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  • Register Now for International Urban Parks Conference, July 14 - 17

    Anyone who has lived in a shared house knows how great it is when you get that perfect roommate; someone with whom you're on the same page---shared interests, shared goals and a complementary way of looking at the world.

    For Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), that describes our office mate, City Parks Alliance, which shares our headquarters here on the fifth floor of the Duke Ellington Building in Washington, D.C.

    City Parks Alliance is the only organization in the country dedicated to encouraging the smart development of parks and greenspaces in urban areas. Like RTC, it understands the enormous importance of these areas to the sustainability of America's cities and the quality of life for the millions of people who live in them.

    That's why we're excited to be involved in the upcoming International Urban Parks Conference, hosted by City Parks Alliance in New York, July 14 - 17.

    "Greater & Greener: Re-Imagining Parks for 21st Century Cities," will be a four-day immersion in best practices and bold new thinking about urban green space planning. The event features more than 100 workshops and tours, so you can customize your own experience around your particular area of interest.

    In the heart of one of the world's most remarkable cities, this unique event will be a rare opportunity to hear from more than 200 cutting-edge thinkers and practitioners, including renowned Danish architect and urbanist Helle Søholt, futurist Gary Golden, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and Dan Biederman, co-founder of Grand Central Partnership, 34th Street Partnership, and the Bryant Park Corporation.

    For those interested in rail-trails and urban transportation, the intersection of parks, trails and transportation will be a key discussion topic, with RTC staff and board members presenting on a number of panels: "Trails and Railroads," "Red Fields to Green Fields," "Making Parks Safe--and Keeping Them That Way," "Building a Federal Urban Parks Agenda in Washington," and "Using Technology to Map, Learn and Teach about Parks."

    Register by June 30 to take advantage of discounts, and to get the best selection of the workshops and park tours before they fill up.

    More information: www.urbanparks2012.org.

    Photo of the Hudson River Greenway, NY, (top) courtesy of Boyd Loving

    Photo of Brooklyn Bridge, NY (above) courtesy of Etienne Frossard


     

  • In Search of the Fountain of Youth Along Ohio's Little Miami Scenic Trail

    by Abbey Roy

    It started out as a Father's Day excursion. My brother Ben, The Amateur Jetsetter, was leaving on Father's Day morning for Morocco, with a layover in Paris for a few obligatory shots of the Eiffel Tower. The least I could do as the only remaining (nee) Stirgwolt sibling in the country was to offer some sort of consolation prize for the man who has put up with our shenanigans for the last quarter century, give or take.

    For my dad, though--and me, too--our Little Miami Scenic Trail bike trip would be more than mere consolation. It promised to evolve into a belated coming-of-age tale; an exclusive chance to experience our beloved Buckeye State in a way we never had--on two wheels.

    The logistics as initially planned were daunting for two amateur cycling enthusiasts without the hours to devote to training: two days, 70 miles apiece. Our own miniature GOBA (that's Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure) minus the $200 entry fee and 2,000 other cyclists.

    Just me and Dad, a fanny pack, our cameras and our bikes.

    ***

    Dad spent weeks working out the details. They changed a few times, eventually shrinking to a single-day, 75-mile trip the Friday after Father's Day (thanks to rain delays and conflicting dentist appointments), beginning in Cincinnati and ending in Springfield, where Mom, having freshly returned from a day of antique shopping, would pick us up and haul us back to Newark, Ohio.

    On Thursday, the day before we left, Dad called me between work meetings to tell me how excited he was. He had been telling me that for weeks. It was cute. He was like a little kid--a 59-year-old kid--getting ready to go to Disney World for the first time.

    Friday was gray and intermittently drizzly and generally unpleasant, which didn't much matter after several days' worth of delayed plans: It could have been hailing and we would still have left the house by 8 a.m. to drive to Cincinnati in hopes that the sun eventually would peek out.

    Sitting in the back seat with Dad at the wheel took me back to the summer vacations when the four of us piled into our 1991 Plymouth Voyager, camping gear and a week's worth of supplies jammed in the back, ready for untold adventure. On this particular day, my parents were old enough to get senior discounts at most sit-down chain restaurants, my brother was spending two months in North Africa and I was leaving behind a 23-month-old and husband.

    Certainly a lot had changed over the years, but there was no doubt about it: The same old excitement was there.

    ***

    In the passenger seat, Mom worked to double-, triple- and quadruple-check the directions from the Cincinnati trailhead to the Springfield antique mall. It was obvious she had a few misgivings about the operation, but after 36 years of marriage, as I understand it, you have to pick your battles. This was a battle Dad had won.

    We arrived at the Little Miami Golf Center around 11 a.m. and learned during our short passage from the entryway to the parking area that there's actually such a thing as lawn bowling, though the foreboding clouds evidently had discouraged enthusiasts from demonstrating that morning. We prepped the bikes, changed into our gear, said bye to Mom, suggested that she try lawn bowling and were off.

    The journey started out chilly with a tinge of nervousness about the drizzle, as we'd both packed only short sleeves. But we warmed up as we pedaled and chatted about our plans for the trip, wished Ben could have been there and marveled at the beauty of the trees arcing over the path and the river--muddy as it was--along the route.

    Within the first 10 miles we were planning a similar trek upon Ben's return--maybe a two-dayer in the fall.

    Dad was in the lead as we held about 16 mph, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. I followed close behind with a goofy grin on my face for no other reason than that this was shaping up to be a pretty darn good day.

    ***

    We made several stops along the way, once to lunch at a Loveland coffee shop that was absolutely fitting for a journey like this, packed from wall to wall with quaint cottagey decor and fitted with a bathroom that doubled as a storage closet. I took a picture of the aprons hanging on the door.

    Over peanut butter granola bars, we waited out a pesky rainstorm in Corwin under an empty picnic shelter; I took advantage of the down time to snap a few close-ups of the specks of mud that had sprayed from the bicycle tires onto my legs as we rolled over the wet path.

