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RTC TrailBlog

  • Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision for Trails in U.S.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Official Statement on March 2014 Supreme Court Ruling

    Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing news for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, rail-trail advocates and trail users around the country. The full opinion, which reverses and remands a lower court ruling, can be read at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1173_nlio.pdf

    At issue in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States was whether the federal government retains a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor. In today’s 8-to-1 decision, the justices ruled in favor of Marvin Brandt, the Wyoming landowner whose property is crossed by one of these former rail corridors that is part of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail.  

    It is our belief that the original intent of the 1875 legislation was that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. Just like our national parks, these former rail corridors are public assets in which we all share and benefit. These federally granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and snowmobile pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    There are hundreds of federally granted rights-of-way corridors across the country, many of which have been converted into publicly accessible trails. This erosion of protections for these public lands in the Supreme Court not only may block the completion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail through the former rail corridor, but also threatens existing rail-trails, mainly in the West, that utilize federally granted rights-of-way and are not railbanked. 

    Our legal team is taking a closer look at the decision—and its implications for other rail-trails—to determine next steps. This decision is likely to result in more litigation over rail-trails in federally granted rights of way. Those rail-trails that have been built on railbanked corridors or fee simple land purchases will remain safe. Railbanked corridors are preserved for future rail use by being converted to a trail in the interim.

    The fight for these rail corridors is not over yet. The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States will be sent back to a lower court where we hope to have another opportunity to clarify and limit the scope of this Supreme Court ruling. More information in the coming days can be found on our website at http://www.railstotrails.org/SupremeCourt

    Please contact Amy Kapp at amy@railstotrails.org if you would like more information about the Supreme Court ruling. 

    ..................................................................

    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Click here for a downloadable infographic outlining the criteria above.

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Supreme Court Decision: How Does It Affect Rail-Trails?

    On March 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case involving a rail corridor formerly on federal land that is now privately owned (Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States).

    The U.S. Supreme Court decision was undoubtedly disappointing for supporters of rail-trails. But after examining the Court’s decision, it is clear that its reach is much narrower than has been reported in the press. 

    The main questions on your mind may be: Does this decision mean that my rail-trail or trail project will go away? What effect will this decision have on the broader rail-trail movement? 

    To answer the first question, the vast majority of current and planned rail-trails will not be affected. 

    The ruling does not affect trails that have been “railbanked” (the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails in the interim). Potentially affected corridors are predominantly west of the Mississippi and were originally acquired by railroads after 1875 through federal land to aid in westward expansion. 

    Existing rail-trails or trail projects ARE NOT affected by this decision if ANY of the following conditions are met:

    1. The rail corridor is “railbanked.” 
    2. The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way (FGROW) through federal lands before 1875. 
    3. The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    4. The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    5. The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    6. The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies. 

    If your rail-trail or trail project meets any of the conditions above, it is NOT affected by the U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

    If you have questions about a specific trail, please contact the manager of that trail, or contact us at railtrails@railstotrails.org.

    Despite the decision, the rail-trail movement remains strong. But the ruling will likely invite more litigation directed at rail-trails that consist of or include federally granted rights of way.

    As this case moves back to the lower courts, RTC is exploring opportunities to ensure the scope of the ruling is as narrow as possible. 

    ..................................................................

    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

  • Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to defend rail-trails in the Supreme Court: Wyoming landowner threatens public ownership of rail corridors

    A case scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court over the next few months could threaten America's ability to convert disused rail corridors into public multi-use trails.

    At issue in Marvin S. Brandt Revocable Trust et al., v. United States is whether the American people retain a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after railroad activity has ceased on the corridor. It is only the second time that a rail-trail case has been heard by the nation's highest court.

    The corridor in this case passes through a segment of land surrounded by Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming that the U.S. Forest Service patented to the Brandt family in 1976. Bisecting that parcel is a 200-foot wide corridor of federally-owned land that had been granted to the Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railway company in 1908, for the purpose of constructing a railroad.

    These federally-granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and ATV pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    Recognizing the great importance of providing public access to the nation's public lands, in 2007 the U.S. Forest Service and local groups converted most of that disused corridor into the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, which has become one of the most popular rail-trails in America.

