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RTC TrailBlog

  • Study Finds TE Projects The Most Efficient Job Creator of All Transportation Construction

    Long appreciated by transportation planners for its construction of trails, sidewalks and bike lanes, public health professionals for allowing Americans to choose biking and walking for commuting and recreation, and local municipalities for reenergizing downtown shopping areas, the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program this week added yet another title its long list of accomplishments: cost effective job creator.

    A study released this week by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Transportation Research Board found that, dollar for dollar, TE projects that were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocation generated more jobs than any other form of ARRA transportation construction.

    The study of ARRA spending, conducted by state and federal planning officials and a broad technical working group, not a bike/ped or trails advocacy group, found that TE projects, the great majority of which are nonmotorized transportation infrastructure such as trails, bike paths and sidewalks, generated 17.03 full-time equivalent planning and construction jobs per $1 million invested, the most in any category of transportation investment.

    At the other end of the scale, road resurfacing represented the least efficient investment in terms of job creation, creating just more than half that rate of jobs per $1 million: 9.01.

    It was really a case of ‘daylight second.’ The TE job creation ratio of 17.03 compares to an average of 10.55; the next most efficient job creator, pavement widening, came in at 12.69 jobs per $1 million. These figures are found on page 43 of the report.

    “This study confirms what we have learned through our work in communities all over the country –trails create jobs and spark economic revitalization,” says RTC President Keith Laughlin. “As we see here, this is in part due to the proportionately greater labor requirement in their construction, but also because of their positive impact on the health and appeal of communities of all size. These findings demonstrate the importance of RTC’s commitment to protect the Transportation Enhancements program.”

    Unfortunately for all Americans during this time of high unemployment, the transportation investment delivering the least bang for its buck, road resurfacing, received by far the lion’s share of those bucks – 55 percent. On the other hand, TE projects received just four percent of the ARRA spending on transportation, while delivering an employment benefit of nearly double that of road resurfacing.

    The findings cast further doubt on the already tenuous position of those elected officials in Congress and the Senate who are exploring the elimination of TE program. Not only would they be ignoring the demands of citizens, businesspeople, planners and health officials seeking more flexible transportation options, but they would also be working against the interests of the millions of Americans out of work and looking for federal investment that creates job opportunities and robust economic growth.

    Photo of construction on the Mountain Division Rail Trail in Maine courtesy of Jamie Gemmiti Photo

  • Citizens and Elbow Grease: The Power of America's Trail Volunteers

    One of the most remarkable aspects of America's trail-building history is what so many creative and determined groups of volunteers have been able to achieve.

    Almost without exception, the catalyst for every significant trail project or funding push has come from a nucleus of residents or businesspeople, envisioning what great things the trail will offer their community, and unwilling to be defeated by sometimes massive, financial, legal or planning challenges.

    The very first trails were made by citizens and elbow grease. It is a proud tradition that continues today. Every week, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy hears of a new project, rail-trail or otherwise, being driven by volunteer labor and the generous donations of individuals and thoughtful businesses.

    Out in west-central Idaho, a group of volunteers led by a community group called Valley County Pathways recently forged a crucial piece of the new Boulder Creek Trail. Plans for the .25-mile trail along Boulder Creek near the community of Donnelly were spawned by the generous donation by Hugh L. and Georgia Ann Fulton of seven acres of wetlands to the city of Donnelly for preservation and use as an educational area.

    Late last year, 16 local volunteers (and one dog, below) built a 255-foot boardwalk through the wetland area to allow visitors to pass through and study the area without damaging its fragile habitat. In addition to the volunteer labor, the project was supported by local hardware and construction businesses.

    "We had a great group of people come out to help us, including several professional builders, and we built the whole boardwalk in two days of hard work," says Andy Olavarria, Valley County Pathways president. "The Boulder Creek project is an outstanding example of how we can blend environmental education and restoration work with the development of recreation pathways for the community to enjoy."

    The wetlands will now be called the Fulton Natural Area. Valley County Pathways is eager to work on easements with property owners in the vicinity to add more sections to the trail.

    Thanks to grants and partnership support from a wide range of agencies and nonprofit groups, from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to Trout Unlimited and the Central Idaho Recreation Coalition, Valley County Pathways and local volunteers will also be able to conduct streamside restoration along the creek, and create an outdoor classroom in the wetlands area for students from nearby Donnelly Elementary School. Those students have already assisted with bank-stabilization work, and built and installed interpretive signs next to the Boulder Creek Trail so the general public can learn more about the nature area. Students also are raising trout fingerlings to release into the stream and have monitored its water quality. Idaho Fish and Game volunteers have planted about 500 shrubs next to the creek to help stabilize the stream bank.

