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  • From Strength to Strength: Minneapolis Contines to Build Bike- and Walk-ability

    By Jay Walljasper

    After being acclaimed as America's best city for biking in 2010, what can you possibly do for an encore?

    In the case of Minneapolis, Minn., you do even more bicycling--and more walking, too.

    People here biked and walked 16 percent more in 2011 than in 2010, when Minneapolis was crowned "#1 Bike City" by Bicycling magazine. St. Paul, and a number of inner-ring suburbs nearby, showed similar growth.

    Biking rose 22 percent across the Twin Cities compared to 2010, according to data just released by Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC). And it's up a whopping 53 percent since 2007, when the organization began counting bicyclists and pedestrians at 42 locations from Beltline Blvd. in St. Louis Park to Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.

    Walking is also on the rise in the Twin Cities. Pedestrian traffic rose 9 percent compared to 2010, and 18 percent since 2007. 

    Furthermore, Minneapolis gained more national recognition for its burgeoning culture of active transportation. It came in ninth in WalkScore's walkability rankings of America's 50 largest cities, second in the Midwest after Chicago. That put it ahead of Portland (12) and Denver (16). St. Paul would have ranked 15th (third in the Midwest) if it were among the 50 largest cities. 

    BWTC has conducted bike and pedestrian counts over the past five years as part of the federally funded Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), which is focused on enabling Americans to switch from driving to biking and walking for many short trips. BWTC is a program of Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit focused on increasing transportation options for Minnesotans.

    The pronounced rise of two-wheel and two-feet travel between 2010 and 2011 is attributable in part to an array of street improvements--including more bike lanes and special bicycle-and-pedestrian boulevards--installed around town in the past year as part of the NTPP. The Twin Cities was one of four communities around the country designated as transportation laboratories in the NTPP legislation, which was passed by a Congress in 2005 and signed by President George W. Bush. 

    "The goal of this project from Congress was to shift some trips, and this data shows it is happening," says Director of BWTC Joan Pasiuk. "The implications for overall health and transportation access are outcomes the community will realize from the numbers we're reporting."

    Bike and pedestrian counts on the Lake Street Bridge, for example, show the increase in biking translates to 96,000 fewer auto trips at that location in 2011 than 2007, explains Tony Hull, BWTC's Nonmotorized Evaluation Analyst. He arrived at that figure by using a model developed by Alta Planning & Design of Portland, Ore., as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Protocol.

    Overall, people made 1.1 million bike and pedestrian trips across the bridge in 2011.

    "This is a massive number of people that need to be factored in our transportation policies," Hull notes. "It's not just nice that people are biking and walking more today. It's a significant form of transportation," which he says offers positive results for public health, the environment and our sense of community.

    Accurate bike and pedestrian counts are critical to the growth of biking and walking in America, Pasiuk explains. "Policymakers act on hard evidence--they want to be able to know if their investment is paying off and that more people are relying on biking and walking as a regular transportation pattern. These counts show what's happening on the streets in a way everyone can understand."

    The busiest spot for bicyclists in this year's count was 15th Avenue and University Avenue, near the University of Minnesota campus, with 787 riders and 1840 pedestrians counted between 4 and 6 p.m. in mid-September.

    I was on hand at the second busiest spot, the Sabo Bridge on the Midtown Greenway, where 767 riders and 60 pedestrians crossed over Hiawatha Avenue. It was a chilly afternoon with howling winds that felt more like March than September. Yet waves of bicycles rode by, ridden by everyone from executives in business suits to Native American children from the nearby Little Earth housing project.

    Rolf Scholtz tallied each one as they passed. He's the president of Dero Bike Rack Company, located in the nearby Seward neighborhood, and one of 54 volunteers who took part in the project.

    "We let our employees out to do the counts every year," he said.  "Bike riding is going crazy around here."

    All the people counting bike and pedestrian traffic were trained by BWTC and were checked on at least once by expert staff during their two-hour shift. Some cities use paid counters from temp agencies, Hull notes, but BWTC believes volunteers are more diligent and accurate. 

    The counts have been carried out the second Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of September for the past five years, to ensure a relative measure.

    "This data is rock solid," Pasiuk says. "BWTC is using state-of-the-art methodology for tracking and interpreting data."

    BWTC also conduct counts on the second Tuesday of every month at six locations around town. They have turned in surprising results--20 percent of bicyclists and 75 percent of pedestrians continue to bike and walk throughout the winter despite Minnesota's frigid, snowy weather. Given the trends reported today this is no surprise, just more evidence of the transportation shift that the Twin Cities underscores.

    Jay Walljasper is the editor of OnTheCommons.org, and senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces. He is the author of The Great Neighborhood Book, and has written about cities for National Geographic Traveler and other publications.

    Photos courtesy of Bike Walk Twin Cities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Iowa's Mark Ackelson Honored for Remarkable Achievements in Preservation

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration last October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we recognize Mark Ackelson's enormous contribution to preserving America's natural landscape in Iowa and beyond.

    Mark Ackelson's life has focused on protecting and restoring important natural, wildlife, recre­ational and cultural resource lands in his native Iowa. He has worked for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) since 1980 and became president of this member-supported, statewide land trust in 1994.

    The INHF has been instrumental in protecting more than 120,000 acres of Iowa's wild places, including the conversion of more than 650 miles of former railroad corridors for conservation and recreation purposes.