    This spectacular 21-mile rail-trail, which has provided a significant boost to the state's trails tourism economy, has but one disconnection point - the Brandt property. The Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Pacific Legal Foundation are behind the Brandt's effort to sue the United States to bring the public corridor into private ownership and prevent its reuse as a publicly accessible rail-trail.

    The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming and, later, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the United States did have a reversionary interest in the corridor, that this federally-held right-of-way could be made available as rail-trail, and rejected the Brandt's claim of ownership. However, unsatisfied with these rulings, and supported by well-financed interests, the Brandts continue to appeal.

    As the only organization in America committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court this month defending the grand vision of our forefathers that explicitly held that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. 

    The case affects more than a century of federal laws and policies protecting the public's interest in railroad corridors created through public lands - and could have lasting impacts on the future of rail-trails across the country. Just like our national parks and treasured lands to which they connect, these rail corridors are protected assets in which the public has a unique interest.

    A loss before the Supreme Court would not only potentially block the public rail-trail providing access to Medicine Bow National Forest, but would also threaten rail-trails across America that utilize federally-granted rights-of-way.

    Oral argument in the case is expected in January, with a decision expected later in 2014.

    Learn more about our previous court win in this case ⇒

    For the latest on the case and to get the up-to-date news on trails from across the country, sign up to be a part of our online community.

    Photo of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail courtesy Cycle Wyoming

     

  • D & L Trail Worth $19 Million a Year to Eastern Pennsylvania

    The D & L Trail, a 165-mile rail-trail through eastern Pennsylvania, generates an annual economic impact of more than $19 million in the communities it passes through. That is the finding of our recently published D & L Trail user survey and economic impact analysis.

    The D & L Trail is the backbone of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (DLNHC), a five county region of Pennsylvania that traverses the historic Delaware and Lehigh Canals that was designated a National Heritage Area by Congress in 1988. The area is managed by the nonprofit DLNHC organization, a joint effort of private groups, citizens, county and municipal governments, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the federal government. 

    This latest survey is the seventh in a series of RTC reports documenting the economic impact of rail-trails in the Northeast. That work began in 2006 when my colleague here at RTC, Carl Knoch, developed a methodology for collecting data from trail users and extrapolating a statement of estimated annual impact.

    Since then, RTC has been able to apply the methodology to individual trails and develop individualized reports for the trail managers in the area. These reports become very succinct tools for trail managers, to solicit continued support for the trail from community leadership. Of course, each trail is unique; some bring in dollars on a daily basis while others may realize a seasonal impact. Regardless, every trail surveyed can document a positive economic impact, with trail users spending money in the communities that they are visiting.

    The D & L Trail surveys calculated an estimated 282,796 annual user visits to the trail, resulting in a total economic impact in 2012 of $19,075,921. Of this, $16,358,201 is estimated to have been directly injected into the local economy. The complete D & L study, which can be read and downloaded here, also recorded visitation and spending data in the trail's various regions, and gathered trail user comments on why they were visiting the trail and aspects for possible improvement.

     

     

  • The 2014 Inductee to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame Is…

    What do you think makes a great rail-trail? 

    We feel it’s much more than just the trail itself. For most people, the scenery is the big draw. Rail-trails can transport us to some of America’s most beautiful places—along rivers, through forests and mountain ranges and far from the maddening crowd.

    But what about the wonderful trailside communities, shops, B&Bs and restaurants? And compelling information about the rail corridor’s history? Or the enormous utility of the trail because it connects to schools and parks and work places? Or the passionate and generous volunteer group that keeps the trail maintained?

    It’s these extra details—the tales beyond the trail—that separate a great trail from a trail worthy of induction into Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

    Which brings us to some good news. RTC is very pleased to announce that the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail is to be the latest inductee.

    The Virginia Creeper, which runs 34 miles through Grayson and Washington counties in Virginia’s southwest, is one of the region’s most prominent recreational draws, and is credited for the economic rejuvenation of a number of local communities that were suffering from the decline of some industries that had supported the region.

