantage of the trail as a transportation option for work, class and daily errands, while enjoying its scenic beauty…and Borgerding’s vision will be realized.

    Top photo courtesy Jennifer Flaa via Flickr

    Right photo courtesy Matt Green via Flickr

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

  • Biking, Walking Projects to Help Make Rochester, Minn., International Wellness Community

    In honor of National Public Health Week (April 7 - 11) and RTC's spotlight on Minnesota this month, here's a great post by RTC's own Healthy Communities Manager, Elissa Southward.

    Recently, Jay Walljasper published an article in the Minnesota Post about the city of Rochester’s plan to target overall wellness through collaborative efforts with the Mayo Clinic, the state of Minnesota and Olmsted County. 

    According to the article, in just Rochester alone, there are 100 miles of bike trails, 23 miles of on-street bike lanes and 514 miles of sidewalks. And apparently, Rochester plans to expand them all.

    More specifically, the plan includes

    [P]roviding options for improving health and fitness, effectively managing the increase in visitors and residents, increasing the social connections that foster a vibrant community, and attracting highly trained young professionals to keep Rochester at the top in the health-care field.

    The wellness plan stems from a $5.5 billion private-public plan to transform Rochester into a global Destination Medical Center (DMC), which the city hopes will generate tens of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenues, and make Rochester an international attraction. 

    The original intent of this plan was to attract “medical tourists” and remain competitive with places like Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. But as Dan Nelson, general manager of the Hampton Inn Suites on the city’s north side, acknowledges in the article, more walking and biking projects do, and will continue to, help boost Rochester’s business climate. 

    “When they’re out on the streets, they are more likely to go into a store and buy something.” A congenial pedestrian environment, Nelson said, will also help promote the city’s appeal for “wellness weekend getaways—where people come here to learn more about how to live healthier.”

    Walljasper writes that Rochester has already been busy making improvements in biking, walking and transit since 2010 as part of its Complete Streets strategy. A number of infrastructure projects have already started yielding great results, including better sidewalks, landscaping, curb extensions, bike lanes, medians, curb bump-outs and disability access.

    In the county health rankings in Minnesota, Olmsted County comes in at number 1 (out of 87 total) for health outcomes, due in part to their high percentage of residents that have access to exercise opportunities (80 percent) as well as their low percentage of physically inactive residents (20 percent).  This is supported in large part by the significant amount of walking and biking infrastructure available.  

    Rochester is a testament to the power collaboration has in not only increasing investment in walking and biking projects, but in recognizing its pivotal role in the health of a community.  

    We at RTC applaud their efforts and look forward to seeing the great impact this work will have for the people of Rochester.

    Read Jay Walljasper's article here.

    Photo of the Mayo Clinic courtesy cursedthing 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.

  • California Transportation Gets More Active

    Have you noticed that more people seem to be bicycling and walking? Well, it’s not your imagination.

    In fact, the California Household Travel Survey just released a detailed report on the travel patterns of more than 100,000 people statewide and found that the percentage of trips made by biking and walking in 2012 was nearly double what it was in 2000. 

    Walking trips jumped to 16.6 percent of all trips in 2012, up from 8.4 percent in 2000. The rate of increase for biking trips—from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent of all trips—also nearly doubled. 

    “Based on this research, we can make good decisions about transportation that will improve mobility, air quality and travel choices for all Californians and make our state a better place to live and work,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

    This is an important trend at a time when state and local agencies are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage planning for more sustainable development and promote healthier, more active lifestyles. The demand for safer, more convenient places to walk and bike will certainly be evident in the upcoming call for projects for California’s new Active Transportation Program, which RTC helped create. 

    “We’re thrilled that Californians are getting on their feet and on their bikes in increasing numbers,” said Laura Cohen, western regional director for RTC. “This survey confirms that our work advocating for more investment in trails and active transportation is right on target.” 

    Mary D. Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, which is leading California’s groundbreaking program to cut greenhouse gases and operate a cap-and-trade program, affirmed that the state will support the trend toward increased non-motorized travel. 

    "Californians are increasingly choosing alternatives to driving a car for work and play. That's a shift with real benefits for public health that also cuts greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollution," she said. "California is committed to supporting this shift with better planning to support sustainable communities and healthier, low-carbon choices for travel."

    Download the California Household Travel Survey Report here.