    Ackelson's experience in Iowa soon led to a more national role in the promotion and develop­ment of rail-trails, and he has served as chairman of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's board of directors. Ackelson was also a founder of the Land Trust Alliance, a national association of land trusts, and served as chair for three years. His experience in leading multi-regional efforts led to the creation of the Mississippi River Trail, Inc., which is creating a trail the length of the Mississippi River, involving 10 states.

    Ackelson helped secure Iowa's trails and recreation future by creating the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP), providing $15 to 20 million annually for conservation and recreation. He also helped establish the State Recreation Trail Fund and the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

    The Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Iowa will be the beneficiary of the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in Ackelson's honor. Completed in 1997, this trail follows the former Iowa Southern Railroad, connecting eight communities and some of the state's most scenic countryside along its 63-mile route. The development of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail is credit to an extensive volunteer effort by members of the Southwest Iowa Nature Trail during more than two decades.

    Photo of Mark Ackelson accepting his Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

  • In Pennsylvania, Community Explores Connection to Appalachian Trail

    Following the great success of trail networks in neighboring regions, Franklin County in southern Pennsylvania is exploring the possibility of cycling and walking connections to the popular Chambersburg Rail Trail.

    Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Greene Township will study the feasibility and benefits of a non-motorized connection between the Chambersburg Rail Trail, which runs through downtown Chambersburg, and Caledonia State Park, 10 miles to the east.

    Local officials will also explore the development of a trail connecting Greene Township Park in Scotland with Norlo Park in Guilford Township.

    Linking local towns with the Caledonia State Park would be a boon for area businesses. In addition to 10 miles of forested hiking trails, the park also connects to the world-renowned Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Thousands of visitors travel the trail each year, seeking food and accommodation in communities along the 2,000-mile route.

    ATC has overseen the South Mountain Partnership Mini-Grant Program since 2009, during which time $188,600 in grants have been awarded, triggering almost $390,000 in grantee matches. The mini-grant program is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Growing Greener program.

    The South Mountain Partnership Mini-Grant awards also brought good news for rail-trail proponents nearby. A grant of $2,500 will allow Shippensburg University to conduct a user and demographic survey on the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail. The Cumberland Valley Rails-to-Trails Council was awarded $3,000 to install interpretive panels highlighting the trail corridor's Civil War and agricultural history.

    The Borough of Gettysburg will receive $11,500 to widen and resurface an initial section of the Gettysburg Inner Loop bicycle trail, which will provide transportation options between historical attractions, community amenities and the downtown business district.

    For more information about the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, visit www.appalachiantrail.org


  • Funding Debate Sparks Examination of New Transportation Realities

    The recent political focus on the reauthorization of the multi-year surface transportation bill provided some nervous moments for Americans hoping to see more options for getting around that don't involve driving an automobile.

    With a shrinking pot of money available for transportation projects, there were a number of, eventually unsuccessful, attempts to reduce or eliminate dedicated funding for bike paths, trails and sidewalks. The thought was that, with money tight, investing in such things was "frivolous" and did not relate to the 21st century American concept of transportation.

    As a result, the federally administered Transportation Enhancements, Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to Schools programs, though boasting an impressive record of success and value for money, found themselves on the chopping block. 

    But something very valuable did emerge from placing a spotlight on America's transportation future - a re-examination of what residents and businesspeople in communities across the country are demanding that future should be.

    In the midst of changing social and economic patterns, and unprecedented environmental challenges, existing assumptions about how we live and move are being re-calibrated, to the benefit of transportation planning that better reflects the desire of the American people.

    In an article in the New York Times last month, urban and regional planning scholar Christopher B. Leinberger wrote it was the rejection of car-dependent residential and commercial developments that contributed most significantly to the mortgage collapse.

    Leinberger is one of a number of transportation experts leading the re-investigation. He says "there has been a profound structural shift" in the demand for housing in recent years, driven not primarily by any mortgage market or economic collapse but by the aging of the baby boomer population, and a widespread revision amongst homebuyers of how they want their neighborhoods to function.

    This revision is inspired by environmental and social patterns; notably an expanding population, diminishing natural resources, a growing appreciation of concepts of sustainability, and the historic need to deliberately construct daily opportunities for physical recreation and movement.

    The fact that high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods in the city and inner suburbs represent the most in-demand and recession-resistant housing in the nation reflects these priorities. And with municipalities and regional governments increasingly eager to respond to the demands of existing and potential residents and businesses, it is driving transportation infrastructure decisions from the grassroots, up.

    Surveys have shown that residents would vote for local taxes and rate increases if that money was used to pay for trails and pathways. At the city and county planning level, increasing bike- and walk-ability is a priority of a growing number of councils and planning agencies in communities large and small.

    "Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement," Leinberger writes. "Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors. The 'millennials'... favor urban downtowns and suburban town centers - for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars."

    "Reinvesting in America's built environment - which makes up a third of the country's assets - and reviving the construction trades is vital for lifting our economic growth rate," Leinberger continues. "As Congress works to reauthorize highway and transit legislation, it must give metropolitan areas greater flexibility for financing transportation, rather than mandating that the vast bulk of the money can be used only for roads. We have to stop throwing good money after bad. It is time to instead build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs."

    One of the key lessons being learned is that the either/or funding equation pitting road infrastructure against non-motorized infrastructure is outdated, and unnecessarily oppositional. 

    In a recent interview with Bike Portland's Jonathan Maus, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Polly Trottenberg, described the inclusion of bike and pedestrian facilities in road projects as "the new normal."

    "We shouldn't separate [active transportation] out, because really, it should be part of federal highways and it should be part of every roadway we design - that it's just part of what goes into them," she said. "It should be an integrated part of all the roadway planning that we do."