    We moved on.

    As the miles added up, we talked less and looked more. I led for a short while at Dad's urging, but eventually traffic on the path died down and we fell to riding side by side.

    By the time we were a few miles away from Xenia, after more gradual climbs than I'd counted on or prepared for, the thought of stopping early crept into my mind. But every time I'd glance to my left and see Dad, his "high-vis" neon green bike shirt nearly glowing beside me, I put my head down and forced my legs to move up, down, up, down, around and around, rotation after rotation, mile after mile.

    He had 30-plus years on me. Didn't he ever get tired?

    ***

    We kept going despite mounting protests from our saddle-sore and pedal-weary bodies, stopping briefly in Xenia before coming to the unpleasant realization that more dark clouds were approaching. As we ducked under a maple tree to wait out the downpour, we actually discussed stopping.

    "You don't want to bag it here, do you?" Dad asked.

    I had been thinking of it. We'd come nearly 60 miles, a record for both of us. But we'd wanted to reach 75, to make it to Springfield.

    I paused a moment before replying.

    "Part of me knows the next 20 miles are going to be grueling," I said. "But the other part of me hates quitting early."

    I knew I got that from him.

    Finally we agreed to ride to Yellow Springs before calling to Mom to pick us up, presumably with a stash of great antique-store finds. It seemed like a nice compromise. By the time we arrived, it was around 5 p.m. and we were shivery from the combination of rain and a light wind that seemed to have come out of nowhere. The sun had just come out and we dismounted--stiffly and triumphantly--stretched and relished the feeling of being off the bike seat.

    I took a picture of the Yellow Springs sign and the cute fabric flowers that adorned it, and the mile marker from where we stood to Cincinnati: 68 miles, it said. We enjoyed a nice dinner with Mom and, though slightly disappointed we didn't finish out at an even 70 miles, agreed we were pleased with the day's accomplishments.

    As Dad drove the van back to Newark and I devoured most of the remaining Twizzlers in our snack stash, I took my place in the back seat and thought about the many times during those 68 miles I'd thought I'd like to slow down.

    And how, every time, I'd look over at Dad--the little kid in a big kid's body--pushing forward almost effortlessly, as if the Magic Kingdom were just ahead.

    It always made me smile despite my fatigue, and it kept us going--together.

    Abbey Roy is a native of northeast Ohio and transplant to central Ohio, where she is a newspaper reporter, wife and mom. When she was five, her dad insisted on teaching her to ride her bike without using training wheels. She's been rolling ever since. 

    Photos courtesy of Abbey Roy.  

     

  • Connection to Pittsburgh Airport Opens a World of Opportunity for Regional Trails

    It may be just six miles long, but the soon-to-be-unveiled Montour Trail connection to the Pittsburgh International Airport packs a lot of punch.

    Almost 12 years in the making, the airport link, which shoots off the Montour Trail near mile-marker eight, will boost the utility of the Montour trail enormously, expanding its reach as both a recreational outlet and an efficient pathway for commuters.

    The idea for a link between the popular Montour Trail, which creates a half-loop around the southwest side of Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh International Airport was first raised in 2000. There were a multitude of reasons the airport, trails advocates and planners sought a connector, not least of which was increasing shopper access to the airport mall, giving employees, travelers and hotel guests a place to recreate, and offering employees a safe and convenient commute option.

    Meetings were held and plans were moving forward. Then 9/11 happened.

    "Everything came to a screeching halt," remembers Tim Killmeyer, board member of the all-volunteer Montour Trail Council and project manager for the airport connector. "The airport people had much greater things to worry about than getting bicyclists to the airport mall, which was now closed to the non-boarding pass public, anyway."

    But airport officials had already been sold on the importance of a non-motorized connection to the airport. The trails community, too, understood this would be a critical link. The Allegheny Trail Alliance, which promotes the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, saw Pittsburgh as a crucial hub of a trails network expanding in all directions. The Montour Trail connects to the GAP, offering users an alternate route that circumvents a number of on-road sections through Pittsburgh. With this proposed connector, it would also connect the GAP to national and international air traffic.

    "Cyclists and hikers were inquiring about a connection to air transportation, so they could fly into Pittsburgh and experience the region's incredible trails network," Killmeyer says. "It became clear that something needed to be done."

    And so something was done. On Tuesday, March 20, Killmeyer will be front and center among a large group of regional trail advocates for the ribbon cutting of the Montour Trail/Airport connector. To celebrate what has truly been a collaborative effort, all residents and local businesspeople are encouraged to join the trail opening festivities, which will take place at 11 a.m. where the new asphalt trail crosses into the airport's Extended Parking Lot (Section 16D).

    Those wanting to ride bicycles to the event can use the well-marked connector, which begins at the five-way intersection near mile eight of the Montour Trail, just upstream of the Enlow Tunnel. The Pittsburgh Major Taylor Bicycle Club will lead riders to the event from the Enlow Ballfield, leaving there around 10 a.m. Attendees wishing to drive can park for free in the Extended Lot, Section 16D, which is located right next to the site of the event.

    "This new connection to the Montour Trail is a huge step toward making Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania accessible for bicycle touring," says Mary Shaw, a long-distance cyclist and rail-trail guidebook author who contributed financially to the new section of trail. "It opens Pittsburgh as an endpoint for bicycle touring of all kinds, and complements and extends other improvements to cycling facilities in Pittsburgh that led to our designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010. It just keeps getting better and better."

    For more information on the Montour Trail, or the March 20 opening, visit: montourtrail.org

    Photo, of Roy Weil and Mary Shaw installing signage on the new trail connector, and map, courtesy of Montour Trail Council.

  • Once By River and Rail, Travel By Trail Now Thrives Along the Susquehanna

    The Susquehanna River (right) is one of Pennsylvania's most loved natural features, a broad, hearty current that winds southward through the state before emptying in Chesapeake Bay.