    And the success of the Virginia Creeper is now inspiring the creation of new rail-trail plans throughout the region as business leaders and advocates see concrete proof that not only are destination trails loved and appreciated by local residents, they are also valuable economic assets whose benefits spread throughout the community.

    RTC’s own president, Keith Laughlin, rode the Virginia Creeper a little while back—and to this day still raves about the experience. “It’s a truly beautiful part of the world,” he remembers. “In addition to the remarkable scenery, those mountains of southern Appalachia are rich with a fascinating railroad history that adds an extra dimension to rail-trails like the Creeper. And towns like Damascus and Abingdon have done a wonderful job of welcoming visitors and making the trail an integral part of their communities.”

    RTC began formally recognizing exemplary rail-trails around the country in 2007. The first Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductees were the Great Allegheny Passage (Pa./Md.), the Katy Trail State Park (Mo.) and the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail (Fla.). The most recent addition was the Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia. 

    Deservedly, the Virginia Creeper finds itself in good company as the 27th inductee into the Hall of Fame.

    Hall of Fame inductees are selected on merits such as scenic value, high use, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, excellence in management and maintenance of facility, community connections and geographic distribution. The Virginia Creeper is a model in each of these areas.

    To learn more about this wonderful rail-trail, check out our own Laura Stark’s great Trail of the Month feature on the Virginia Creeper. And for those in the area, stay tuned; we’ll be hosting an RTC Hall of Fame celebration and induction ceremony along the Virginia Creeper later this year.

    ..................................................................

    Jake Lynch is RTC’s marketing and media relations specialist. Born and raised in the wilds of rural Australia, Jake now helps tell the story of America’s rail-trails, from big cities to one-horse towns and everywhere in between. 

  • Train Trestle From Famous Film Soon to Welcome Hikers and Bikers

    For lovers of American cinema, the scene in the 1986 film Stand By Me where the young protagonists sprint madly across a towering rail trestle (right) to narrowly escape an approaching train is one of those classic moments.

    Now, Americans of all ages will be able to reenact that famous scene in a much more leisurely (and safe) fashion, with the announcement last week that an agreement has been struck to purchase the out-of-service section of rail corridor in northeast California and convert it into a rail-trail.

    The trail will be known as the Great Shasta Rail Trail (GSRT). The right-of-way along the 80-mile section of the McCloud Railway between McCloud, in Siskiyou County, and Burney, in Shasta County, was purchased from the property's owner, 4 Rails, Inc., by the Shasta Land Trust (SLT). Since 2009, SLT has been working with a coalition of local partners, Save Burley Falls, McCloud Local First Network, the Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership and the McCloud Trail Association, with the express intention of converting the corridor into a public recreation trail.

    This railroad right-of-way spans more than 80 miles through the forested mountains of northern California and is a significant property in the history of McCloud, Burney and the surrounding area.

    "It's not every day we get to announce the railbanking of 80 miles of corridor for a new rail-trail!" says a very excited Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "This trail will be a crown jewel across northeastern California."

    According to SLT Executive Director Ben Miles, 4 Rails, Inc. agreed on a purchase price well below its appraised fair market value, representing a considerable donation of value by the seller.

    The multiuse GSRT will benefit Siskiyou and Shasta counties and the rural communities of McCloud and Burney by stimulating tourism and recreation-related commerce, increasing neighboring property values, and attracting new businesses.

    The GSRT will connect with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, recreational facilities on adjacent national forest land, and will link to trails around the McCloud River Falls and McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. 

    SLT and its team of supporters is confident of raising the funds necessary to complete the purchase, and have secured a grant for more than half of the purchase price from the California Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program.

    For more information, or to find out how to contribute to the project, visit www.mccloudlocalfirst.org.