    Trottenberg acknowledged that the growing demand for communities that are connected by non-motorized transportation was manifesting itself in organized political action.

    "We went to LA for this re-authorization visit," she said. "This is LA, which people think of as the car city, and 300 bicycle activists showed up... I just see that's where the political energy is in transportation right now."

    As Leinberger and other experts have determined, this energy is the result of a defined shift in American lifestyles, and not a trend or cultural glitch. Local elected officials and planning agencies have already responded to the demands for biking and walking options they are hearing from their residents. In the recent round of the federal government's TIGER 3 funding program, 22 of 46 funded projects included walking and bicycling elements, with many more unfunded applications also built around active transportation.

    Whether the federal government will now enable this movement toward an environmentally, socially and economically stronger America remains to be seen. Our only dedicated sources of funding for non-motorized transportation - Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails programs - are the lynchpins of a successful move in this direction, and it is crucial they are preserved.

    Computer generated image of streetscape courtesy of City of Newark. Photo of Hudson River Greenway, N.Y., courtesy of Boyd Loving.


  • Recreational Trails Program Funds Crucial Link in Kansas City, Mo.

    The state of Missouri received some terrific news last month with the announcement that 11 trail projects would receive funding through the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP).

    Notably, a $100,000 RTP grant will make possible a critical link in Kansas City’s Riverfront Heritage Trail, a rail-trail that connects the banks of the Missouri River with the historical downtown area of the city, local parks and shopping areas.

    The half-mile section of concrete trail to be funded by the RTP grant is a terrific example of how relatively short connections can add enormous value to regional trail systems. Connecting the eastern and southern sections of the Riverfront Heritage Trail with the western branch into Kansas City, Kan., just across the border, this small link now completes a hub reaching out toward hundreds of miles of trail stretching north to Omaha, Neb., west into Kansas, east along the Missouri River and south to Joplin, Mo.

    “This is an unusually important segment of the broader trails system,” says Darby Trotter, president of Kansas City River Trails, Inc., a nonprofit corporation created to operate and maintain the Riverfront Heritage Trail and promote trail use in the region. “What we have here is the hub of a four-state trails system.”

    For Trotter and fellow trail organizers, the half-mile connector is the culmination of more than a decade’s work building the Riverfront Heritage Trail and establishing river and rail-line crossings to connect to communities and trails beyond the city itself.

    “We see this as the end of Phase 1,” he says. “Phase 1 was to build the hub to get to. Phase 2 is happening now – people are connecting other trails to the system.”

    Trotter says much of the most difficult, and most expensive, work is already completed – bike and pedestrian crossings over the Missouri and Kansas rivers, as well as over the busy network of active rail lines in Kansas City’s central industrial district. Construction of the half-mile link is expected to begin in early 2012.

    If Kansas City can promote itself as a central trail destination for hikers, bikers and riders embarking on, and returning from, journeys all across the country, local businesses will have tapped into a lucrative, and sustainable, economy.

    Straddling the border between two states and two major rivers, the Riverfront Heritage Trail and connecting pathways have been a multi-jurisdictional effort, involving government agencies on both sides of the border, as well as broad support from the regional private sector.

    Though its recreational utility is much appreciated by residents and visitors alike, the establishment of the Riverfront Heritage Trail had a particular inspiration – local history.

    “It was an attempt to bring people back to the riverfront, back to their heritage,” Trotter says, adding that a lot of thought was put into naming the trail. “And it was always important that the trail connect with the oldest parts of the community – the initial settlements, the River Market.”

    Today, the area’s history is portrayed in art works along the trail – the journey of Lewis and Clark, and the less-heralded journey of slaves escaping from Missouri to the free state of Kansas in the 1850s.

    Though the area’s rich history was a catalyst for the trail, its development is now guided by a forward-looking vision. Trotter, a senior executive for a company that has been in Kansas City since 1886, says a number of area business leaders can see the direct connection between amenities like parks and trails, and strong population and commercial growth.

    “Looking across the country, the progressive cities are those which are making good use of their waterfront areas, riverfront areas,” he says. “Up until recently, we weren’t doing that.”

    A decade later, the Riverfront Heritage Trail is an integral part of the community – popular and well-used. And though Trotter says city authorities have been reactive rather than proactive in encouraging walking and biking (“We had to pull them along kicking and screaming at times…”), there are signs the message has been received; one of the goals of Kansas City’s new master plan is to make the downtown area more walkable.

    RTP grants like this one are funded by a small portion of motor fuel excise taxes collected from recreational vehicle use.  So, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles – those vehicles that use recreational trails in some states – help pay for the maintenance and establishment of such trails.

    In addition to the Riverfront Heritage Trail link, RTP grants in Missouri helped fund the widespread development and maintenance of both motorized and non-motorized trails in Missouri State Parks, the construction of a backcountry hiking trail in Roger Pryor Backcountry, Shannon County, and a trail from the city of Greenville to Wappapello Lake.

    For more information on the Recreational Trails Program, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/rectrails/

    Images courtesy of Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, and Kansas City River Trails, Inc.

  • Rail-Trail Excursion Offers a Taste of Christmas in Florida

    By Dawn Langton

    With red flannel underwear fluttering on a backyard clothes line, a family buying their Christmas tree, kids playing at the park, and miles of uninterrupted woodland and prairie, the newest paved rail-to-trail in Florida has some of the most old-fashioned sights. Cool, sunny weather on the first weekend in December was the perfect chance to see them all on the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail (PLBST).