    It has also been one of the region's most important transportation routes, host to numerous ferry and cargo operations and the spine of two canal systems. With the emergence of the rail industry, train tracks were laid down right beside the obsolete canals, and so the Susquehanna continued to serve as a tracing point for the movement of people and goods through the Northeast.

    With many rail operations going the same way as the canals, those tracks along the Susquehanna are now the base of a remarkable landscape of rail-trails, with more than a dozen separate trails lining its winding route through the state.

    Thanks to the people of Manor Township, and a generous donation from railroad company Norfolk Southern, that landscape is set to expand, with news last week that the Manor Township Planning Commission has voted to recommend the approval of a plan to develop a rail-trail along the river.

    According to The Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster County, Pa., the trail will run from north of Turkey Hill to the southern Manor Township municipal line and into Conestoga Township.

    The cost of developing the six-mile trail is being almost entirely offset by a generous $1.25 million donation from Norfolk Southern, and $1 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

    For the staff of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office, which is based in Camp Hill, Pa., the news out of Manor was especially pleasing, as this section along the Susquehanna would perfectly complement a hoped-for connection from the Enola Low-Grade Trail, to the east.

    "Though still a work in progress, the Enola Low-Grade has had a tremendous benefit for the townships it passes through," says Pat Tomes, RTC's program manager in the Northeast. "For the past few years we've been working with the communities along the corridor, providing technical assistance as they seek a way to extend the rail-trail west to the river. This connection would then meet up with Manor Township's proposed trail into Conestoga. What a terrific system that would be."

    Photo of the Susquehanna River courtesy of the State of Pennsylvania.
    Photo of trail users on the Enola Low-Grade courtesy of TrailLink.com.

     

  • Movement Begins Westward On Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail

    The people of central Tennessee are excited about the potential of an extensive rail-trail in their region, and are wasting no time making that dream a reality.

    Last Friday, the community of Monterey celebrated the official opening of the first section of what will one day be the 19-mile Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail.

    The first half-mile of the trail, utilizing an active railroad corridor in downtown Monterey, is the first movement west of what local businesses and residents hope will showcase the Tennessee Highlands, one of the most scenic and historic regions of Tennessee, and encourage more physical activity in a state beset by the costs of obesity and inactive lifestyles.

    And things will continue to move on the trail project, with construction permits for the 3.9-mile Cookeville to Algood segment already approved, and some funding secured.

    Locals interested in learning more about the rail-trail's development can attend a meeting at 12 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month at the Leslie Town Centre, Cookeville. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/TennesseeCentralHeritageTrail

     

     

  • The Most Amazing Rail-Trail on Earth?

    By Kartik Sribarra

    It seems I never learn.

    Last year around this time, I wrote about a gorgeous ride I was lucky enough to take on the George S. Mickelson Trail, running through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    In that piece, I recalled how each rail-trail we had ridden over the years was more glorious than any previous one we'd explored. A group of friends and rail-trail supporters has been taking this annual ride for a few years, and we've made some good choices. First, the Great Allegheny Passage. The next year, the Paul Bunyan Trail in Minnesota. Then came the twin wonders, the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho. The Mickelson, it seemed, trumped them all and became, as I put it then, "without a doubt the most amazing rail-trail anywhere on earth."

    And now, we can add the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail in central British Columbia, Canada, to this little game of one-upmanship.

    This rail-trail--part of the evolving Trans Canada Trail--is unlike anything I've experienced here in the United States. The first day, through Myra Canyon outside of Kelowna, B.C., felt similar to our route two years ago, winding our way down the Route of the Hiawatha, feeling like we were in a land untouched by humanity, but for the trestles. These sheer wonders of engineering ingenuity were actually replicas reconstructed by the Canadian government following the terrible Okanagan Mountain Park Fire that ravaged the region in 2003.

    During the next several days we rode through on-again, off-again rain showers as we made our way past the various unique views along the trail. We rode through Rock Oven Park, where we saw numerous rock ovens that were built and used by the railroad workers a century ago for fresh bread as they constructed the rail line deep in the Okanagan Valley. We came across views of Christina Lake that almost seemed to physically slow our tires as we ground to a halt in awe. We rode through vineyards, past strongly aromatic groves of sage, along corridors with the rails still in the ground, and over trestle after trestle, through tunnel after tunnel. The connection to the region's rail history was not to be forgotten.

    At one point along the ride, as we gazed out at yet another phenomenal view of mountains, lakes and conifers as far as the eye could see, I commented to my riding companions that it reminded me of New Zealand. "When were you there?" asked another rider. I confessed that I'd never been, but that the Lord of the Rings trilogy made me feel as if I understood the similarity in the landscapes. Moments later, another rider commented that the views here exceeded anything she had seen in her years of international riding, including such destinations as Nepal and Switzerland.

    As is often the case on such a ride, we could not help but compare the various trails we've ridden over the years. As such, our mantra for this year's trip, coined by one rider referencing a comment from my post from last year, was, "How big can you write the word 'WOW?!'" Thereafter, each new view, each trestle more formidable than the last, each mile pedaled seemed to elicit the same jaw-dropping "wow" reaction.

    So, despite previous claims of having ridden what must be the most gorgeous rail-trail anywhere, the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail proves that I need to keep biting my tongue and just take in the views. After all, somewhere, somehow, yet another rail-trail might possibly rival even this one!

    And I'm determined to find it and make its acquaintance.

    Photos of the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail by RTC.

     

     

  • Bridging Two Cities Across the Mississippi, New Trail Project a Grand Moment for Tennessee

    In the second decade of the 20th century, the world was engulfed in war. The city of Memphis was an important center of military and industrial activity, yet there were few ways for goods and people to cross the mighty barrier that was the Mississippi River.