    "The Boulder Creek meadow is becoming an outdoor science lab in our backyard," says Dierdre Bingaman, the 5th grade teacher at Donnelly Elementary. "The students are definitely taking ownership. They're like, 'This is our creek, and we're going to protect it.'"

    Congratulations to Valley County Pathways and the people of Donnelly for taking such a hands-on role in their community's future.

    Are volunteers doing great trail work in your community? Let me know about it: jake@railstotrails.org

    Photos courtesy of Valley County Pathways.

  • RTC Legal Team Notches Key Win Against Conrail, Developer in Harsimus Embankment Case

    Goliath, meet David.

    Thanks to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) remarkable legal team, led by general counsel Andrea Ferster and pro bono attorney Charles Montange, and our partners in Jersey City, the ambitious dream of a public greenway through the heart of downtown Jersey City is still alive following a crucial legal ruling announced last week.

    Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sustained an appeal filed by RTC, Jersey City and a local community organization, which charged Conrail's sale of the historic Harsimus Stem Embankment to a private developer with ignoring federal rail abandonment legislation.

    For the past 36 years, this railbanking legislation has made possible the conversion of hundreds of out-of-service rail corridors into public trails, transportation and recreation facilities; it's a regulation that is at the very heart of America's rail-trail movement.

    Though the precise legalese of the matter is complex, the basics of it are this: In selling the six-block site of the disused railroad embankment to a developer, which intended to tear the historic structure down and build apartments, Conrail ignored the provisions of railbanking legislation that dictates such facilities must first be offered to any local municipalities or community groups interested in converting them for interim use as a rail-trail. It is a piece of law designed to preserve the common wealth, and public usage, of these corridors.

    The win is but one step in what has been, and may continue to be, a long and drawn-out series of legal challenges. This most recent court decision held that RTC and partners merely have the right to challenge the lawfulness of Conrail's sale.

    However, reporter Heather Haddon of the Wall Street Journal wrote today that a settlement may be in the works that would protect the embankment for conversion into a greenway, while also allowing some development opportunities. Details of a potential settlement remain uncertain. 

    Since 1986, RTC's lawyers have argued the case for preserving 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.

    For background on the Harsimus Stem Embankment--the site, the project, and the court cases--read our feature, "High Hopes for the Harsimus Embankment."

    Photo of Harsimus Embankment by RTC.

    Concept drawing courtesy of the Embankment Preservation Coalition.

  • Fitness, Family and Fun With 'The Rail Trail Chicks'

    A friend of mine started a "Fit For A Year" blog last month. The turn of the New Year is always a catalyst for people strengthening their resolve to get out and about more, eat a little healthier and work toward fitness goals.

    The idea of documenting it all with a blog, I imagine, is to help keep her motivated and to be able to track progress through the year. It's pretty cool. She doesn't have any major weight loss or mileage goals; she's not super-fit or super-unfit, just, in her own words, "a girl with a New Year's resolution trying to get the most out of life."

    Given that a lot of our work here at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) involves providing people with safe and convenient places to be active, it was great to see my friend writing about the role of her local sidewalks and trails in her daily exercise routine. So I started searching for other blogs by people leading active lives and incorporating trails into their weekdays and weekends. Turns out, there are plenty of them.

    One of my favorites was www.runningwiththegirls.com, written by Jennifer Boudreau, a mom in Maine, about running with her friends, healthy and delicious foods, and supporting the running challenges of other women like her.

    Jennifer calls her crew "The Rail Trail Chicks," because they use the Kennebec River Rail Trail, from Gardiner to Augusta, for a lot of their regular runs.

    "I have a group of women that I run with on the weekends and our favorite place to run is the KRRT," Jennifer says. "It's a beautiful trail that follows the river. We've had quite a few bald eagle sightings on our runs, and it's always a spectacular view. Part of the trail goes through downtown Hallowell, which is a gorgeous little community and is always a pleasure to run through. The trail gets tons of action with regular walkers, bikers, families, and runners, and it's a very safe place to run."

    Jennifer uses the blog to keep friends and family updated on her running goals, to connect with other runners about upcoming races and charity runs, and, at the moment, to keep The Rail Trails Chicks motivated through the chilly winter months!

    "We are actually quite bummed right now because we cannot really run on the trail due to the icy conditions," Jennifer says. "We can't wait until it starts to thaw again and we can return to the trail."

    The Rails Trails Chicks have their sights set on a couple of races on the KRRT in the spring--the Gardiner Boys & Girls Club 5k in May, and the KRRT half marathon/5k coming in June.