    The trail gained four paved miles in Putnam County last fall with the completion of the Twin Lakes Park-to-Grandin segment. It now stretches almost 10 miles from Grandin to Keystone Heights, making it a leisurely day trip from Jacksonville or St. Augustine. If you want a longer ride, you can connect to the 5.5-mile State Route 21 bike path in Keystone Heights and head north to Gold Head Branch State Park. It is one of Florida's oldest state parks and one of the most charming, with both paved and off-road bike-friendly trails.

    My riding buddy, Becky Yanni, and I started the PLBST in Grandin, on County Road 315. The sign is small, but you see the trail to your left as soon as you turn right onto CR 315 from SR 100. We parked on the right side of 315 on the grassy area in front of the trail boundary signs. (It's best to save the wine tasting at Tangled Oaks Vineyard just east of the CR 315-SR 100 corner until after your ride, but it's a must-visit).

    After passing the chickens and dogs at the three red-trimmed houses on the aptly named Grandin Railroad Rd., the trail quickly veers away from SR 100 into the woods for roughly three miles. It rejoins the highway for about a mile at Putnam Hall, but is still set back nicely from the traffic. The intersection with SR 26 is the only major crossing. Then you are off into the woods again for about 1.5 miles until you parallel County Line Rd. for a nice view of Oldfield Pond to your left.

    A few more cranks and you'll find Twin Lakes Park at 5.5 miles, with clean restrooms, a water fountain (hidden behind the post in front of the women's bathroom), covered picnic tables and plenty of parking for the dozen folks who started the trail there that day. If you prefer to do the same, the park is at 6065 Twin Lakes Rd. Maintained by Clay County, it's accessible from CR 214.

    After the park, the trail rejoins SR 100 again, with a nice view to the left of Lake Geneva. CR 214 is the only major intersection before the outskirts of Keystone Heights. At least one realtor likes the area: A large Rails to Trails Land for Sale sign looms amidst a stand of pines. Don't be fooled by the Bike Wash sign spray-painted on plywood behind a restaurant on your left - it's for the other kind of bikers.

    Things get busy as you head into town. The intersection of SR 100 and SR 21 has all the usual chain stores. The trail crosses SR 21 and continues another mile or so through town, but we chose to check out the 10-foot wide SR 21 bike path to Gold Head. The connection between trails is not obvious at first. We turned right onto SR 21 and stayed on the sidewalk until we saw the green bike path sign a half-mile later. There we joined the cycle track, physically separated from the road. Not as leafy and remote as the rail-to-trail, but the next best thing.

    The stretch between trails is full of life on a Saturday morning. A Christmas tree lot is so close to the sidewalk that you brush the branches as you ride past. And bring your quarters, because yard sales abound. The only disappointment was that the Jumping Bean cafe is closed on Saturdays now, despite a welcoming "coffee to go" sign out front. But it looked promising, if you ride during the week.

    We turned back after a mile, because the Palatka Holiday Tour of Homes and its pastry table were calling our names. Next time we'll check out the rest of the PBLST trail through town and ride the SR 21 bike path all the way to Gold Head. And we'll pack lots of quarters and coffee.

    Dawn Langton is a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and a friend of our Florida office.

    Photo and map courtesy of TrailLink.com

  • Bob Thomas a Key Figure in Forging Pennsylvania's Trails

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to Robert "Bob" Thomas, a key figure in the development of Pennsylvania's groundbreaking trails network.

    Bob Thomas is a widely recognized advocate for rail-trails and livable communities in his home state of Pennsylvania.

    He is a long-time member and former president of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, where he has contributed more than 35 years of efforts to develop a seamless network of bicycle transportation in the state's southeast. In this role, Thomas has devoted years of work to open bridges and public transportation to people and bicycles.

    He is also a long-time member and former chairman of the board of the Schuylkill River Greenway Association, developer of major portions of the Schuylkill River Trail in southeast Pennsylvania, one of America's most popular urban rail-trails.

    As an architect, Thomas has focused on bringing the principles of conservation, preservation, greenways and active transportation into his work since 1969. A founding partner of Campbell Thomas & Co Architects, he has led the firm's work in the advocacy, planning, design and construction of numerous rail-trails and greenways.

    Thomas is also a member of the East Coast Greenway, for which he serves on the Pennsylvania Steering Committee.

    Thomas dedicated the Doppelt Family Rail-Trails Champion grant named in his honor to the Valley-Forge to Heinz Refuge Trail (VF-HRT). The VF-HRT is currently in the planning stages, with the potential to link a series of isolated trails to two of the major regional trails in southeastern Pennsylvania: the East Coast Greenway and the Schuylkill River Trail. When complete, the trail will give access to people from three counties to downtown Philadelphia and to each other, strengthening a series of disparate communities.

  • Teko Wiseman - Alabama Trailblazer, Beloved Civic Leader

    The history of America's rail-trails and community pathways is ripe with terrific stories about community-minded individuals who took the bull by the horns and turned grand ideas into ribbon cuttings.

    All across the country there have been volunteers who have dedicated years, decades of their lives to the funding and construction of trails projects - often facing stern criticism long before the true value of their work became evident.

    Alabama's Janice "Teko" Wiseman was one such individual. This week, her passing is being mourned across the state by trails advocates and a broad array of people she inspired in a lifetime of volunteerism, community action and a passion for helping other people that has now left a generous legacy. She was 83.

    Sixteen years ago, the Fairhope resident and Mobile native dreamed of building a countywide network of hiking and biking trails, joining people, towns and communities in Baldwin County, all while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Never satisfied just to dream, Wiseman took action and founded the Baldwin County Trailblazers.