    So the local communities in Tennessee and Arkansas joined together in an effort to get a new bridge built. It took some effort, cajoling, and perhaps a shady promise or two. But the Harahan Bridge, crossing the Mississippi between West Memphis, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee, was eventually constructed. The first train crossed the Harahan Bridge in 1916. With celebrations and additional worked delayed by the war, the wagon ways were opened in the fall of the following year.

    By 1949, the wooden roadways on the bridge were no longer practical. Newer bridges allowed for safer and shorter crossings. But the busy railroads kept using bridge, and continued to operate dozens of trains a day. What became of the abandoned roadways? We have heard from Memphis natives that a courageous local official won a court battle to keep the roadway portion of the bridge in public ownership. More than 60 years later, that victory is about to take on real significance for the people of Memphis.

    In 2010, locals began to explore whether there could be a way for people to safely cross the Mississippi River on a bike or by foot. A solution proved to be elusive, as it was exceedingly expensive to build a bridge with a trail across such a large river. Then they realized that the Harahan Bridge had unused roadways that were owned by the adjacent communities. The Harahan's roadways were long removed, but the structural steel remained in place.

    Fast forward a few years, and the Main Street to Main Street Connector Project is linking the main streets of Memphis and West Memphis via a new trail on the Harahan Bridge. When it opens in 2014, it will be one of very few bike and pedestrian friendly crossings of the Mississippi River. It will provide a safe route to each community's downtown, and connect to Memphis' growing greenways network.

    We previously highlighted the Harahan Bridge project for its unique funding arrangement. The project is benefiting from multi-million dollar investments by federal, state, county and local governments, as well as dedicated taxes on downtown businesses. The progress of the Harahan Bridge vision has illustrated how important it is for bike-pedestrian-trail advocates to have access to multiple funding sources.

    "We are ecstatic to have this signature project come to fruition so quickly," says Greg Maxted, Executive Director of the Harahan Bridge Project. "We started talking about the project in 2010, got private funding and support in 2011, won a TIGER grant in 2012. Now the engineering is complete and the construction will start in the fall."

    The new U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, visited Memphis this week to tour the Main Street to Main Street Connector Project, evidence of its high profile and the widespread support behind this multi-state project.

    "Putting together a coalition of two states, two counties, and two cities, along with support of the private sector, was key to winning the TIGER grant in 2012," Maxted says. (Click the image above for an animated look at the vision for the completed pathway).

    All this month we are featuring stories about great places in Tennessee. Please share your stories on Facebook, Twitter (@railstotrails) and Instagram (@railstotrails), using #RTCTennessee.

    All photos courtesy www.harahanbridgeproject.com
    Animation created by O.T. Marshall Architects  

     

     

  • The Prevention Fund: Smart Money For Local Programs. So Why is Congress Trying to Kill It?

    When a neighborhood in Seattle realized it desperately needed to make it easier for local children to walk or ride to school in order to keep those kids healthy and active, the Prevention Fund helped them do it. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington used Prevention Fund money to find and map the safest routes to schools in that neighborhood, and trained teachers on how to encourage the kids to bike or walk.

    In southernmost Illinois, one rural community was suffering from high rates of obesity caused, in part, by a lack of close and affordable recreation facilities, such as gyms and pools. That community was able to use Prevention Fund money to print and distribute maps of trails in the area where people could get regular exercise for free. They also produced bold signs that said "Start Walking" - nothing like a little encouragement!

    Already, the people in that community are getting healthier. Talk about bang for your buck - a few maps and some signs as a way of solving the most pressing public health challenge of our time. Simple, smart.

    When it comes to making positive changes to local communities, our experience tells us that nobody does it better than the people who live in that community. Locals groups and leaders are invested in the place, and so their solutions are appropriate for that place, creative, cost-efficient, and driven by community understanding and passion.

    Created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Prevention Fund is the nation's first large dedicated source of funds for preventing health problems. As we see in the above examples, making it easier for people to regularly walk or bike is a simple but powerful preventative medicine. Thanks to the Prevention Fund, relatively small investments in promoting walking and biking are saving the nation many billions of dollars in future health care costs.

    That is why I am alarmed by continued efforts by some in Congress to undercut the Prevention Fund.  Working with allies in the public health community, we are monitoring threats to the Prevention Fund as Congress works towards a budget for next year. 

    You can see why the Prevention Fund makes good sense - for our nation's health and its bottom line.

    We are going to need your help in the next few weeks to protect the funding for this vital program. I hope you will take the time to act when, as we expect, the Prevention Fund faces an imminent threat. All you need to do now is take a few moments to sign up for our Action Alerts, and you'll be the first to know when the trails and health community is ready to rally to the defense of the Prevention Fund.

    Image courtesy www.pedbikeimages.org / Dan Burden

     

     

  • Moonville Rail-Trail Saves Money by Using Old Rail Cars as Bridges

    Photo and story by Eric Oberg/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Bridges are a costly need for rail-trails, many of which cross streams, roadways and even other rail corridors. After engineering and installation quotes were obtained from a precast bridge supplier for bridges along Ohio’s Moonville Rail-Trail, the reality of the extremely costly challenge became clear. So when members of the trail’s nonprofit group heard that old flatbed rail cars might be available from the federal government’s Gaseous Diffusion Plant near Piketon, Ohio, a light bulb went on and calls were made. The rumor was true: some rail cars were available to eligible entities, including nonprofits. Over the next few months the trail group expressed its interest, then waited, worried and wondered what needed to be done to get the cars to their corridor. Moonville Rail-Trail President Neil Shaw finally got the call in August and was informed that three cars were ready for pick-up.

    Although the cars were donated at no charge, they had to be moved within three days to avoid a stiff storage fee. A friend of the trail with a big rig and trailer came to the rescue. Just shy of the move deadline, three rail cars were being backed down the corridor toward the first bridge site. The rail cars are heavy steel flat bed cars, as if they were manufactured to someday work as a bridge structure.  The sheer strength, size and shape made these cars ideal bridges.