    Photo of the McCloud Railway trestle bridge over Lake Britton courtesy of Redbeard Math Pirate/Flickr

     

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in White County, Indiana

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about Feb. 4, 2014, CSX Transportation filed for the abandonment of 9.67 miles of track between Monon and Monticello in White County, Ind. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A “boiler plate” letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-55 (sub-no. 712x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is March 6, 2014. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

    The STB has imposed a $250 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project’s progress. We also recommend contacting your state trails coordinator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

    Both of these individuals are knowledgeable about state laws and resources and may be able to assist your community with this rail-trail project. Also, you may want to contact the abandoning railroad to add your name to their service list.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC’s website may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, the Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals. These resources can be found within the “Trail-Building” section of our website. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • Attention West Virginia: Input Needed on Regional Bike Plans

    Great news for the residents and businesses of West Virginia, with the Department of Transportation (WVDOT) announcing last week it will be gathering public input for a series of regional bicycle plans in population centers across the state.

    The study is being funded by a federal Transportation and Community System Preservation Grant, and will identify opportunities to improve interstate and regional connectivity for bicycles.

    All interested parties are encouraged to attend the meeting in their area, or submit written comments. The public meeting will focus on the geographic region where the meeting will be held, but will also present and receive comments on the other regions of the state.

    All meetings will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be brief presentations at 4, 5 and 6 p.m., followed by an opportunity to give comments in a workshop style setting.

    Public meetings will be held at the following locations:

    May 3, 2012
    Ranson City Hall
    Council Chambers
    312 South Mildred Street
    Ranson, WV 25438

    May 7, 2012
    City Service Center
    915 Quarrier Street
    Charleston, WV 25301

    May 8, 2012
    Tri-State Transit Authority
    1251 4th Avenue
    Huntington, WV 25701

    May 10, 2012
    Municipal Building
    2nd Floor Executive Conference Room
    1 Government Square
    Parkersburg, WV 26101

    May 14, 2012
    West Virginia Independence Hall
    1528 Market Street
    Wheeling, WV 26003

    May 15, 2012
    City Building
    Council Chambers
    389 Spruce Street
    Morgantown, WV 26505

    May 21, 2012
    City Hall
    Council Chambers
    942 Washington Street, West
    Lewisburg, WV 24901

    May 22, 2012
    City Building
    Council Chambers
    401 Davis Avenue
    Elkins, WV 26241

    Written comments can be dropped in a comment box at the workshop, or mailed to:

    Robert Pennington, P.E., Director, Program Planning and Administration Division
    West Virginia Department of Transportation
    Capital Complex Building Five, 8th Floor
    1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
    Charleston, West Virginia 25305-0430

    Photos courtesy of Studio Gelardi (top), and EcoVelo.info

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ..................................................................

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

     

     

  • Breaking News: Senate Rejects Amendment to Cut Funding for Trails, Biking and Walking

    Bipartisan support of funding for trails, walking and bicycling continues to grow in response to repeated legislative attacks on the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program.

    Today, by a vote of 60 to 38, the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) that would have shifted dedicated funding for walking and biking infrastructure to bridge repair, thus eliminating a hugely popular program that has been shown to improve safety, create jobs and efficient transportation choices for millions of Americans for the past 20 years.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our partners argued the amendment posed a false choice between TE and bridge safety, and we helped organize a national sign-on letter to senators encouraging them to vote against Paul’s Senate Amendment 821. (Read the original action alert and watch a video for more background on the issue.)

    “In truth, most states already have funds that they could use for bridge repair, but that instead go for new roadways,” says RTC’s Director of Policy Outreach Kartik Sribarra. “Further, last year, states sent back $530 million in unspent bridge funds. It’s shameful and disingenuous to claim to be promoting safety by pushing to cut funds for trails, walking and bicycling. 47,000 cyclists and pedestrians have died during the past decade, often because we lack the necessary infrastructure for them to be safe.”

    TE funds have substantially decreased these risks, using less than 2 percent of surface transportation funding.

    “An honest prescription for accelerating bridge repair would need to address either the overall level of investment in transportation infrastructure, or the tendency to prioritize new road capacity over maintenance of existing assets, or both,” Sribarra says.

    Thank you to everyone who contacted your senators! It seems like we face a new legislative attack on TE each week, but with your voices and backing, we’re able to defend this tremendous program, the largest source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling.

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

    Some very exciting news for bicyclists!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And check out this post that recently ran in Streetsblog.

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

    Top photo courtesy Orin Zebest via Flickr.

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

    ..................................................................