    A passionate activist, Wiseman is described as a source of strength, wisdom and love to family and friends. She worked tirelessly with volunteers and local officials, securing more than $6 million in private, federal and local support to construct the 32-mile Eastern Shore Trail. In 2010, the National Park Service designated the trail a National Recreational Trail. For her work, Wiseman received the Alabama Trail Advocate award from the nonprofit organization American Trails.

    "There are very few true visionaries in this world, but Teko was one them," says Fairhope City Councilwoman Debbie Quinn. "Teko took an idea and brought communities and dollars together to make it happen."

    The trail was just one of many endeavors Teko and her husband, Dr. Hollis Wiseman, took on as civic leaders during their 62 years of marriage. Though deeply devoted to their family and six children, the Wisemans still found time to change the landscape of their community. Hollis founded the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of South Alabama Women and Children's Hospital. In the 1960s the couple created Alabamians Behind Local Education (ABLE), a movement to create a smooth transition for school integration. Teko helped found Keep Mobile Beautiful in the 1980s and was its coordinator for 10 years. Upon moving to Baldwin County 20 years ago, Hollis was instrumental in building the Fairhope Public Library, and Teko conceived the idea for connecting communities and people through miles of sidewalk. 

    Today, thousands of adults and children each year benefit from Teko's leadership by way of the Eastern Shore National Recreation Trail. They search for reptiles at Daphne's Gator Alley, run the wooded, hilly path through Montrose, stroll along beautiful Mobile Bay in Fairhope, or cycle Scenic Highway 98 past the historic Grand Hotel.

    Always full of energy, Teko most recently had a new vision that would connect the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay with South Baldwin County. Her favorite motto was "Foley or bust." Sadly, she passed away with only three miles left to complete on the Eastern Shore Trail.

    The family requests that all memorials be made to the Baldwin County Trailblazers, P.O. Box 701, Daphne, AL 36526, or online at www.thetrailblazers.org.

  • Communities Across America Seek Walking, Biking Options Through TIGER Grants

    Yesterday's announcement of recipients of the highly competitive transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants contains quite a bit of good news for Americans looking for transportation options beyond highways and cars.

    More than $14 billion worth of roads, bridges, transit, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects were applied for from the $527 million available in TIGER grants. The applications came from city and county municipalities across America and reflected a local, grassroots understanding of the improvements needed to make these communities better places to live, work and do business. Often, the improvements they sought were infrastructure for biking and walking.

    Fortunately for active transportation advocates, it appears that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and the rest of the U.S. Department of Transportation remain committed to the promise of ensuring biking and walking are crucial parts of America's transportation landscape: Of the 46 projects chosen for TIGER grants, 22 incorporate some aspect of bike and pedestrian accessibility. 

    "It is great to see a broad range of projects, even those that are primarily on roads, integrating walking and biking into their design," says Kartik Sribarra, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's director of policy outreach. "Giving people the option to walk or bike is key to building better cities, neighborhoods that move better, and downtown areas that thrive."

    The headline-grabber for biking and walking advocates will likely be the funding of Chicago's first large-scale bike share program, terrific news for a city whose leadership has indicated that non-motorized transportation is central to its sustained growth.

    There is great news, too, for the people of Beaufort, S.C., with funding announced for the city's effort to reconstruct its downtown area to improve accessibility.

    City planners have said that their main street's current suburban-style commercial corridor is not only dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, but also an obstacle to shopping and other economic activity. The city's retrofit will focus on integrating motor vehicles, transit, biking and walking, as well as a connection to the nearby Beaufort Rail-Trail, which, when complete, will connect with schools, neighborhoods and service centers throughout the region.

    "Cities like Beaufort are increasingly aware of the fact that commercial areas that discourage walking and biking are just not maximizing their potential for good business," Sribarra says. "Downtown areas to which people can walk or ride not only provide a great health benefit, but nearby real estate values benefit, too. Commercial areas become vibrant places of community, rather than less appealing parking lots, which typically don't encourage walking, sightseeing, window shopping or community activity."

    The Beaufort TIGER grant included a significant match from the city. The match was provided in part by a one percent local sales tax designated specifically for transportation improvements, an indication that local voters were willing to invest in more options for biking and walking in their city.

    Beaufort City Manager Scott Dadson says that designing shopping centers only for vehicular access limits their potential for success.

    "Even in a city the size of Beaufort, people will choose not to go out shopping if it means driving in traffic at certain times of the day," he says. "We also look at the cost of gas as another gauge of whether it's 'worth it' to get in the car and drive somewhere. If walking or biking or taking a golf cart are other options to get to the store, suddenly those businesses have a more robust market in which to serve and hopefully succeed."

    In Northfield, Minn., a relatively small TIGER grant will have a massive impact on pedestrian safety and give residents and students another transportation option for short trips around this small city of about 20,000 people.

    For a federal investment of a little more than $1 million, Northfield will be able to build a pedestrian crossing traversing State Highway 3, a major road bisecting the city. This link will allow pedestrian and bicycle access between residential and college areas and the downtown area, and improve safety on and around the highway.

    The people of Northfield believe strongly that their transportation landscape must give them options other than to drive. This project represents a widespread community effort to improve safety in an area where 23 percent of all commutes are non-motorized.

    "This pedestrian crossing project is a great example of how relatively small investments in walking and bicycling infrastructure have an enormous impact on day to day lives," Sribarra says. "$1 million is a drop in the bucket of the price of a road. But for this same $1 million, scores of people every day will benefit from a safer, healthier commute, which also has the benefit of getting cars off the road during peak periods."