    It was great to check out such a cool blog about how this one rail-trail plays such an important role in helping American families stay fit and active. I'm sure there are many more like it out there in the blogosphere, so send me your favorite blogs on trails and healthy living, to jake@railstotrails.org.

    Images courtesy of www.runningwiththegirls.com.

  • The Evidence Mounts: A Tale of More Than Two Cities

    Boston and New York are vying for more than just a Super Bowl title this weekend. These two cities are also competing to be the best in the country when it comes to other foot-powered pursuits--specifically bicycling and walking.

    In a new report, Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012 Benchmarking Report, the Alliance for Biking & Walking ranks the 51 largest U.S. cities (and all 50 states) on bicycling and walking levels, safety, funding and other factors. Patriots fans can cheer Boston's No. 1 rating for bicycling and walking levels--but Giants fans can take heart that New York is No. 5. (Cowboys fans, take note: Dallas and Fort Worth pull up the rear at 49th and 51st, respectively.)

    In addition to the helpful city and state rankings, the report is packed with other useful information. For example, did you know the number of commuters who bicycle to work nationwide increased by 57 percent from 2000 to 2009? Or that seniors are the most vulnerable group of bicyclists and pedestrians? Or that bicycling and walking projects create almost twice as many jobs as highway projects for each $1 million spent?

    The report also highlights the health benefits of active transportation-human-powered mobility--showing that states with the highest rates of bicycling and walking have some of the lowest rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

    "The benchmarking report shows that biking and walking are smart solutions to many of our country's most pressing challenges when it comes to transportation, job creation and health," says Jeffrey Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

    The release of the report comes just as Congress takes up the next federal transportation bill, which dictates how billions of tax dollars will be spent in the next few years. The study reveals that, although 12 percent of all trips in the United States are by bike or foot, less than 2 percent of federal transportation spending goes to pedestrian and bicycle projects-a measly $2.17 per capita.

    These findings offer a powerful complement to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) new report: Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers: Walking and Bicycling in Small Towns and Rural AmericaThe report debunks the myth that walking and bicycling are a "big city" phenomenon--and that rural Americans can't benefit substantially from investment in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

    To find out how your city or state ranks, visit www.PeoplePoweredMovement.org/benchmarking. You can also explore an interactive tool as part of Beyond Urban Centers that allows you to learn more about your community, including local bicycle infrastructure, congressional districts, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and local stories of active transportation.

    Benchmarking cover courtesy of Alliance for Biking & Walking.  

  • RTC's New Report Challenges Long-Held Assumptions About Walking and Biking in Rural America

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this morning released a groundbreaking report that for the first time challenges long-held assumptions about active transportation--walking and biking--in America's small towns and rural communities.

    Here at RTC we are constantly hearing stories about the importance of walking and biking outside the typical urban centers. Whether it's the economic impact of a tourist destination trail network, or the vital importance of transportation options in population centers without significant public transit, walking and biking are truly woven into the fabric of rural life.

    Yet there has long been an assumption that walking and biking are strictly "big city" phenomena--and that rural Americans can't benefit substantially from investment in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. It is an assumption a number of elected officials--including many who represent rural areas-  have used to argue against spending money on sidewalks, bike paths and trails in their communities.

    But RTC's important new analysis tells a much different story.

    Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers: Walking and Bicycling in Small Towns and Rural America, released today and produced by RTC with support from SRAM and Bikes Belong, reveals the surprising prevalence of walking and bicycling in rural communities of all sizes.   

    In these smaller communities--from Idaho to Mississippi, Wisconsin to Wyoming--the rates of walking and bicycling are often comparable to what you find in large cities. In some cases, the rates are higher.

    For example, the share of work trips made by bicycle in some small towns (population 2,500 to 10,000) is nearly double that found in urban centers.

    "In the past, such studies have divided America into binary categories of either urban or rural," says Tracy Hadden Loh, RTC's research manager and co-author of Beyond Urban Centers. "That split paints an inaccurate picture of the travel patterns of millions of people."

    By recognizing the key distinctions between categories of rural and urban communities, Beyond Urban Centers presents a more complete picture of how Americans move every day. Some key findings include:

    • Among a list of transportation priorities-­including major roads and long-distance travel-rural Americans selected sidewalks more often than any other transportation need. Almost nine in 10 also cited the importance of pedestrian-friendly communities, and nearly three out of four reported that bike lanes are important.
    • The share of work trips made by bicycle in small towns is nearly double that of urban centers. Among all trips taken in rural towns of between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, just as many people bike as in the urban core. Within small towns of 2,500 to 10,000 residents, people walk for work purposes at a rate almost identical to Urban Core communities.
    • Biking, walking and trail infrastructure projects create more jobs per dollar than highway projects.