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

     

  • What are Michigan's Top 10 Trails? We Ask Those in the Know...

    The trails of Michigan are marked by their diversity. With more miles of rail-trails than any other state in the nation, Michigan boasts recreational options for everyone, from the snow travelers to the bird watchers, history buffs and long distance riders of horses and bikes. 

    Possibly the only thing these dramatically different trails share in common is the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, whose advocacy and local organization for many years has supported trail building all over the state.

    No one knows Michigan Trails like the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. So, we decided to ask the expert - MTGA Executive Director Nancy Krupiarz.

    What are Michigan's Top 10 Trails?


       Upper Peninsula

    Iron Ore Heritage Trail - 30 miles: Marquette County

    • Unique mining heritage interpretation with artfully designed markers.
    • Enjoyed by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and road and mountain bikers.
    • Surface is a combination of asphalt paving and crushed granite.
    • Next stage, from Winthrop Junction to Republic, is open to the public but not developed.

    "The Recreation Authority, which includes the county, three cities and five townships, was successful at passing a property tax rate increase in order to build and maintain the trail. This ensured the trail had a strong foundation for moving ahead."

     

       Northern Lower

    Little Traverse Wheelway - 26 miles: Charlevoix and Emmet counties (below)

    • Paved except for a .6-mile wooden boardwalk over wooded wetlands, and a sidewalk portion through the historic Bay View neighborhood, dominated by charming Victorian-era homes.
    • Connects to Petoskey State Park and several city parks.
    • Three replicas of historic arches inscribed with "No Teaming or Driving,"  symbolizing pre-railroad times during horse and buggy days. 
    • Connects to Little Traverse History Museum.
    • Tunnel under U.S. 31 connects to the quaint shopping district of Petoskey with many interesting shops and eateries.

    "One of the great things about this trail is the variety of wonderful views, from high along a bluff overlooking sparkling Lake Michigan, to right down to the water's edge through elongated grassy parks and through woods."

    Leelanau Trail - 15.5 miles: Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties

    • Fully paved, from Traverse City, with terrific shops, breweries and restaurants, to Suttons Bay, a quaint, artsy village.
    • Pure countryside, with rolling hills and scenic panoramic views along with sections of lush woods. 
    • Trail connects at several cross roads to a number of wineries within biking distance.
    • Connects to a network of public hiking trails on Leelanau Conservancy property.

    "The Leelanau Trail is managed by TART (Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation) Trails, Inc., a dynamic nonprofit that advocates, builds, maintains, and programs trails.  Their continual engagement with the community is the most successful in the state, with hundreds of locals helping to monitor and maintain the trail, and run events and programs."

     

       Mid Michigan

    Lansing River Trail - 13 miles: Ingham County (below)

    • Fully paved, and crosses under several major highways, allowing for smooth passage through the middle of downtown.
    • Follows the river along its entire length.
    • Trail managed by the City of Lansing, but now has a brand new friends group, 40 members strong and ready to help with maintenance and special initiatives.
    • Great in the winter, too.

    "The obvious strength of this trail is its wealth of connections. It links major Lansing attractions such as Hawk Island County Park, Potter Park Regional Zoo, Impressions 5 Science Center, the Lansing City Market, downtown Lansing, and Old Town, an artfully renovated historic shopping district, as well as connecting Michigan State University to downtown Lansing."

    Pere Marquette Trail - 21 miles: Clare, Lake, Midland and Osceola counties

    • Fully paved, and very well-maintained by Midland County Parks and Recreation. 
    • Beautifully appointed trail following the Tittabawassee River with several nature overlooks.
    • Connects to several cultural attractions here, such as the Dow Historical Museum and a number of historic homes.
    • Runs alongside the beautiful tree-lined campus of Northwood University.

    "A definite highlight of this Hall of Fame Rail-Trail is its journey from several small towns into the heart of downtown Midland to the foot of the "Tridge," an impressive 3-spanned bridge at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers."