    Two large cranes were rented for lifting the cars off of the trailer and then placing them on the existing bridge abutments. As the cars were scrutinized it was found that they were actually not 50 feet long, as advertised, but were instead 46 feet, nine inches long. With bridge abutments exactly 50 feet apart at the first site, some good old-fashioned ingenuity was needed. The contractor working to install the bridges, Seneca Steel from nearby Logan, Ohio, was more than up to the task. Using portable truck-mounted welding equipment, the contractor fabricated extensions for each end of the rail car, as well as feet that were then bolted to the abutments to make the elevation work to match the adjoining trail tread. This amazing work has resulted in a snugly fit bridge structure that should service the trail for decades to come.

    The second bridge site was an even larger challenge. The opening from abutment to abutment was measured at 54 feet, and again the rail cars were only 46 feet, nine inches. The torches came out and the more than seven feet necessary to finish the span was simply cut from the third rail car. This piece will be welded onto the car and the bridge placed on the abutments. 

    The Moonville Rail-Trail now boasts two bridge decks in need of decking and railings. Until now, the bridges have cost the group under $4,000 for transportation and installation work.  They are currently soliciting bids for the wood necessary to complete the projects. The original quote for building, transport and installation from the pre-fab company was $54,000 for the first bridge and $84,000 for the second. What trail group, looking at a huge capital need such as a bridge project, cannot appreciate a savings of more than $100,000?

  • In Central Pennsylvania, the Rail-Trails Keep Coming

    The state of Pennsylvania continues to build upon and improve its already impressive rail-trail network. Millersburg Borough is this week celebrating the news that a "gaming grant," funded by revenue from state-licensed casinos, will fund the continued construction of the Lykens Valley Rail Trail, a planned 20-mile multi-use trail that's been under development for about 10 years.

    Just a stone's throw from RTC's Northeast regional office in Camp Hill, the development of this rail-trail along the former Lykens Valley Railroad comes as the residents of nearby Lewisburg begin to calculate the tremendous popularity and impact of the relatively new Buffalo Valley Rail Trail. A recent study by researchers at Bucknell University found that the 9.2-mile trail between Lewisburg and Mifflinburg has the potential to bring an estimated $280,925 annually to recreational business in the area.

    The once booming anthracite coal industry in the region left many miles of rail corridor suitable for trail development. A few miles to the east of the Lykens Valley Rail Trail is the rough but ready Swatara Rail Trail; to the south is the Stony Valley Railroad Grade (above). Further afield in every direction are rail-trails of all sizes and styles, boosting hopes of local businesspeople and officials that this neck of the woods will continue to develop a sustainable economy around trails tourism.

    Great work, P.A. 

    Photo courtesy www.traillink.com

     

  • Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn

    For people who love trails, long rides, picturesque towns, farms, mountains and rivers, Pennsylvania is a great place to be. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has a long history of involvement in Pennsylvania, helping local trails groups, volunteers and agencies develop some of the best trails networks in the country. Our annual Greenway Sojourn has had a lot to do with that, highlighting opportunities for new trails and celebrating existing routes. 

    This year's Sojourn took us to an area that is fast developing a reputation as the new destination for trails enthusiasts: the northern Laurel Highlands, east of Pittsburgh.

    For the first three nights of the Sojourn, we set up camp in a great spot next to the Ghost Town Trail in the town of Ebensburg. About 100 riders chose to join us for an optional first day ride on Tuesday, down to the Path of the Flood Trail, through Franklin and into the historical city of Johnstown.

    While there were many highlights that day, such as passing through the oldest railroad tunnel in America, traveling up the world's steepest vehicular incline (the Johnstown Inclined Plane), and visiting the Path of the Flood Museum, the day was particularly significant for another reason. This ride was the first time a group had passed along the newly cleared route from the Staple Bend railroad tunnel, where the Path of the Flood Trail now ends, through to Franklin and Johnstown. As those of us who braved it know, much work remains to be done before it is rideable--most Sojourners had to walk their bikes through the thick brush. But by beating a path for the Sojourn, RTC and local trails volunteers have forced the issue of what remains to be done to complete this vital connection. 

    Talking with some riders later that night, I was told that one local cyclist, on seeing the Sojourners emerge from the wilderness on their way to Johnstown, expressed his great excitement that such a connection was in the works. Hopefully the energy of more locals like him will push the project forward!

    But our trails pioneering wasn't done yet. With the remainder of the 250 Sojourners joining us for the official kick-off the next day, we headed west along the ever-present Ghost Town Trail through the town of Nanty-Glo. There, RTC's Mr Sojourn, Tom Sexton, unveiled the brand-new Cambria and Indiana Trail (C&I). Named for the railroad company that operated the original line the trail follows, the C&I loops north off the Ghost Town and reconnects in the town of Vintondale. 

    There is no denying it, the C&I also needs some smoothing work; loose ballast and BMX-style humps were a bit much for some riders, and it will be a little while yet before this rail-trail can be opened to the public.

    But, like the path through the wilderness from the Staple Bend Tunnel, by bringing the Sojourn to this region RTC has taken some crucial first steps to develop all the trail assets and connectivity of the region. 

    There must be something about the Sojourn that brings the hot weather! As has been the case in previous years, this year's Sojourn coincided with a newsworthy heat wave, with temperatures about 15 degrees above the average. It occasionally made for tough riding, but everyone was careful to drink plenty of water and look after themselves.

    Still, in 90-plus degrees, the 52-mile ride along the Ghost Town and West Penn trails from Ebensburg to Saltsburg was hard on a lot of folks. When the riders finally pulled in to the sumptuous grounds of the Kiski School above Saltsburg, sweat, exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment mingled in equal parts. The indoor and outdoor pools were popular spots over the next few days, with the Pittsburgh kids putting on a spectacular display from the diving board. 