    The findings come at a crucial time for rural populations. With the United States Congress currently considering the reauthorization of a multi-year surface transportation bill, ignoring the demand for active transportation options-such as walking and biking-in small towns and rural areas would severely impact the economic, social, individual and environmental health of these communities.

    At the report's launch in downtown Washington, D.C.--hosted by the National Association of Realtors--representatives of both the bike and real estate industries gave their testimony about the great importance walking and biking infrastructure has on house sales, the survival of small businesses and the economic engine of the main street retail and housing sector in rural America.

    Beyond Urban Centers underscores that the federal government has played a critical role in enabling walking and biking in rural areas through programs such as Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School. Continued federal investment in active transportation infrastructure is cost-effective and essential to a balanced transportation system that meets the needs of all Americans. Contrary to preconceptions, those needs are at least as critical in small town America as in larger cities.

    "Small communities need safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities just as much as big cities," says Kevin Mills, RTC's vice president of policy and trail development, and Beyond Urban Centers co-author. "To meet this need, Transportation Enhancements, the nation's top source for active transportation investment, has provided twice the funding per capita in rural America than in big cities."

    To learn the role biking and walking have played in your community, explore an interactive online tool at www.railstotrails.org/beyondurbancenters. You can search the map to reveal bicycle infrastructure in your area, local stories of active transportation, county health data, congressional districts and bicycle and pedestrian fatalities.

  • Chicago Heights Breaks Through on Key Section of Old Plank Road Trail

    The saying "anything worthwhile is worth waiting for" may well have been coined by a rail-trail builder. As America's growing community of trail supporters, volunteers, planners and managers can attest to, trails projects often take time. The complex legal, financial and political issues surrounding land ownership and conversion have seen some trails projects take 20 years or more, from vision to fruition.

    About 30 miles south of Chicago, in Cook County, Ill., trail advocates are this week celebrating a breakthrough moment in the long-awaited development of the Old Plank Road Trail.

    The initial sections of the Old Plank were built in 1997, along the out-of-service Michigan Central Rail Road line. It has since become part of a larger trail known as the Grand Illinois Trail, looping 500 miles through northern Illinois between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

    Like many longer trails systems, however, the Grand Illinois Trail has been plagued by a number of missing links--sections of the route without a dedicated non-motorized pathway, where riders and hikers are forced to use road or sidewalk. Over the years, these missing links have been filled in as money and planning allowed.

    However, none was more tricky than a short section of less than a mile through the city of Chicago Heights. For the last decade, a continual series of efforts failed to bring about a non-motorized trail along a .8-mile stretch that would have extended the Old Plank Road Trail from where it abruptly ended at Western Avenue, east to an extensive trail system at Thorn Creek and, eventually, to Indiana and the Chicago lakefront via the Pennsy Greenway and Burnham Greenway Trail.

    Finally, the end is in sight, with the news this month that the city of Chicago Heights has signed off on a preliminary engineering report for a multi-use trail across the missing link, an event that supporters are describing as an "all systems go" announcement.

    As advocates note, it took the terms of four Chicago Height mayors to reach this point. Current Mayor David Gonzalez's commitment to the project continued the momentum generated by his predecessor, Alex Lopez, and Alderman Willie White. Both Lopez and White have since passed away. The completion of the Old Plank Road Trail will be just part of both men's significant legacy.

    A federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant paid for an Active Transportation Plan for the community, creating widespread acknowledgment of the need for more biking and walking infrastructure in the area. Design costs and the budget for construction have been secured by a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, recognition of trails' tremendous value not only as recreational amenities but also vital transportation solutions in urban areas.

    A community working bee late last year in a park at Thorn Creek (right), which was attended by Mayor Gonzalez, was seen by locals as a key moment in galvanizing community energy for the project.

    "Connecting communities is where trails meet the 'triple bottom line' - economic impact, environmental stewardship, and health and wellness," says Steve Buchtel, executive director of Trails for Illinois. "Connecting this historic city to the region's trail network enhances nearly every initiative the city is undertaking, including community wellness programs, bike and pedestrian planning, and a new downtown transit center."

    Despite the project looking decidedly like a "no-brainer," Buchtel is conscious that behind every champagne cork moment like this is a core of dedicated people who kept pushing even when there was barely a light at the end of the tunnel. He made special mention of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the National Parks Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation program for continuing to support the project even as it fell in and out of political favor.

