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RTC TrailBlog

  • How They Did It: 47 Miles Across Michigan's Iron Range

    It's rapidly garnering attention as one of Michigan's most exciting rail-trail projects - the 47-mile Iron Ore Heritage Trail deep into the Marquette Iron Range of the Upper Peninsula. As the trail continues to grow, RTC caught up with the driving force behind the trail's remarkable grassroots effort, Carol Fulsher, for her take on the significance of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail to Michigan's past, and its future.

    The History:

    "Call us the outdoor museum where you exercise your body and mind. The Marquette Iron Range marks the beginning of iron ore mining in the entire Lake Superior Region, which has fed the furnaces of the steel industry since 1845. This region supplied the raw resource of ore that eventually made the cannons and cannonballs for the Civil War, the weaponry and ships of World Wars I and II, and fueled the industrial revolution. And, of course, the millions of automobiles made in the Motor City."

    The Landscape:

    "The 47-mile Iron Ore Heritage Trail crosses the Marquette Iron Range. You ride along Lake Superior's beautiful harbor where gigantic ore docks hover over the lake. You'll find giant mine shafts towering over six stories high, you'll cruise past mine pits gleaming with shiny ore, and you'll bike through the towns that grew up with mining and shipping money."

    The Trail:

    "Of the 47-mile proposed route, 30 miles have been upgraded with asphalt and/or a crushed limestone/granite. The remaining 17 miles are along the Duluth South Shore and Atlantic and Lake Superior and Ishpeming rail grades. These are currently hard-packed dirt but are slated to be upgraded in the years ahead."

    The Future:

    "With any trail project, the tough part is securing the land in order to secure the funding. The Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority (the managing entity) used land swaps, easements, and land purchases to secure the entire 47-mile route. Much of it was garnered through the State of Michigan's purchase of rail grades, but areas were also bought by local municipalities and Marquette County's Recreation Authority. In one short section, the trail corridor is actually being resurrected for rail service again, and an alternate route had to be secured. 

    In August 2013, we finished our largest project to date: a 12-mile section between Negaunee and Marquette connecting two major communities along the trail. This section provided some interesting challenges. We needed to convert an unused rail bridge into a pedestrian/bike friendly crossing of a major highway, which required the commitment of Michigan Department of Transportation (the owner of the bridge), the city (the lessee of the bridge), and the Recreation Authority (the sublessee and upgrader of the bridge surface). We were also involved in a three way land swap among a private property owner, the State Department of Natural Resources, and the Recreation Authority.

    Lastly, a two-mile section of rail grade which was never quite vacated was needed for a local railroad company's future plans. Through the State of Michigan's intervention, the 100-foot corridor under the rail was secured by the state and the railroad was allowed to add rail in the future. Users can now learn about our mining past while seeing our mining present: trains filled with iron ore pellets (right) making their way from the mines to the harbor."

    Photos courtesy Iron Ore Heritage Trail


  • Demolition of Historic Bridge Would Be Another Setback for Rail-Trail in Pennsylvania

    "Rome was not built in a day," as the famous saying goes. That's not a fact that needs to be pointed out to the people of Lancaster County in southeast Pennsylvania.

    It has been 22 years since the railroad company Conrail filed to officially abandon a section of the Enola Branch rail line, which runs through the townships of Bart, Sadsbury, Conestoga, Eden, Providence and Martic. In that time, widespread support for the conversion of the 23-mile section of rail corridor into a multi-use trail has been held up by costly and complex legal proceedings and title disputes, which has in turn delayed funding applications.

    This past summer many improvements were made on what is now referred to as the Enola Low-Grade Trail. A rough surface of crushed limestone was laid by Amtrak on one section of the trail, where it needed access for its trucks to install new power lines. And while technically the entire corridor is open to the public, significant improvements, and secure maintenance and funding agreements, are needed if the trail is to become the regional attraction supporters believe it should be. Trail users this month report at least one township had posted "No Trespassing" signs along the corridor.

    Though the painful progress is frustrating for everyone involved, the passage of time has produced a remarkably resolute group of local rail-trail advocates. The project's delay has given them ample opportunity to study the benefits rail-trails across Pennsylvania have brought to communities just like theirs, strengthening their resolve to make good use of the out-of-service corridor.

    One of these advocates is Mark Rudy, roadmaster and outgoing supervisor for Eden Township. According to an article at Lancaster Online, Rudy was once opposed to the idea of a recreational trail but changed his mind as the great public desire for a trail became evident.

    This month, Rudy is responding to a pressing threat that has the potential to set the rail-trail project back once again and rob the area of an irreplaceable piece of its rich heritage.

    An historic stone arch bridge, which once carried steam-powered locomotives into Eden at the turn of the 20th century, is set to be demolished as early as this spring. Demolition of the Pumping Station Road bridge, built with blocks cut by Italian stonemasons a century ago, was ordered by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 1997; in transferring the corridor to the six townships in 2008, Conrail's successor, Norfolk Southern, included the same language requiring demolition of a number of structures.