    Other significant bicycle and pedestrian-related projects to receive TIGER funding include:

    • Buffalo Main Street Revitalization (N.Y.) - A project to revitalize the historical downtown area by improving transportation connectivity and pedestrian access.
    • Stamford Intermodal Access (Conn.) - Improve pedestrian access to the Stamford Transit Center.
    • Snake Road Improvement (Fla.) - Improve 2.25 miles of road on the Big Cypress Reservation, including a 5-foot sidewalk and a 12-foot multi-use path.
    • US 101 Smith River Safety Corridor (Calif.) - Improve a portion of US 101 including pedestrian features to slow traffic and provide safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists to vital community services.
    • City of American Falls Complete Streets (Idaho) - Transform the downtown area to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
    • St Albans Main Street Reconstruction (Vt.) - Improving livability in the center of a small city by improving non-motorized transportation.

    For every project to receive TIGER funding, however, there were many more non-motorized infrastructure projects to miss out. An innovative regional effort involving a number of cities in the northeast, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Camden and Newark, would have provided walking and cycling connections for millions of residents and boosted the commercial and environmental sustainability of an enormous metropolitan area.

    With current political threats to the Transportation Enhancements program and other funding for active transportation projects, whether our state and federal government are willing to invest in the forward-thinking plans of America's cities and counties will have a great impact on how we all get from A to B in the coming decades.  

    Photo of shoppers enjoying a pedestrian friendly commercial area in Burlington, Vt., by RTC


  • Rail Corridor Acquisition a Key Link for Michigan Trails

    Rail-trail advocates in Michigan are celebrating this week with news that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) has recommended a $3,755,400 grant to acquire a section of out-of-service Coe Rail Line in Oakland County, about 35 miles northeast of Detroit.

    In addition to the 33-acre parcel of rail corridor, the grant will also enable the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway Management Council, a joint effort of the three townships along the route, to purchase the Walled Lake Train Depot, with plans to convert the historical building into a visitor center or community gathering place.

    It was third time lucky for the people of Oakland County, who had seen two previous applications for funding to purchase the land rejected.

    The proposed Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway would provide a valuable connection between two popular existing trails, linking the West Bloomfield Trail, in Bloomfield, and the Huron Valley Rail-Trail in Wixom.

    The new trail would also fill another gap in the ambitious plan for a Great Lake to Lake Trail, formally known as the Michigan Airline Trail, a cross-state trail network utilizing Michigan's thousands of miles of rail-trail and other multi-use pathways.

    Photos courtesy of Kristen Wiltfang/Oakland County

  • Support Builds for Elevated Greenway Through Queens, N.Y.

    In the world of science, the arts - in fact all human endeavors where people are constantly trying to innovate or discover new, uncharted territory - it often happens that the achievement of one groundbreaking pioneer opens the gate for many to follow.

    That's just as true in the world of rail-trail design. The successful development of the High Line on Manhattan's lower west side in the mid-2000s has lit a path for a number of greenway projects along out-of-service elevated rail trestles and embankments in American cities.

    In Jersey City, N.J., a strong community movement is building support for a greenway and trail along the Harsimus Stem Embankment. In Chicago, plans for a similar community space and transportation corridor along a three-mile section of the Bloomingdale Rail Line through the heart of the city is exciting residents, businesses, planners and officials. 

    And now, the success of the High Line has re-energized supporters of a 3.5-mile greenway along the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road through Queens. It's an elevated section of track that has been out of use since the 1960s, and greenway proponents say the corridor, as it stands, does little more than contribute to the derelict appearance of some sections of the neighborhood. Those same unused tracks, though, could be revived as an elevated trail that enriches the community.

    The Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee (RBBGC) is well-organized and well-supported; Travis Terry, who was involved with the creation of the High Line, is one of the key members, and the group has the support of elected officials and community groups throughout the region. The Trust for Public Land has committed to producing a feasibility study, and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office has been tapped for technical advice and support - a role we also played in the early stages of the High Line.

    The greenway, which is being referred to variously as the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway, the Queens Highline, the QueensWay or the QueensLine, would run about 3.5 miles from Rego Park to Ozone Park in central Queens, linking the neighborhood of Forest Park with the Shore Parkway path, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Gateway National Recreation Area.

    And though the buzz created by the unique success of the High Line was a catalyst for community action behind this greenway in Queens, the projects are very different. A Rockaway Beach Branch trail would be more than twice as long as the High Line and would be more park than footpath - featuring wide spaces for recreation and gathering.

    According to the RBBC's Peter Beadle, the route of the greenway covers a broad spectrum of areas, with fairly affluent neighborhoods to the north, and historically underserved areas to the south.

    "These areas have lacked the same access to social services, to green spaces," he says, describing the areas around the currently neglected railway corridor as "derelict, abandoned, decrepit, dangerous."

    He says one of the main oppositions to the trail concept at the moment is the perception that it would somehow increase crime activity.

    "The evidence shows that building community greenways and trails like this has the opposite effect," Beadle says. "We see increased property values, and better conditions for businesses along the line."

    Beadle's insight is confirmed by a number of RTC case studies that detail how increasing foot and bike-traffic in previously under-used urban areas increases the safety of those areas, particularly as local communities begins to take "ownership" of the trail, trailside parks and spaces, which become popular neighborhood assets.

    One significant hurdle greenway proponents won't have to scale is the great expense of acquiring the land, as the city of New York owns the corridor.