    After many hot miles on the bike, the canoe and kayak trip down the Conemaugh River on the third day was a welcome change and allowed us to experience a different kind of recreational pathway. Enjoying this perfect antidote to the heat, Sojourners spent as much time in the river as in their boats, drifting slowly down the river swollen by a specially timed release from the Conemaugh Dam upstream. 

    A small group of dedicated riders took up the invitation of some local cyclists to explore the myriad of trails around Saltsburg, including the Westmoreland Heritage Trail and the Roaring Run Trail.

    One of important requirements to keep energy levels up after a long ride or paddle is good food. We were fortunate this year to again have the services of Dave Rose and Galloping Gourmet catering, which consistently dished up delicious and nutritious meals, often sourced from local farms and producers. That baked chicken was especially tasty!

    Thankfully, things cooled off just a little for the final two days. On Saturday the Sojourn pulled up stakes at the Kiski School for the 32-mile ride to Indiana, following the West Penn Trail and the meandering Conemaugh River back east, before turning north through Black Lick on the Hoodlebug Trail.

    The Indiana University of Pennsylvania playing fields made a fine home for the Sojourn's last night of camping under the stars. As in Saltsburg and Ebensburg, we were a short walk from downtown, and a number of riders made the most of this vibrant college town.

    The reception at the Jimmy Stewart Museum was a definite highlight--thank you to our impersonator and interpreter Chris Collins, who provided a Jimmy Stewart experience few Sojourners will forget! 

    By Sunday, many of the Sojourners were ready to return to a few home comforts. As wonderful as the trails were, after six nights in a tent, a cozy mattress and a long bath starts to look pretty good.

    So the final day's ride back to Ebensburg was a nice time to reflect on the many miles we had traveled in the week behind us, the people we had met, and the summits we had bested, actual or otherwise. And for some it was one last chance for a refreshing soak in Blacklick Creek! 

    Many thanks to the volunteers and Sojourn supporters who do so much to make this ride possible every year. And thanks also to all those who took part, this year and in years past. Your passion for trails, and your support of RTC is enormously important, and much appreciated.

    We hope to see you sometime soon, out and about on the trails!

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy - click on any of the photos for a slideshow of images from the Sojourn.

  • Illinois Rail-Trail Ride Perfect for First-Timers

    When Jason Berry of Blue Island, Ill., told his mom that friends had talked him and his wife Mary into signing up for an overnight bicycle camping tour, his mom was incredulous.

    "She asked if our friends really knew us at all," says Jason, with a smile.

    Jason and Mary had never gone camping by bike before. But that made them the perfect people for this particular bike camping tour--GITy Up! 2012.

    Covering a spectacular triangle loop of rail-trails west of Chicago, GITy Up! is purposefully designed for those who haven't done many long rides before but are keen to take the plunge. The route is flat and largely car-free, and there will be plenty of mechanical and gear support on-hand.

    "Bicycle touring is an amazing cross-country adventure," says Steve Buchtel (pictured right), executive director of the nonprofit Trails for Illinois and organizer of GITy Up! 2012. "Folks riding cross-country have the legs, the gear and, most of all, the time to hit the open road days on end. They're like the one-percenters of everybody who rides a bike. We wanted to introduce bike touring to the 99 percent."

    The GIT in GITy Up! stands for the Grand Illinois Trail, a 500-mile loop connecting a number of existing rail-trails, from Chicago to the Mississippi River and back

    Trails for Illinois are obviously eager to impress new riders with the beauty of Illinois' rail-trails. In addition to the lovely Fox River Trail, riders will get to experience the Illinois Prairie Path, one of America's premier rail-trails and a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

    Riders will camp overnight in Delnor Woods in St. Charles. The route also showcases interesting attractions like Cantigny, Fermilab and the attractive communities along the trails.

    "They're towns that know how to cater to trail users," Buchtel says.

    Trails for Illinois will transport all participants' bags and tents, so riders don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on feather-light, compact camping equipment, or much more on the touring bikes that carry it. Any bike you can ride comfortably for 25 miles and can carry a water bottle is likely perfect for the compacted gravel surface of much of the route," says Buchtel.

    Trails for Illinois will also cater dinner and breakfast, "with s'mores filling much of the time in between."

    Bike camping experts from REI will provide on-route and on-site assistance. And throughout May, REI will host overnight bike camping classes (and special deals) for GITy Up! riders and others considering overnight bicycle touring at their Chicago-area locations.

    And best of all, the proceeds of GITy Up! support the work of Trails for Illinois, a nonprofit trail organization that's helping Illinois create an interconnected network of non-motorized, multi-use trails.

    Registration is limited to 250 riders. To register, or for more information visit www.trailsforillinois.org/gityup.

     

  • LaHood Hails "Eye-Opening Report on the Value of Investing in Nonmotorized Transportation"

    Since the nation's first-ever experiment to gauge the impact of concentrated investment in biking and walking infrastructure in America was launched in 2007, lawmakers and transportation planners have been awaiting this moment - the publication of the project data evaluating the real impact of this infrastructure on communities.

    Now, the numbers are in-and data counts reveal a more positive impact than even the program's most ardent advocates anticipated.

    The U.S. Congress last week was handed the statistical analysis of the first three years of the groundbreaking Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), which dedicated $25 million to each of four communities across the country to accurately demonstrate whether such investments equate to significantly higher levels of walking and bicycling, and a reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

    Between 2007 and 2010, new multi-use paths, bike lanes, pedestrian routes and trails in the four pilot communities - Minneapolis, Minn., Sheboygan County, Wisc., Marin County, Calif., and Columbia, Mo. - resulted in an estimated 32 million driving miles being averted. Non-motorized transportation infrastructure enabled local residents to choose to walk or bike for local trips, reducing traffic congestion and pollution, improving physical activity rates and sharply cutting into time spent driving.