    Photo of the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail by Bryce Hall

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    Barry Bergman is trail development manager for RTC's Western Regional Office.  
  • From Great Plains to Great Lakes: Experiencing Minnesota by Bike

    As RTC highlights Minnesota in April, we're pleased to bring you this guest blog by our own policy intern, Katie Harris, who rode across Minnesota last year during her bike trek across America.

    "Traveling by bicycle allows me to see the world from a unique perspective; in a car, we are isolated from the world around us, zipping past it all at “unnatural” speeds. On a bike, we move at a pace that gives us a true sense of a place: the smells, the sounds, the topography, the people, the weather." - Katie Harris

    Last summer, I was fortunate enough to travel by bike across the country—from the coast of Washington State to the coast of Maine—with my best friend Camrin. The impetus for the trip was our desire to see the true fabric of America. 

    During our 83-day trip, we pedaled 4,000 miles, met people from around the world, ate more than you can imagine and had the time of our lives. And one of the absolute highlights of our trip was riding across the state of Minnesota.

    Neither of us had ever been to Minnesota before, but when we entered the state, the mid-western welcome was amazing. We had just spent three weeks on the arid plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota, and entering Minnesota was like taking a breath of fresh air. The lushness of the state captured us. Minnesota’s charm permeated every interaction in every place we stopped, from the bike shops to the grocery stores to the campgrounds. It felt like coming home.

    On our second day in Minnesota, we jumped at the chance to ride on the Heartland State Trail, a 49-mile paved pathway from Park Rapids to Walker. Camrin and I rode the entire length of the trail side by side, chatting, laughing and sharing our gratitude for the experience. We didn’t have to worry about traffic. We didn’t have to worry about our safety. We could just enjoy the day, our surroundings and each other.

    That evening, I wrote a postcard to my sister that simply read, “Minnesota has been lush, full of friendly folks, bike paths and ice cream. Pure happiness.”

    After a relaxing pit stop with friends in Duluth, we continued on—our sights set for Canada. Tracing the North Shore of Lake Superior, we pedaled in awe of the massive body of water and the dramatic vistas along the way. Cool, foggy mornings were a welcome change from the more than one month of heat that we had endured across the Great Plains. We awoke every morning with a new respect for this place. 

    Once connected, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will span 88 miles along the North Shore. We enjoyed every inch of the 25 miles that are currently complete, our spirits sinking only when we had to return to the highway. Minnesota’s state parks along the lakeshore are incredibly popular in the summer months, and the Gitchi-Gami Trail connecting these parks is heavily used by locals and visitors alike. This trail is a huge asset to the area, and we were two among many celebrating it on a beautiful July afternoon.

    During our trip, it was evident to us that Minnesotans cherish their trails. There are 30,000 miles of recreation trails in Minnesota, and although we crossed the entire state, we barely scratched the surface of its potential for adventure.

    So much of our perspective of, and affinity for, a place on our journey was determined by the answer to two questions: Did we feel safe? Were our needs being met? 

    In places where the answer was “yes” to both questions, we spent more time and more money and talked about returning on future trips. Minnesota was absolutely one of those places. In fact, we are planning another adventure to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” this May, and we’re bringing our bikes. 

    All photos by Camrin Dengel. Used by permission.

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    Katie Harris is RTC’s transportation policy intern. She joined our team this spring in the national office.

  • Featuring Minnesota: A Spotlight on the North Star State in April

    During the month of April, RTC will be shining a spotlight on Minnesota, also known as L'Etoile du Nord, or "the star of the north." With an eye on people, projects and policies, we’ll be focusing on how this “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is moving toward a vision of a more walkable, bikeable and upwardly mobile state for its more than 5 million citizens and millions of visitors each year.

    Smack dab in the middle of the radar is Move MN, a coalition dedicated to addressing critical transportation needs in the state. This diverse group of advocates is leading a charge to urge the Minnesota Legislature to pass a transportation funding package that would support: highway and bridge improvements, the development of regional transit systems and the expansion of safe, convenient bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. 

    On March 20, the group scored a victory by moving bill HF 2395 out of the House Transportation Finance Committee by a voice of nine to six. Bravo!  Should this bill pass, an additional $16 million annually would be set aside for biking and walking infrastructure. Now the focus is on the Senate and Move MN is urging all Minnesotans to get involved. Learn more here.