    "They were stalwart advocates to finish this trail, even as at those times when the city was difficult to work with," he says. "They showed patience and perseverance, making their case and waiting for the leadership in Chicago Heights to start connecting the trail's benefits with their residents' needs."

    Opposition to the trail came in part from residents who believed that a pathway through the historically poor neighborhood on the south side of Chicago Heights would encourage additional criminal activity in the area. It is a refrain familiar to urban trail proponents. In cities across the country, countless trail projects have been held up by the unfounded concerns that opening up depressed, underserved sections of the city will present a public safety hazard to trail users and neighborhoods nearby.

    Yet time and time again, the opposite occurs. Increased foot traffic and community activity has been shown to decrease crime and delinquency, and as trail users, local residents and businesses develop "ownership" of the trail, improvement projects and maintenance transform neglected areas with gardens, parks, murals, orchards and markets.

    As a local resident, Diane Banta, who works for the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program, has tremendous enthusiasm for what the completed trail will bring to the people of Chicago Heights, and the broader region.

    "It will serve an incredibly important public health purpose by encouraging walking and biking, and it will provide the connectivity that all communities these days are striving for," Banta says. "Not only that, but it makes Chicago Heights the hub of all this trails activity. It's really very exciting."

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is excited to be a part of this transformation. This year we will be using funds from our Metropolitan Grants Program, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation, to install a number of benches along the trail and help with the establishment of a trailside garden.

    Photo of working bee at Thorn Creek courtesy of Diane Banta.
    Photo of Old Plank Road Trail by RTC.
    Map courtesy of dnr.state.il.us


  • Kansas City Passes Resolution for Bike-Share Program

    Just moments ago, Kansas City, Mo., took a giant leap toward a healthy, vibrant and economically sustainable future by passing a resolution to permit the establishment of a bike-share program this year.

    Since the first large-scale bike-share programs were rolled out in Washington D.C., Denver, Co., and Minneapolis, Minn., they have been wildly popular with users and helped alleviate the congestion concerns typical to most big cities. Kansas City now joins a growing list of municipalities that recognize when it comes to solving pressing connectivity and health issues, active transportation - walking and biking - is pure genius, for all its simplicity.

    BikeWalkKC is partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City to establish the bike-share service, which will be known as BikeShareKC. The two groups will drive development of BikeShareKC by enlisting other leaders in the business community to commit to sponsorships, advertising deals and augmenting employee wellness by subsidizing memberships. They hope to have 20 bike stations and 200 bikes in place in and around the downtown Kansas City area by summer 2012.

    The resolution passed by the city council today recognized that "studies have found that Bike Sharing Programs significantly improve public health, encouraging large numbers of participants to use bicycles as part of their daily use and increasing physical activity," and "a bike sharing program would greatly benefit the growing Kansas City tourism industry by allowing tourists to easily and economically get around to the City's different attractions."

    There was a double dose of good news for the people and businesses of Kansas City this afternoon - the same resolution also commits the city to increase its bicycle lane network.

    The BikeShareKC bikes and kiosks will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nine months out of the year. Like many existing bike-share systems, the stations will have a smart phone application that will allow riders to find out about bike and station availability in real time.

    A little more unique is the tracker that will allow riders to see how far they've ridden, how many calories they've burned and the carbon dioxide savings they've made.

    A BikeShareKC annual membership will cost approximately $60. This yearly membership fee permits participants an unlimited number of 30- to 45-minute trips. For longer trips, members will be charged a small, graduated usage fee. Daily and weekly memberships will also be available for those who wish to use the system less frequently.

    The BikeShareKC system will be designed to serve as a solution to the final leg of trips for those who use public transportation.

    "BikeShareKC will bridge the awkward distances that are too far to walk but too short to drive," says BikeWalkKC Executive Director Eric Rogers. "It will also expand the reach of the transit system by providing new options for the 'last mile'. And it will help clear the air while giving Kansas Citians a new option for being healthy and active."

    Congratulations, Kansas City!

    Photos of excited locals checking out the BikeShareKC demo station courtesy of BikeWalkKC.

  • "Real Power" - Climate Ride Both an Adventure and a Potent Tool for Change

    It was truly stirring stuff, being in Washington, D.C., to cheer on the more than 150 Climate Riders as they pulled into the nation's capital at the end of their amazing ride from New York City last May.

    Visually, it was a spectacular thing to behold - the traffic stopped, the police escort past the United States Capitol Building, all those bikes, the collective soul of the group that had shared so much during the previous five days and 300 miles. Before, they were strangers, but by the end they were friends united by the trip and their shared interest in making a positive contribution to the Earth.