     

       West Michigan

    Kal-Haven Trail - 34.5 miles: Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties (below)

    • The first state-owned rail-trail, and the second rail-trail conversion, in Michigan
    • It's the first segment of the Great Lake to Lake Trail, a cross-state route of more than 250 miles from South Haven to Port Huron.
    • Connects to the popular beach town of South Haven, and ends at a recently constructed trailhead not far from Lake Michigan.
    • Has a covered bridge, much of the trail is tree-canopied, and there is a rustic campground alongside the trail which was developed by Eagle Scouts.
    • At Bloomingdale, the halfway point, the trail runs alongside a restored depot which relates much of the history of the area.
    • Limestone surface often suitable for skinny tires due to its excellent packed condition.
    • Connects to the city of Kalamazoo via the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.

    "It's the only trail in Michigan that is managed by a Road Commission, and they do an excellent job."

    Muskegon Lakeshore Trail - 12 miles: Muskegon County

    • Trail runs through a variety of landscapes, across Consumers Energy's utility property down to the beach at Lake Michigan.
    • Paved, except for the very long boardwalk through dense woods and over wetlands.
    • Carefully planned and constructed segment by segment over a period of about 10 years by the City of Muskegon Leisure Services Division.

    "The Muskegon Lakeshore Trail is the main non-motorized artery running through the city, and will be a major connection to the Fred Meijer Berry Junction Trail to the north and the Musketawa to the south."

     

       East Michigan

    Bay City Loop - 17.5 miles: Bay County (below)

    • Paved asphalt, includes an extensive boardwalk system jutting across the Saginaw River. Also includes a wide sidewalk portion through the city, with well-marked wayfinding symbols.
    • Connects to Bay State Recreation Area which is situated on the Saginaw Bay, and the Fred Andersen Nature Trail with a nature center and interpretive hiking trails.
    • Connects to downtown shops, numerous parks, a marina, farmers market, community theater, community center, and many neighborhoods.

    "What's remarkable about the Bay City Loop is the variety of terrain it crosses - lakeside tall grasses, downtown hustle and bustle, riverside birding area, and clean, suburban neighborhoods with beautiful gardens."

     

       Southeast Michigan

    Downriver Linked Greenways - 50+ miles: Wayne County

    • The Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative started as a community-driven regional vision to coordinate non-motorized transportation in the Downriver area.
    • The North-South Connector has just been completed, a 50-mile connection between Lake Erie Metropark, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Oakwoods Metro Park, Willow Metro Park, and Lower Huron Metro Park.
    • Joins with the I-275 Metro Trail, offering an extension of another 36 miles through Wayne and Oakland counties.
    • Several arterial connections planned.

    "This trail offers many metro park activities along the way, including swimming, fishing, kayaking, birding, and many picnic sites. The topography changes often from woods to wetlands to fields, to city, and back again."

    Detroit Riverwalk - 3.5 miles: Wayne County (below)

    • Transformed Detroit's former industrial riverfront to one where residents and visitors can now access the water.
    • Owned and managed by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which has raised $121 million toward a $140 million goal of ensuring all components are built and maintained.
    • Home to many festivals and programs, including the annual River Days festival which attracts 150,000 visitors, Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront, and many other regular events.
    • Maintained through a partnership with Clean Detroit.
    • Has spurred many successful private developments, such as the Math and Science High School, Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, Presbyterian Village and Manor and many restaurants and breweries. It has spurred the relocation of major tenants back to the river, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and the U.S. Patent Office.
    • Links to the first urban state park in Michigan, the Milliken State Park and Harbor.

    "This Riverwalk had a significant beneficial economic impact to the city, and now holds a prominent place in Detroit's continuing revitalization. A recent study pegs the economic impact of this trail to be $43.7 million."

    Did your favorite trail miss out on the Top 10? Or want to add your praise of some of the trails mentioned above? Tell us about it. All photos, videos and expressions of joy appreciated! Post to our facebook page, or email me at jake@railstotrails.org.

    All photos courtesy TrailLink.com

     

  • RTC Reaches Big Trail-Mapping Milestone

    As part of our mission to promote the use and enjoyment of America's spectacular array of trails, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been working hard during the past few years to provide precise Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps for as many of these pathways as possible. 