    Counts in the four pilot communities revealed an average increase of 49 percent more bicyclists and 22 percent more pedestrians between 2007 and 2010. The mode shift in these communities - how many people switched from cars to biking and walking for trips - also far outstripped the national average for the same period.

    U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today described the release of NTPP data as an "eye-opening report on the value of investing in nonmotorized transportation."

    Established and funded by federal transportation legislation SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) in 2005 - and with management support from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) - NTPP set aside $100 million for biking and walking infrastructure in four communities of varying size across the country.

    "Anecdotally, we have already heard overwhelming evidence of how each community's investment in bike lanes, trails and sidewalks has returned myriad benefits," says Marianne Fowler, RTC's senior vice president of federal relations,. "Not just helping people get from A to B but also increasing physical activity levels and energizing downtown shopping districts. These effects have been hailed by everyone from business leaders and elected officials, to health workers and teachers, across the four pilot communities. It is great to see those outcomes reflected in hard data."

    Fowler says that with the evidence now in black and white before them, Congressional representatives across the nation must be compelled to recognize that continued investment in walking in biking represents terrific value for American taxpayers. Multiply the data from these four communities on a national scale, after all, and the results are simply astounding.

    The report on the impact of the NTPP comes at an opportune time, with the House and Senate still locked in debate over the passage of the next federal Transportation Bill. With opponents of walking and biking infrastructure claiming it is a frivolous use of transportation funding in these tough economic times, the testimony of state and local leaders, businesspeople, residents and health officials as to their cost-efficiency and effectiveness, and data supporting their improved functioning of transportation systems, will be welcome messages.

    "These are not all typical, bike-friendly cities," Fowler says. "These four communities represent a solid cross-section of America. Even in places like Sheboygan, which doesn't have urban density, has cold winters, and has had almost no experience with biking and walking initiatives in the past, locals have rapidly become champions because they have seen the real-time effects, the actual benefits to their community. The incongruous thing is that Congress, with a simple, low-cost solution to so many transportation problems right here in front of them, can't see the people for the cars."

    Kevin Mills, RTC's vice president of policy and trail development, says that even though the findings of this report are already compelling, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

    "Changes in behavior related to infrastructure take years to emerge, as bike paths and trails and sidewalks become familiar parts of people's daily lives," Mills says. "That we are already seeing such significant increases in biking and walking in these communities is encouraging. But it is just the beginning of the amazing shift in travel behavior that we expect to see."

    "By every measure, this program has been a raging success for these four communities," Mills says. "They prove that concentrated investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure produces a significant shift in the way people get around. These documented increases in trips taken on bike and by foot represent significant reductions in vehicle miles travelled, helping to cut congestion, pollution and health-care costs while increasing mobility for all citizens. These improvements represent a terrific return on investment. We hope that this compelling evidence will catch the eye of those lawmakers who are, as we speak, making decisions about America's transportation future."

    The report estimates that boosting the amount of pedestrian and bicycle activity in these communities reduced the economic cost of mortality by about $6.9 million. Doctors and the broader public health community have long been advocating increasing opportunities for biking and walking as a cost-effective strategy to reduce illness and wasteful spending on reactive health care.

    "From the public health perspective of reversing the intertwined trio of obesity, type II diabetes and physical inactivity, the NTPP represents a true front line intervention," says Kristina Jones, RTC's healthy communities manager. "In addition to the human burden, diabetes and prediabetes alone cost Americans $218 billion in 2007. We know that physical activity is crucial to prevention and control - prevention that in the coming years will save these communities many millions of dollars in unnecessary reactive health care."

    More data on the success of the NTPP will be made available in the coming months. Stay tuned. 

     

  • Once Considered Wasteful, New Rail-Trail Proves Very Useful to Lewisburg, Pa.

    For local transportation planners and rail-trail builders, it is a familiar story: County announces trail project, sections of the community oppose project as wasteful use of money, rail-trail opens to wild acclaim, rail-trail is incredibly popular and well-used, opposition vanishes.

    It is a pattern now repeating itself in Union County, Pa.  When the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority (LARA) began building the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail back in 2009, some residents described the use of state and federal grants to purchase the corridor and construct the trail as "state-sponsored robbery."

    Still, officials in Union County, Lewisburg and East Buffalo knew that such a transportation option and recreational amenity for this growing area, home to Bucknell University, was a key piece of infrastructure the region needed if it was to continue to grow sustainably and attract new residents and businesses. And from the moment the trail opened in November of last year, connecting Lewisburg, Vicksburg and Mifflinburg, it became clear they had done a terrific thing for the county.

    The Daily Item news site out of nearby Sunbury is reporting that an automated counting device set up by Bucknell University students tallied an average of 400 people using the nine-mile rail-trail each day, numbers that indicate that locals are using the trail for practical trips as well as for recreation.

    That user-popularity is also building a large volunteer community around the trail. For the first trail clean-up event in April, 82 people volunteered to help out--about nine people per mile. Local 'ownership' of the rail-trail is a strong sign of its value to residents.

    When the rail-trail was still on the drawing board, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office provided LARA with trail-user projections and qualitative analysis of how it would benefit the community, ensuring local officials maintained their support of the project.

    "Our studies indicate the average economic impact of a rail-trail in Pennsylvania, just to the local community, ranges from a low of $1 million per year to a high of more than $4 million," says Pat Tomes, RTC's program manager in the Northeast. "These are compelling figures. This economic impact is generated by new and existing businesses that serve the needs of trail users, not to mention the proven impact local trails have on home prices and an area's appeal to potential new residents. Having studied what happens to communities that build trail networks, the evidence is clear that they represent a measureable investment in the economic vitality of a community."

    Congratulations, Union County, on your new rail-trail. As we have seen with new rail-trail projects across the country, no doubt the number of daily trail-users will continue to grow, year after year.

    Photo and map of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail courtesy of LARA.