    Think you might be ready for a mission like this? Then sign up to ride with Team Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) for the 2012 edition of Climate Ride - N.Y.C to D.C!

    The words of Bill McKibben, as he addressed the Climate Riders at the journey's end last year, impressed upon everyone the true magnitude of what these riders had achieved.

    "You guys felt real power over the last five days," said McKibben, fellow Climate Rider and author, who as the founder of 350.org is working toward promoting alternatives to fossil fuel consumption. "There is something really powerful, not just about riding 300 miles, which is good, but about riding 300 miles together, which is really, really something."

    With the symbol of America's political institution, the Capitol Building, looming in the background, McKibben told the crowd that the simple act of riding a bike was a potent tool for positive change, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels for transportation and improving the health of all Americans.

    "Bicycles are powerful," he said. "They're part of the solution the world over. The bicycle is one of the few things that both rich and poor people can use, that makes as much sense in the global south as it does in the global north."

    As RTC's President Keith Laughlin noted on the day, the growing popularity of Climate Ride is part of "a cultural shift, to something new and exciting and different, and the bicycle and walking is at the center of it."

    As I interviewed some of the riders after the event, the elation and satisfaction they felt was palatable, and the sense of achievement contagious. By adding their body to this very visual, active demonstration of the joys of riding, they had said something worthwhile and raised vital funds for organizations focused on sustainability, green jobs, clean energy, climate education and bicycle advocacy. Last year, riders who rode with Team RTC and pledged their Climate Ride fundraising to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy raised more than $30,000 to support our work developing trails and active transportation infrastructure across America.

    This fully supported ride is a great opportunity to learn more about sustainability and the green energy future from expert speakers, and network with others who are passionate about renewable energy and innovations. Most importantly, it's your chance to take action, all while experiencing an exciting cycling adventure through some of the nation's most beautiful countryside.

    If you are interested in taking part in Climate Ride 2012 as a member of Team RTC, email Karl Wirsing at karl@railstotrails.org

    Photos by RTC

  • With Winter Here, Rail-Trails Welcome Different Uses

    Although in some parts of America, January is the time when bikes and hiking boots are put away in closets and garages, in other parts of the country it heralds the beginning of an altogether different season--a time to pull out the skis, snowshoes and sleds.

    Many states saw their first heavy snowfalls of the season this past weekend, great news for those who use their local rail-trail as a route for cross-country skiing, a snowmobile avenue or even a race track for their huskie teams!

    In Washington, snowfalls this weekend meant supporters of the Ferry County Rail Trail (pictured, right) commenced their ski grooming program for sections of the trail that pass through the Curlew Lake area. Skiing is a popular activity on the trail this time of year, and while walking and snowshoeing are still encouraged, people are urged not to walk in tracks specially groomed for skis. The grooming is approved by the local county commission and funded by donations to the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.

    ­In Southington, Conn., the town council recently endorsed a plan to leave part of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail unplowed this winterto provide trail-use opportunities for skiers.

    North of the border, the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society, which supports the Slocan Valley Rail Trail near the town of Nelson, in British Columbia, is getting ready to host its eighth annual ski and snowshoe day on the trail, January 29. This popular event started as a way to encourage locals to discover new scenic locations on the trail but has grown into a friendly social gathering, with a diverse community get-together around a toasty bonfire. All winter long, trail society volunteers have been grooming and track-setting the entire 31-mile length of the trail.

    As the palette of our landscape turns from green and brown to white, rail-trails from New Hampshire to Idaho and Oregon are welcoming a new season of users. If you haven't made a winter trip along your favorite trail, give it a try! Contact your local trail organization or recreation group for scheduled outings.

    Photo courtesy of Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.

  • Richmond, Calif., Shows the Love to Popular Community Greenway

    Some 375 volunteers brought some TLC to the Richmond Greenway in Richmond, Calif., on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week, joining communities across the country hosting volunteer events to honor a man whose generous spirit continues to inspire Americans.

    Community groups and energetic individuals got their hands dirty maintaining the popular greenway, pulling out weeds, collecting seeds and replanting garden beds.

    But in addition to regular upkeep, this year's event created some new project areas around the Richmond Greenway. Urban Tilth, a nonprofit organization that promotes community agriculture in west Contra Costa County, started planting its Edible Forest in a disused area on 16th Street. Gompers Garden, a remarkable revitalization project of Gompers High School, built raised beds for their new garden area. And The Watershed Project continued the development of its bioswale, a landscaping feature designed to remove silt and pollution from surface water runoff, applying sheet mulching and planting a number of native plants.