    A vote in the Minnesota Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled for April 2, 2014. If you’re a resident of Minnesota and your state senator is on the committee, click here to speak out for biking, walking and trails.

    It’s not a surprise that Minnesota has its eye on active transportation. The state has long been known and hailed for its trail systems and biking allure; here are just a few great examples:

    1. Minnesota was voted “Best Trails State” by American Trails in 2010, and according to the Department of Natural Resources, there are more than 30,000 miles of recreational trails that support biking, walking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling and more.

    2. Minneapolis was selected by Congress as one of four communities included in the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program and has outdone itself in increasing walking and biking in the Twin Cities area.

    3. The state lays claim to the second-highest amount of rail-trail miles in the U.S., with 2,257 completed trails and 211 miles in progress. Incredible, considering only three states in the U.S. claim more than 2,000 miles of rail-trails!

    4. Of the 14 rail-trails in the country spanning more than 100 miles, Minnesota claims 3—the Soo Line Trail Northern Route, the Soo Line Trail Southern Route (which runs into the Saunders State Trail) and the Blue Ox Trail (Voyageur Trail).

    5. Minnesota and Minneapolis frequently top the most bike-friendly lists put out each year by the League of American Bicyclists for the way in which they create, promote and enforce a safe, convenient biking culture for people of all ages and abilities.

    6. The Paul Bunyan State Trail—which runs for 112 miles between Lake Bemidji State Park and Brainerd—has become legendary for its hospitality, small-town charm, woodland beauty and horizon-spanning freshwater lakes. The hundreds of thousands of visitors the trail receives each year are a testament to the trail’s designation in 2011 as a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee.

    We look forward to following the North Star State as it works toward a brighter future for transportation—and active transportation—statewide.  Stay tuned!   

    Top photo courtesy Heather Harvey via Flickr

    Right photo of the Sawbill Trail courtesy Greg Seitz via Flickr

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    Marianne Wesley Fowler is RTC's Senior Strategist for Policy Advocacy, as well as the co-chair of the Coalition for Recreational Trails and the second vice chair of American Trails.

  • Small Ticket Grants to Make Big Impact on Trails in Six Communities

    Sometimes, it's the little things that make such a huge difference to local communities. Take for instance trails, in which sometimes it's the smaller ticket items—signage, bridge repairs and surfacing replacement—that can really open up and revive a corridor.

    Now in its seventh year, the Trail Assistance Mini-Grant Program managed by RTC was begun as a way to assist trail organizations or municipalities who need to make small repairs and improvements to their trail outside of the regular Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant schedule and well below the higher dollar amounts usually requested on major trail development grants. 

    The mini-grant program has helped local rail-trail builders move ahead on small projects that might otherwise have stalled as they waited for appropriate funding. By funding these projects for local trail organizations in a timely fashion, a number of Pennsylvania rail-trails have been able to enhance the usability of their pathways and increase their visibility within their communities. 

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Northeast Regional Office is pleased to announce the following Trail Assistance Mini-Grant awards for 2014:

    The Trail Assistance Mini-Grant Program is funded through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Community Conservation Partnerships Program. 

    For more information on the mini-grant program, contact Patricia Tomes at 717.238.1717 or pat@railstotrails.org.

    Photo courtesy Tricounty Rails to Trails, a 2013 PA mini-grantee that updated five bridges along the Five Bridges Trail with the help of volunteers.

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    Patricia Tomes is the program manager for RTC's Northeast Regional Office and manager of the Trail Assistance Mini-Grant Program.

  • Join RTC on Opening Day for Trails, March 29!

    You’ve been waiting for this moment since the last days of fall, and now it’s here! That’s right; the last Saturday in March is Opening Day for Trails.

    It’s the perfect time to kick off the season with a leisurely stroll or bike ride along…you got it — your local trail.

    RTC urges you to get out and celebrate! And, we're pleased to let you know that five RTC staff members will also be out and about (weather permitting) on trails in the midwest and along the East Coast celebrating Opening Day and passing out free heart badges for bikes and walking sticks.

    Ohio

    In the Midwest, Eric Oberg will be out on the Fairfield Heritage Trail in Lancaster at 10:30 a.m. at the Ohio University Lancaster Campus Trailhead (College Avenue). 

    Pennsylvania

    From our Northeast Regional Office, Pat Tomes will be meeting folks at 10:30 a.m. in Heritage Rail-Trail County Park at the York City Trailhead (N. Pershing Avenue behind the Colonial Courthouse).