  • B-Line Rail-Trail Helps Pull Downtown Bloomington, Ind., Together

    By Herb Hiller

    Where a rail line once poured raw materials into downtown Bloomington, Ind., a trail now pours cyclists. From downtown, same as ever, finished goods roll out and into the world. What used to be furniture and cut limestone have become college grads testing their futures. What else might you expect from Bloomington, a city of 80,000, where more than half the population are the students, scholars and staff at the main campus of Indiana University?

    Each year during Move-in Week, some 10,000 freshmen file in, fanning out with their ambitions four years later. Except that not all 10,000 a year leave.

    Many of those who stay in Bloomington embrace a civic outlook that ties quality of life to economic development. They see a city government that values the benefits of trails--trails that supply safe paths to school and family fitness, trails that rank high when the time comes to acquire a new place to live. In Bloomington, when trails go in, houses follow. A few corn silos and barns remain at the last close-in farms, giving way to subdivision houses with paths that drop from hillside doors to rail-replacing trail.

    Bloomington trails mostly date from 2000. The Wapehani Mountain Bike Trail offers five miles of single-track adventure six miles southwest of town. A mile of rail-with-trail connects affordable student housing to campus. Newest is the .6-mile Jackson Creek Trail that links two eastside schools.

    What Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan calls the "most significant economic development project on the city's agenda. . . monumental in its scope and importance," is the multi-modal, 12-foot-wide B-Line Trail. Starting at little more than a half-mile three years ago, the B-Line's latest extension, completed September this year, carries the trail a total of 3.1 miles.

    The trail juxtaposes city and country. It's textured with bridges and interpretive signs that spool our way through time. So much that everyone likes about this city happened along this route. No matter how smooth your tires, history rumbles beneath.

    Bike and trail culture flourish. The Oscar-winning Breaking Away from 1979 endowed Bloomington as a nationally iconic cycling city. Bloomington Velo News blogs about re-showings as well as about Bike Week in May, the Hilly Hundred in fall, the annual downtown criterium and regional tournaments hosted by the Bike Polo Club. Two or three downtown shops rent bikes. The Little 500 is the biggest intramural event on the IU campus, and America's largest collegiate bike race.

    Look through trail master plans of the city and surrounding Monroe County and you find trails extending big loops to the northeast, to the south and shafts of trail across county lines You grasp how Mayor Kruzan's vision suffuses an entire county's outlook. A hundred additional trail miles will help renew rural towns and capture new green tourists.

    Two sections of trail linger moist in memory. The B-Line first slopes south with a mile banked on either side by outcroppings of limestone, mornings slick with dewy grass. Maple forest shadows the way. Locomotive engineers would have gently braked their way down, likely long and fondly remembering this sylvan grade. 

    Limestone mills that clustered along the tracks are gone, but hardly the limestone. Chunks lie in a remaining yard as they once did at almost a dozen mills ready for loading onto freight cars bound far and wide. Demand followed the Chicago Fire of 1871 that made flame-scorning limestone the choice for monumental structures--over time for the National Cathedral, the Empire State Building and the Pentagon, while also advancing Beaux Arts style in America. The Campus as a Work of Art by author Thomas Gaines 20 years ago named the limestone-prevalent IU campus "one of the five most beautiful in America." Downtown that once clamored with citizen-annoying stone-cutting machines has given way to student-pleasing finished stone seating (as well as iron street furniture) for trailside socializing.

    Here you feel the city-anchoring power of this trail. A small downtown cabinet business less than a century ago grew to boast itself the largest furniture company in the world. The Showers Brothers Company factory's pinnacled roof today houses trailside offices of Bloomington and Monroe County. Bloomingfoods has opened its third natural foods market a block south.

    Fountain Square surrounds the old county courthouse, its perimeter shops almost all mom-and-pops, including Book Corner with its 5,000 magazines, and several of Bloomington's nearly 100 distinct restaurants. IU student-pianist Hoagy Carmichael and touring cornet legend-in-the-making Bix Beiderbecke made 1924 jazz history by performing together here and on campus.

    An historical sign a block off the trail marks the 1820 site of Indiana Seminary that became IU. 

    Art shows up everywhere trailside. Fanciful oversized cut metal fish flash their colors atop trailside poles; cafes alongside display their menus on colorfully chalked boards. Custom-designed bike racks show the B-Line logo, and there's the art-splashed WonderLab Science Museum for kids. A heavy iron trestle, topped by stunning blue geometric superstructure, carries the trail from downtown over four traffic lanes.

    A roundabout at the B-Line's south end connects with the 2.3-mile Clear Creek Trail that heads north-northwest to a trailhead alongside a busy road. The trail meanders out in the open among subdivisions and still-open fields, so that anyone who rides outbound from town will also want to ride both back again to savor the B-Line's rich palette the other way.

    South across Country Club Road, finely crushed gravel composes the second memorable section of trail, easy to ride on all but the thinnest tires. Its some two miles channel through forest that comfortably shades the trail where even summer afternoon temperatures drop a cooling eight to 10 degrees. Cyclists appearing around curves hear the phantom squeal of steel wheels against steel track. Clear Creek itself dribbles south from the roundabout beneath the old Harris Ford Suspension Bridge, relocated here after 113 years of service nearby.

    For a mile, the trail continues rideable though narrowing path. The way stays wet after rain. Roots and flinty outcroppings turn the path slick and dangerous, enough to turn anyone back. That's not to say you can't--or won't--return.

    Herb Hiller is at work on a book on unmarketed travel, of which Bloomington will serve as a chapter. He is Florida's Trail Advocate of the Year.  

    Photos (top to bottom, left to right): downtown Bloomington, courtesy of the city of Bloomington; the B-Line Trail, courtesy of the city of Bloomington; the B-Line Trail, by Herb Hiller; art along the trail, by Herb Hiller; new B-Line Bridge over Grimes Lane. 

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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