    "Last year we brought out 750 native plants and ran out after the first hour," says Matt Frieberg from The Watershed Council. "So this year I brought out 2,000. And it looks like the volunteers rose to the challenge!"

    The volunteer event had a lively festival feel, with food, music, tents and a Kids Zone with farm animals and biodegradable pots for youngsters to decorate and plant with a winter vegetable.

    Richmond Spokes, a local bike shop, was there fixing bikes with their mobile Spokeshop. It was great to see the Spokeshop in action--RTC helped launch Spokeshop through our Metropolitan Grants Program, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation. This grant program has supported the tremendous work of community groups across America, and Gompers Garden and Urban Tilth will soon receive grants courtesy of The Coca-Cola Foundation and RTC for expansion of their garden areas.

    If you live in the area but missed out on the MLK Day event, you can still get involved in volunteer projects around the Richmond Greenway through The Watershed Project's Second Saturday work days.

    Congratulations to the many volunteers across America who marked MLK Day by making a positive contribution to their community.

    Photos by RTC.


  • A Great Moment for Trails as Deal Struck for Connection in New York

    Just a few weeks ago, we posted a story to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) TrailBlog about the imminient completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail in New York, one of the final acts in office of outgoing Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus.

    The completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail was set to draw attention once again to the 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.

    Though the Dutchess is separated from the Walkway Over the Hudson by just one mile of disused rail corridor, the cost and complexity of negotiating a land deal with CSX Transportation Corp., which owns the disused corridor, had drained many supporters of any optimism that the link would happen.

    Not Steinhaus, however.

    "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 at the time.

    They turned out to be words of great prophecy. Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., stood at a podium set up at the Walkway's eastern gate to announce a deal had been struck to purchase the land from CSX for the creation of a rail-trail.

    The announcement of a deal to purchase the relatively small section, in the city of Poughkeepsie near College Hill Park, makes real what has long been a dream of trails advocates, business people and residents - a complete trail system from Hopewell Junction to the town of Lloyd, taking in some of the region's most scenic landscape and communities.

    CSX has agreed to sell the eight-tenths of a mile stretch to Walkway Over the Hudson, a non-profit organization, for $1.15 million. The Dyson Foundation will provide $500,000, with $600,000 having been raised through recreational and environmental grants. CSX will donate $100,000 as a credit at closing. Preliminary work on the connection is expected to begin soon.

    It is expected that the completed trail system will provide an enormous boost for tourism and economic development in the Poughkeepsie and Highland areas.

    Since the Walkway opened in October 2009, it has drawn more than 1.2 million visitors and pumped more than $30 million into the local economy.

    RTC's own Karl Wirsing visited the area last year, and says the new connection will further enhance the great benefits of the existing trails, for visitors as well as locals.

    "The view from the Walkway Over the Hudson really is spectacular, and the whole trail system there is a huge draw," he says. "When the connection is complete, it will make for an incredibly scenic trail adventure. The river, the hamlets and towns, the scenary - it's a wonderful place to explore. And all this within 70 or 80 miles of New York City."

    RTC offers its heartiest congratulations to all the community groups and individuals who have worked so hard over the years bringing this tremendous vision to fruition.

    Photos courtesy of the Poughkeepsie Journal


  • Ahead Of The Curve, Tom Murphy a Key Trailblazer in Pennsylvania

    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 recognize the legacy of Tom Murphy, one of the first mayors in the nation to recognize the economic value of trails to developing cities.

    For the last 30 years, Tom Murphy has been a highly active and influential supporter of rail-trails. As an elected official, his promotion of trails and urban green space has transformed the landscape of Pittsburgh and helped make Pennsylvania one of the nation's most trail-friendly states. From 1979 through 1993 Murphy served eight terms in the Pennsylvania State General Assembly House of Representatives. The legislation Murphy authored during this time to encourage industrial land reuse and transform unused railroad rights-of-way into trails and greenspace went a long way toward building a sustainable economy around trails tourism and outdoor recreation.

    Murphy led the passage of the Pennsylvania Rail Trail Act in 1989, as well as the state's purchase of what is now the 64-mile Pine Creek Rail-Trail. He went on to serve three terms as mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2005. During this time, he oversaw the development of more than 20 miles of new riverfront trails and urban green space, and he developed strategic partnerships to transform more than 1,000 acres of blighted, unused industrial properties into new commercial, residential, retail and public uses. Murphy's legacy in Pittsburgh is evident today in the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System, which attracts millions of recreational and commuter users.