    Beadle says the RBBC is in the process of formalizing as a nonprofit and gathering resources for a period of public outreach and support-building. Last week the group launched an online petition, which it hopes will urge the city of New York to commit to converting the disused line into a community greenway. After just a few days, the petition has more than 530 signatures.

    To learn more about the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway project, or to add your name to the petition, visit www.facebook.com/RBBGreenway.

    Photos courtesy of Anandi A. Premlall/Envisioning the Queens Highline

  • George Burrier's Achievement a Gift to All Americans

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to George M. Burrier, Jr., whose work to establish the Rock Island Trail State Park in Illinois is now recognized as a one of the defining achievements in the development of a rail-trail network in America.  

    George Burrier was born in Chicago, Ill., but spent most of his childhood in Pennsylvania. He received a B.S. in psychology from Northern Illinois University in 1967. After serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, he finished his law degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology in the evenings in 1973 while working for Pullman, Inc.

    Shortly after 1983, William Rutherford, former director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), flew Burrier over the abandoned Peoria, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, where rail traffic had ceased in 1963. Rutherford asked Burrier to help make his trail plan come true. The Forest Park Foundation directed by Rutherford acquired the line in 1965. The IDNR received the land in 1968, it became a state park in 1973-and then commenced a 17-year battle to develop the 31-mile Rock Island Trail State Park.

    Working with an initial annual state budget of $1 a year, Burrier and other volunteers began piecing together the trail, from restoring bridges and acquiring former railroad depots along the route to finding donors and new supporters for the project. Burrier provided legal work pro bono throughout this process, helping the friends group negotiate through local landowner and political opposition. Finally, on May 12, 1990, Secretary of State Jim Edgar officially dedicated the trail.

    At the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions award ceremony, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a native of Peoria, Ill., said riding and walking on the Rock Island Trail State Park had done much to convince him of the importance of trails in our daily lives. Sec. LaHood said generations of Americans owed a debt of gratitude to trails advocates like Burrier, who had given much of their time and energy to building invaluable resources for the public good--often being vilified for it at the time.

    Burrier and his family began cycling adventures in 1983 by going on a six-day ride from Fish Creek, Wis., to Milwaukee. Since then, the Burriers have traveled in 45 states, three Canadian provinces, Belgium, France, Iceland and The Netherlands.

    The Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in Burrier's honor will assist the Friends of the Rock Island Trail, Inc., in its work to promote the rail-trail Burrier spent so many years seeing to completion.

    Photo of Sec. LaHood with George Burrier and RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

  • Expansion of "Trail Towns" Program Great News for Rural Communities

    The Trail Town program, which since 2007 has helped communities along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) convert their terrific location into sustainable economic activity, last month received a $2.75 million Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT Award, recognizing the program's unique and impactful work in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

    These days, everyone from biking advocates and city planners to small business owners and real estate developers is making the connection between trails and economic stimulus. The data are there, on trail users and spending multipliers and the desire of homebuyers to have convenient and safe access to trails, sidewalks and bike lanes.

    But it wasn't so long ago that correlating the intangible joys of a trail ride or hike with local business receipts and profitable investment was more difficult to do. That the economic impact of trails and trails tourism is now clear and well-known has a lot to do with a remarkable development organization from Pennsylvania called The Progress Fund.

    Formed in 1997 to provide loans and support tourism entrepreneurship in the economically depressed towns of western and northern Pennsylvania, the core of The Progress Fund has always been a belief in the strength and sustainability of the tourism and recreation industries.

    "We could see the huge opportunities for rural businesses," says David Kahley, president, CEO and co-founder of The Progress Fund. "But, unfortunately, campgrounds and bike shops and ski-rental places in small towns are not a favorite of banks, so they were having trouble getting loans to get off the ground, to expand. But these are exactly the kinds of businesses that are needed if people are to recreate in the area."

    Since its inception, The Progress Fund has made 368 loans totaling more than $39.8 million to 218 small businesses in Pennsylvania and Maryland, helping to create or sustain more than 2,568 jobs. These loans supported businesses such as Confluence Cyclery, pictured below, enabling the owners to add upstairs lodging to their thriving bike shop in Confluence, Pa.

    Of course, one of the most popular outdoor recreation amenities in that area is the GAP, and in 2005 The Progress Fund's work tied itself explicitly to that famous rail-trail with the launch of the Trail Town program. Back then, the GAP wasn't nearly as developed as it is today, and the idea that the trail could be an economic boon to the local communities was still in its infancy.

    The Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA), led by dedicated citizens like RTC Rail-Trail Champion Linda McKenna Boxx, had long-promoted the concept of helping businesses benefit from their position near the trail, but had been unable to attract a financial backer to provide loans and business coaching to make the Trail Town idea a reality. To Kahley, Trail Town spoke directly to the mission of The Progress Fund.

    "People were always aware of the economic benefit, intuitively, but there was no plan," he says. "They would say, 'If you build it, they will come.' But that is not necessarily true. They might come, but they're going to come slower, or maybe they won't come how and when you want them to."

    The Progress Fund's great success has been in attaching clinical business acumen to what used to be a less tangible measurement. Their groundbreaking trail user data has put hard numbers behind what the GAP is worth to local business, and identified areas of untapped potential.

    Trail Town administers small business loans and grants, provides training in marketing, and supports initiatives to encourage trail users to shop and stay in the GAP communities. Often its initiatives are small and simple projects that can have a much grander effect--such as inexpensive signage connecting passing riders and hikers with a community of stores, restaurants and lodging which may otherwise have passed by unnoticed. Clear directions and an easy connector are often the difference between pulling off onto the main street for a local meal, or continuing along the trail. 