    New Jersey

    You’ll find Camden-based Akram Abed down at the Blackwood Railroad Trail in Gloucester Township (Lakeland Road intersection) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Look out for him; he’ll be wearing RTC gear and will be helping folks with bike tune-ups!

    Washington, D.C.

    Milo Bateman from RTC’s National Office will be riding on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park (W & OD Trail); he’ll post up on the Vienna Town Green across from Wholefoods (at 144 Maple Ave. E, Vienna) beginning 10 a.m.

    Florida

    And finally, moving down to warmer climates, Florida's Ken Bryan will be out on the Miccosukee Greenway in Tallahassee at 10:15 a.m. (on the north side of the Edenfield Road Trailhead).

     

    Please come out and join us!  And here are some other really easy ways you can get involved:

    1. Visit railstotrails.org/openingday to let RTC know how you'll celebrate!  
    2. Find a trail near you on TrailLink.com, which currently provides a range of details for more than 21,000 miles of pathways for hiking, biking, walking, snowmobiling, skiing and myriad other activities that trails are just perfect for.  
    3. Get OUT on the trail!  Head out to your favorite spot on Saturday, March 29, 2014! Be sure to share your photos and stories with RTC on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. Use #RTCOpeningDay to tag your posts.

    Sooo…dust off the sneakers and grab the kids, your friends,  your dog or your bike, and step out for Opening Day for Trails. It’s the best time of the year!


  • International Report Calls for Greater Investment in Cycling-Friendly Infrastructure, Policies

    Most health and environmental experts would agree that increasing physical activity is good for your health and decreasing the amount of travel time in cars is good for the environment. However, questions have been raised recently as to whether the negative safety and health risks associated with cycling in the urban environment are worth the positive health and environmental benefits.

    At the end of last year, the International Transport Forum (ITF) Working Group on Cycling Safety released a report titled, "Cycling, Health and Safety." This report has put forth that the positive benefits of cycling (e.g., increased physical activity, impact on mortality and chronic disease, reduction in carbon emissions from motorized transportation) far outweigh the risks (e.g., crash injury risk to cyclists, health reduction from breathing in polluted air in an urban environment).

    The report lends support to the argument for increased investment in cycling (and pedestrian) infrastructure, and provides a range of recommendations for policy makers on the most effective way to invest in active transportation. Among them include "the moderation of some urban road speeds to 30 km/h or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists, hence reaping the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes."

    As ICF states, "The report, published at a time when many cities are seeking to increase the share of cycling amidst concerns for safety, shows that the key to delivering overall benefits from cycling is creating a safe system through government policy and city action."

    Read the full report here.  

    For more related info, check out three videos below, which were created by ICF.  Enjoy!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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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.

  • Inspiring Ideas: Meet the Woman Who Kick-Started the Georgia Trail Summit

    On April 11-12, 2014, Georgia’s first trail summit in 15 years will convene in Athens. Trail groups from throughout the state will gather to share knowledge and further projects, with a goal of establishing a first-class trail network in Georgia. 

    In this guest blog, Tracie Sanchez, organizer of the Georgia Trail Summit, talks about her inspiration for the event and how she turned the idea into a reality.  

    “I love the outdoors, so I go out in it.” – Tracie Sanchez

    All my life, I’ve been riding bikes, hiking mountains, paddling rivers—and seeking those activities every place I visit on the planet. Being on a trail makes for wonderful escapes, new adventures and challenges, new friends, maintained health, fresh air and increased botanical knowledge. And great photo albums. 

    Earning my Master of Public Administration late in life allowed me to focus on the public policy I wanted to champion. Alternative transportation solutions—which often include recreation—are my passion. 

    For me, active living is all about the intersection of health and mobility. Trails offer both. So with a background in graphic design (first career), leadership development (second career) and public transportation policy…and with some spare time during a job search…I decided to reach out to all the trail gurus I knew in Georgia.  

    Public data from TrailLink.com revealed there were 82 trail and greenway projects proposed or under way in Georgia. I was familiar with many of them, simply because I sought them out where I lived and across communities where I served as a mobility manager for a regional commission. Occasionally, I heard about others while attending smart growth conferences, Transportation Camp, the Georgia Bike Summit and transit/mobility workshops. 