    Accurately mapping and describing our nation's trail networks is a crucial step in making them more accessible to all users, through our series of regional guidebooks and at TrailLink.com, our free, one-stop trail-finder website. 

    But TrailLink.com and the guidebooks are just the end product of the time-consuming and technically challenging process of producing, collecting and filtering a myriad of geographical data and converting it to user-friendly forms.

    Sometimes it's hard to mark major progress with so many minute details to absorb and verify. But this summer, our hard-working Information Technology team celebrated an important milestone in their mission to catalog the pathways of America: hitting 20,000 miles of mapped trails.

    According to RTC's GIS Specialist Tim Rosner, it's great to reflect and take stock of the library of trail information compiled so far. Yet he says with new data coming in every day, and new trails projects under way all over the country, a finish line is not in sight just yet. Since RTC is the first organization to attempt to compile such detailed trails information on a national scale, it is impossible to know how many miles remain to be mapped.

    "There is really no way of knowing how many trails there currently are," Rosner says. "We're just going to keep collecting data until there is no more to collect."

    RTC has made a dedicated effort to ramp up its trail mapping capacity in recent years. When Rosner joined the team in 2008, we had mapped about 5,000 miles. The increase since then has been fueled by a combination of data submitted by RTC members and through TrailLink.com, Global Positioning System (GPS) data collected firsthand by RTC staff, existing trail maps compiled by city and county GIS officers, and information gleaned from high resolution aerial and satellite imagery.

    Collecting the data is only half of the work. A major challenge is making sure it is accurate before we pass it on to the general public.

    "We quality control check every piece of data we receive," Rosner says. "It is one of the exceptional pieces of our data set."

    The increase in our mapping efforts is a key element of RTC's goal for 90 percent of Americans to live within three miles a trail system by the year 2020. In order to track our progress toward this goal, we need accurate data on where those trails are.

    As with anything to do with technology, it is important to move with the times. Not only is RTC employing some of the latest GIS techniques in collecting data, we are also working on innovative ways to get that information to you, the trail user, including software and applications specially designed to bring mapping information to mobile technology like smart phones. Stay tuned.

     

  • Top 10 Trails in California!

    The trails of California are as diverse as the landscape itself.

    From the bustling urban pathways to the lost-in-the-wild tracks of the backcountry, the vastly different settings and styles of trails in California makes them almost incomparable. So we thought we'd compare them.

    Certain to spark furious debate from jilted trail fans, we present to you...

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Top 10 Trails in California!

    1. Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail

    Arguably the most scenic rail-trail in California, the spectacular 25.4-mile Bizz Johnson (right) was named to RTC’s Rail Trail Hall of Fame in 2008.

    What makes it so great? The scenery. Just east of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges, the craggy canyons and upland forests cycle through four distinct seasons. Carving through the Susan River Canyon, the Bizz Johnson also connects to the terrific trail community of Susanville, which has put much effort into making trail visitors feel welcome. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    2. Iron Horse Regional Trail

    Connecting 12 cities in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties outside San Francisco, the Iron Horse Regional Trail is 24.5 miles of urban rail-trail at its very best. It’s utility and popularity are set to expand even further with plans to extend the trail to 33 miles.

    What makes it so great? Connectivity. The 20-foot-wide trail connects residences, shopping districts and places of employment with schools, public transportation options, parks and other trails systems. TrailLink.com reviews sometimes note who crowded the trail can get. That’s because it takes people where they want to go, a sure sign of a terrific urban pathway and an unbeatable justification for more like it. 

    3. Ojai Valley Trail

    A favorite among rail-trail enthusiasts, the Ojai Valley Trail (left) extends 9.5 miles through the scenic Ojai Valley. The trail also connects with the Ventura River Trail, which continues south to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

    What makes it so great? The rural serenity. And the bridge. Completed in 2012, the 480-foot bridge over San Antonio Creek, built of rust-colored steel and Brazilian hardwood, looks terrific and saves the trail from the frequent washouts that used to plague it. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    4. Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

    Winding 18 miles around Monterey Bay and along the Pacific coast, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail follows a Southern Pacific Railroad line that used to transfer goods between the historic fishing town of Monterey and the rest of northern California.