    Since the launch of the Trail Town program, there has been an increase of 54 new and expanded trail-serving businesses. More than $40 million in direct annual spending is attributed to GAP trail users, and trail-related businesses along the GAP pay out $7.5 million in wages each year.

    The news last month that The Progress Fund would receive a $2.75 million Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT Award may well be the most significant news for the communities of northern Appalachia since Trail Town first came to life.

    Kahley says the NEXT Award money will support the expansion of Trail Town into other communities in a region increasingly renowned as an outdoor recreation destination--with Pittsburgh and the GAP as its center, and encompassing eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia, as well as farther into Pennsylvania and Maryland. Communities in this area "share the same opportunities, and the same challenges," Kahley says, characterized by an outstanding natural setting and a recent history marked by a decline in industry and employment.

    "We plan to build the program," he says, adding that he envisions a time when Trail Town is used as a case study to guide similar efforts across the country.

    This good news for The Progress Fund holds a great deal of promise for trails and outdoor recreation communities throughout this spectacular region.

    Photo of cyclists stopping in the town of Meyersdale, Penn., by RTC.
    Photo of Maureen and Brad Smith of Confluence Cyclery courtesy of The Progress Fund.

  • Volusia County's Bright Trails Future Hinges on Survival of Transportation Enhancements

    Volusia County on central Florida's eastern coast continues to distinguish itself as one of the most proactive and energetic trails communities in the nation. And it is reaping the rewards, too, with a robust and dynamic commercial center, a growing population and a burgeoning reputation as a tourist destination.

    Not resting on laurels earned by the unveiling of the Spring-to-Spring Trail and an enviable network of bike and pedestrian facilities, Volusia County is now undertaking work on what will soon be one of the longest rail-trail conversions in Florida.

    The East Central Regional Rail Trail (ECRRT), which uses an abandoned section of the Florida East Coast Railway purchased by the state of Florida and leased to Volusia and Brevard counties, is being developed as a multi-use trail for walkers, runners, inline skaters, bicyclists and people with disabilities. When complete, it will travel more than 50 miles from Enterprise, east to Edgewater, and south to Titusville.

    The best-laid plans don't linger too long on the drawing board in Volusia County, and work on the ECRRT has already begun. Officials plan to cut the ribbon on phase one of the trail, from Providence Boulevard near Green Springs Park in Enterprise to the intersection with State Route 415 in Osteen, in late January 2012.

    "The neighbors are already using those sections that are completed, and it is a hit!" says Pat Northey, vice chair of the Volusia County Council and a respected supporter of trails projects in the region.

    That Volusia has had success moving such projects from vision to completion is no accident. Thanks in part to the leadership of Northey and County Chair Frank Bruno, Volusia now sets aside a minimum of $1 million a year for trail development, which enables them to secure matching state and federal funds, providing tremendous economic value for taxpayers.

    However, further construction of the ECRRT relies heavily on the continuation of the Federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program--the only dedicated federal funding source for construction of walking and biking infrastructure. Volusia and Brevard counties are banking on more than $6.6 million of TE money programmed by the Florida Department of Transportation for the financial years 2014 to 2016. Given the current political attacks on funding for non-motorized transportation, this important funding is far from guaranteed. The future of a trail project that local officials believe will be an economic and social boon for the area is tied inextricably the future of TE; should the U.S. Congress opt to compromise or reduce TE, the ECRRT may be the first of many casualties.

    "Volusia County recognizes the value of trails," Northey says. "We know that in addition to providing recreational opportunities for our residents, we are developing a nature based economic engine for the county. It isn't just about quality of life, but also building those small, niche business that support trails activities."

    The region is one of many across the country in which trails are an integral component of the local economic program. A key part of the county's application for grant funding to support the construction of the ECRRT is its importance to the commercial redevelopment of downtown Titusville.

    "Trails are popular amenities that draw millions of users a year, they have aided in the revitalization of downtown areas and are becoming a key amenity in new developments," reads the county's recent application for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. "The development of the East Central Regional Rail corridor into a multi-use trail promulgates the vision of the Downtown Titusville Community Redevelopment Area Plan, and it has the potential to be a catalyst in the redevelopment process... The plan notes that creating a safe and welcoming environment for pedestrians is a priority. The rail-trail will be instrumental in providing pedestrian access to the downtown area."

    Florida has witnessed the energizing potential of trails before. Before the construction of the West Orange Trail in Winter Garden, the downtown area was blighted with empty storefronts. Since the trail opened the downtown area has been revitalized, with nearly 100 percent of the storefronts now occupied. In Dunedin, the arrival of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail increased occupancy rates from about 35 percent to near capacity. In Pennsylvania, businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage attribute 25 percent of their revenue to proximity to the trail.

    With the timeline for completion uncertain, county planners made the conscious decision to complete the trail from the outside in. With the middle section of the trail largely rural and open space, the belief is that getting the trail ready in the populated areas first will build a solid user base, and increase demand for further connections.

    "Our rail trail stretches the length of the county, and as you travel from the west to the east you travel through planted pine and hardwood hammocks and the beautiful and historic Turnbull swamp," Northey says. "The ecology along the trail is varied and beautiful, changing with the season. It will be a great ride whatever the time of year."

    Photo of the Spring-to-Spring Trail, and map of the ECRRT and Spring to Spring Trail, courtesy of County of Volusia Parks, Recreation and Culture Division.

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