    "Tom understood what trails and biking could do for the city, at a time when nobody was talking about it," says RTC's Tom Sexton. "Beyond his role in Pittsburgh, Tom was a cheerleader for trails right throughout the southwest part of the state. Now that we have all these great trails, people forget there was a time when people weren't interested in this stuff. But Tom was a visionary; he was out on the stump."

    Murphy dedicated the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in his honor to Friends of the Riverfront, which has worked for 20 years to reclaim Pittsburgh's riverfronts for public access and recreational use.

    Photo of Tom Murphy at RTC's 25th Anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. by Laura Cohen/RTC.

  • Rail-Trails Help Power a Ride to Honor America's Veterans

    The rail-trails of Ohio will host a remarkable long-distance ride later this year, when Todd Reigle and the Honor Ride Ohio team pedal from Sylvania, on the Michigan border, all the way to Cincinnati to raise money to support our military veterans.

    The goal of Honor Ride Ohio is to raise more than $100,000 for Honor Flight Columbus, Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial, Wounded Warrior Project, Ohio Warrior Scholarship Fund, Hidden Scars Foundation and the Ohio Combat Veterans--community organizations that provide support to returning servicemen and women.

    Reigle, a native Ohioan with a strong interest in America's military history and the sacrifices made by his family, and others, in active service, was inspired to organize the ride by the success of similar fundraising efforts.

    "Honor Ride Ohio has been in my mind for a few years," Reigle says. "I participated in Pelotonia, the bike ride for *** cancer awareness, and that kind of got me interested in riding bikes. I'd been thinking of something we could do where we could raise money to help these grassroots organizations that deal with taking care of the vets, but that also have to raise money to make sure that the services are provided."

    Reigle will be joined on the five-day journey by a number of active and retired soldiers, and the group will make stops in Lima, Kenton, Sunbury, Columbus, Dayton and other communities on their way to Cincinnati.

    "The best thing about this is that 100 percent of donations will go directly to these organizations," Reigle says. "My goal is to go out and get donations for everything we need for the ride, so there are no other expenses."

    Eric Oberg, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Midwest Regional Office, has been working with Reigle and the Honor Ride Ohio crew on plotting a safe, and fun, route across the state. "Ohio has so many great rail-trails," Oberg says. "They are perfect for a long ride like this, as they're relatively flat, travel fairly directly between communities, and are scenic and peaceful, too." 

    Oberg hopes Honor Ride Ohio will be able to travel a number of rail-trails in central Ohio, including the Olentangy Greenway Trail, Camp Chase Rail Trail, Roberts Pass Trail and the Prairie Grass Trail. The riders will utilize RTC's trail-finder website, TrailLink.com, for accurate, up-to-date information on the best way to get from A to B.

    For more information on Honor Ride Ohio, visit toddsride.com, or visit todd.reigle@radiohio.com.

    Photo of the Roberts Pass Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com.

  • Sally Jacobs Heralded for Building a Landscape of Biking and Walking in the Northeast

    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 Sally Jacobs, whose promotion of options for walking and biking made her a powerful champion of active transportation in the Northeast.

    Born in New York City and transplanted to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a teenager, Sally Jacobs spent a number of years in northern Colorado and Iowa before settling in Orono, Maine.

    Her diversity of experiences in America's urban and rural areas was the perfect background for the many decades she has since spent as an advocate for reshaping community landscapes to better serve riding and walking.

    After a long and successful career in bio­chemistry, Jacobs was tapped in 1975 to chair a newly formed bicycle safety committee in Orono. One of her first actions in what would become a second career was securing grant funding from the Federal Highway Bikeway Demonstration Program to build bike lanes in Orono, and the first off-road paved bike path in Maine. The five-mile bike path connected Orono, Old Town and the University of Maine campus with sections of an old railbed.

    Jacobs went on to become founding president of the Sunrise Trail Coalition, a position she held for 12 years. She has served on the Maine Depart­ment of Conservation Trails Advisory Committee and the Maine Department of Transportation Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee since their inceptions in 1992.

    Her most recent dream-come-true was the opening of the 85-mile Down East Sunrise Trail, built on a railbanked corridor along the coast of Maine--the culmination of 25 years of rail-trail advocacy.

    To receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions grant awarded in her honor, Jacobs chose the Sunrise Trail Coalition (STC) in recognition of their outstanding work and need for ongoing funding. With the official opening of the Down East Sunrise Trail in September 2010, the scope of the STC has transitioned from advocacy to management and fundraising for trailhead amenities, promotional materials and maintenance.

    Photo of Sally Jacobs receiving her Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions Award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.


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