    What makes it so great? The ocean. In addition to its constant blue, shimmering presence, the Pacific flavors almost every attraction along the trail, too. In an area made famous by a number of John Steinbeck novels, the rejuvenated Cannery Row, scenes of its fishing past and present, a number of great seafood restaurants and the Monterey Bay Aquarium all make for a submersing trail experience.

    5. Bayshore Bikeway

    A long, smooth, palm-tree-lined trail (right) with stunning views of the Pacific, San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline, the 17-mile Bayshore Bikeway also provides easy access to parks, tot play areas and chic cafes.

    What makes it so great? The attractions. There's a lot going on around the Bayshore Bikeway. You've got the red-roofed Hotel del Coronado where they filmed Some Like it Hot, you've got the Ferry Landing Marketplace, the Navy SEALs workout spot, the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and, of course, the water, to name just a few. So close to a major metropolitan center, the bikeway sure has pulling power. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    6. Truckee River Bike Trail

    At one end is the smallest place in the world to ever host the Winter Olympics. At the other end is the peerless Lake Tahoe. Connecting them is the 6.8-mile Truckee River Bike Trail which follows the route of a tourist train that operated in the early 1900s.

    What makes it so great? Access to the outdoors. Rail-trails are ideal outdoor equalizers because of their typically flat grade and smooth surface. In a mountainous, rugged area marked by the majestic snowcapped Sierra’s, the Truckee River Bike Trail makes this stunning wilderness accessible for young families or older folks over their mountain biking days.

    7. Sacramento River Rail-Trail

    The spine of a burgeoning trail system in the city of Redding, the 11-mile Sacramento River Rail-Trail follows the river north out of town to the recreational expanse of Shasta Lake.

    What makes it so great? Riverfront revival. Locals say before the trail system the town was “built with its back to the river,” and little had been done to restore the waterway after years of mining and excavation. Now, the popular trails have brought renewed appreciation for the river and inspired a symbiotic movement of restoration. Photo courtesy Healthy Shasta

    8. Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail

    Though only a few years old already the impressively-named Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail has become a transportation staple for the booming neighborhoods in the San Bernadino Valley. Fast, flat and smooth, this 18-mile rail-trail connects residential neighborhoods with an array of parks, schools, shopping areas and commercial centers.

    What makes it so great? The utility. Another fine demonstration of the great land efficiency of utilizing existing railroad corridors, within its 10-foot width the Pacific Electric provides a critical recreation and transportation avenue for the hundreds of thousands of Californians that live within the trailshed. 

    9. Modoc Line

    Stretching 86 miles through the way-out-there wild country in the state’s north east, the Modoc Line is not one for those eager to socialize and people watch. The rough surface and isolation of the Modoc Line make it better suited to ATV’s than most bikes, however plans are in the works to improve some sections.

    What makes it so great? Big sky. Through remote ranch land and high desert landscapes, the Modoc Line has the character of an ornery outsider seeking refuge from the maddening crowds. You’ll find it out here, along with wide open skies and spectacular star gazing, many miles from the nearest city. Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

    10. Richmond Greenway

    Though only a short trail at three miles long, the Richmond Greenway represents the positive transformation of a railroad corridor that sat unused in the heart of the city of Richmond for more than 25 years. The Richmond Greenway provides 32 new acres of active open space in a densely populated, underserved community with few recreational opportunities and scarce green space.

    What makes it so great? The local community. A model of how community organizations can work together to invest local residents in the development of a public space, Richmond Greenway, Urban Tilth, Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides and Pogo Park have used free community events, working parties and other engagement strategies to make the Richmond Greenway a genuine gathering place.

    Definitely worth a mention: El Dorado Trail

    Along two different railroad corridors and stretching 28 miles across El Dorado County, the 28-mile El Dorado Trail showcases the unique natural surroundings and the history of the area.

    What makes it so great? The views. Atop the breathtaking 100-foot-high railroad trestle that crosses Weber Creek, trail users enjoy a spectacular view of the surrounding California foothills countryside and the endless acres of national forest surrounding Lake Tahoe to the east. Photo courtesy Friends of El Dorado Trail

     

     

     

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