    But something was missing. No one knew about anyone else’s project or seemed to be sharing lessons learned. Why wasn’t there an easy opportunity to convene this important community of trail experts statewide? There was so much to learn from each other. 

    One snow day last year during the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., I hoofed it over to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC's) headquarters to see what I could learn. RTC Development Director Kelly Pack inspired me with great advice: “Round everyone up and hold a summit.” So, in April 2013, I pitched the idea and have been recruiting and collaborating with numerous trail, greenway and blueway partners ever since, designing and planning the inaugural Georgia Trail Summit.  

    We got our start with a generous $5,000 donation from MillionMile Greenway and raised an additional $8,000 in sponsorships in six months, attracting 30+ trail groups to also endorse the idea.  

    It’s been an amazing team effort. Join us for this timely conversation on April 11 and 12 in Athens!

    Photo by Tracie Sanchez

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    Tracie Sanchez, MPA, is the outreach and program coordinator at Georgia Trail Summit and Decatur Active Living. Her background includes more than a decade of leadership experience in nonprofits related to active living and alternative transportation.

  • What the Marvin M. Brandt Case Means for America’s Rail-Trails

    On March 10, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States. The issue in this case was whether the federal government retains an interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the federal General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor.

    The Brandt property lies along the corridor of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail in Wyoming, a former disused rail corridor inside Medicine Bow National Forest that was converted into a public trail.

    As the only national organization in America solely committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) filed an “amicus brief” in December 2013 supporting the established legal precedent that says the United States does retain an interest in the corridor.

    Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Marvin Brandt. While RTC is disappointed by the decision, after examining the details of its potential impact, we believe that the vast majority of rail-trails and rail-trail projects will not be directly affected. Existing rail-trails or trail projects are not affected by this decision if any of the following conditions are met:

    • The rail corridor is “railbanked.” (This is the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails.)
    • The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way through federal lands before 1875.
    • The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    • The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    • The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    • The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies.

    Click here for a downloadable infographic outlining the criteria above.

    The ruling only affects non-railbanked corridors that were created from federally granted rights-of-way through the 1875 Act. And we know that most railroad corridors created under this federal law are located west of the Mississippi River.

    Because there isn’t a federal database on federally granted rights-of-way, it isn’t possible to answer exactly how many miles of corridor this applies to. What we can say is that, unfortunately, the ruling will likely increase future litigation over these corridors. We anticipate more cases in the future in which the federal government will be forced to compensate adjoining landowners in order to maintain public access to some well-loved trails.

    This can be a significant challenge for the trail community. We need to ensure that fear of lawsuits does not deter people from moving forward with trails that communities need and have a right to build.

    The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the 10th Circuit Court, where RTC’s legal team will work to narrow the ultimate impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

    Since 1986, RTC's legal program has fought to preserve rail corridors as public recreation and transportation assets at the local, national and federal levels in more than 50 cases, as well as before Congress and administrative agencies. RTC is the foremost, and often the only, legal advocate for rail-trails in the United States, work that is fully funded by RTC members.

  • Mission Miami: Getting More Places to Walk, Run or Bike

    The Supreme Court decision on March 10 reminded the rail-trail community of one critical thing: Despite the burgeoning popularity of active transportation in the U.S., it's up to all of us to use our voices to defend and promote the further development of walking and biking networks around the country.

    In Miami, Fla.—an international destination—active transportation is in great demand. And as the city continues to develop, it's the perfect time to seize the opportunity to build new walking and biking infrastructure.

    RTC recently posted an op-ed in the Miami Herald urging local officials to support these projects.

    Take a look! 

    From "Getting More Places to Walk, Run or Bike":

    "You see it everywhere you go in Miami: The demand for active transportation in the city is on the rise. Thousands of riders pedal the Rickenbacker Causeway each week; the Atlantic Trail along Miami Beach is an international destination and, with notice of less than 72 hours, is enough to draw upwards of 4,000 participants to Critical Mass rides—the very purpose of which are to celebrate and assert the rights of cyclists.

    Famous actors such as Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis have been spotted riding around Miami, and let’s not forget about Miami Heat’s LeBron James, who is well known for biking to work and attending Critical Mass rides."

    Read the full op-ed online here

    And please, feel free to let Miami Herald know what you think in the comments box!  

    Above photo courtesy Miami River Commission

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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.

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