    Rudy is circulating a petition in the area to save the Pumping Station Road bridge. He is concerned not only for the unique historical value of the bridge, but also its function as a vital part of the rail-trail. Rudy estimates the bridge would last another three generations with no upkeep costs. Demolition of the bridge would not only cost tens of thousands of dollars, but would also necessitate the construction of a new bridge for trail users.

    It is very much the 11th hour for the bridge, and the immediate future of the rail-trail. Bids for demolition are due in mid-January, and the structure could be gone by spring.

    Rudy suggests anyone wanting to support the preservation of the Pumping Station Road bridge should contact PUC Chairman Robert Powelson at 717-787-4301, or Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Cutler at bcutler@pahousegop.com and 717-783-6424.

    If you are interested in supporting the Enola Low-Grade Trail effort, or for more information, contact Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Northeast Regional Office at 717.238.1717 or northeast@railstotrails.org.

    Photo courtesy of lancasteronline.com.


  • Take Action: Help the River of Grass Greenway in South Florida

    An important study is being conducted in Dade County, Fla., to build more bridges on U.S. Highway 41 immediately west of Krome Avenue (outskirts of Miami) for the purpose of restoring water flow to the Everglades. The recommended $330-million plan for the Tamiami Trail Modifications (TTM) project includes 5.5 miles of bridges in a 10-mile project area, but does not include a pathway. These bridges span key sections of the proposed River of Grass Greenway, which, when completed, will link Florida's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Not including a pathway in the study would create huge barriers for this significant regional connection.

    Help convince planners to include a multi-use pathway by submitting public comments before July 27. Reasons to include a multi-use pathway in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) include:

    • Encouraging non-motorized transportation within the Everglades natural area will magnifiy the environmental value of this project.
    • A pathway will reduce congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependency on oil, and improve visitor mobility and accessibility.
    • U.S. Highway 41 is an integral transportation corridor, thus a full evaluation of transportation issues should be included in the EIS. U.S. Highway 41 is the only cross-state transportation corridor in southern Florida open to cyclists and hikers, and the sole access road to many popular Everglades destinations, such as Shark Valley.
    • A pathway is part of both a planned connection to Shark Valley and the cross-state River of Grass Greenway. It will be more efficient to incorporate the pathway into the TTM project now than to retrofit later, if a future retrofit is not precluded by design issues.
    • A pathway will provide an excellent opportunity for education of Everglades restoration. The TTM project has negligible educational value, yet a primary mission of the National Parks is education.

    See Friends of the River of Grass Greenway for more information and other useful links.

    Image courtesy of Friends of the River of Grass Greenway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Doctors Hail Trails as Crucial to Improving America's Health

    The recent focus on the American health care system brought to light the fact that an extraordinary amount of time, money and precious resources are spent on reactive treatment - drugs and surgery to counteract what are often lifestyle-related ailments.

    Medical professionals now understand that proactive health care is often the most efficient, effective and long-lasting - by living healthier day-to-day lives we immunize ourselves from the chronic illnesses that stem from obesity, lack of exercise, and poor diet.

    Kaiser Permanente, a medical insurance company, has put a big focus on healthier lifestyles as pre-emptive health care. This week they launched the first "Every Body Walk" campaign to encourage more Americans to include a regular stroll into their daily routines.

    Almost half of all urban trips in the United States are less than two miles, but almost all of these are taken by car. By choosing to walk rather than drive just a few times a week, we can all make a big difference to our personal health. Many doctors now believe that walking just 150 minutes a week can have marked impact on treating a range of problems, from depression to high blood pressure.

    Encouraging walking is a big part of RTC's work, too (along with biking, riding, skiing - and anything else that involves a trail), which is why we are partnering with Kaiser Permanente on Every Body Walk!

    RTC President Keith Laughlin said a few words to kick off proceedings at the campaign launch celebration in Washington, D.C. last night. Talking about how the built environment can either be an impediment to, or a promoter of, healthy living, Keith said that D.C. residents were fortunate to live in a relatively walk-friendly city.

    "We have that option. But that's not a given for many Americans," he said. "Over the past 50 years we have built landscapes that work for cars but not always for people. In many communities it is inconvenient, or even dangerous, to go for a walk, to try and live an active lifestyle."

    Speaking just days after RTC's advocacy efforts helped ward off threats to federal funding for bike and pedestrian projects, Keith said there was a massive disconnect between what residents and local businesses wanted to see in their communities, and what many federal politicians understood.

    "At the local level, people are yearning for investments in their cities and towns that make them more livable and walkable," he said. "But on capitol hill, there is often the feeling that things like bike paths and sidewalks are 'nice to have, but not essential.' We have a real challenge to convince them otherwise."

    The testimony of medical professionals is now adding to the growing weight of evidence that investing in biking and walking infrastructure will not only save the nation billions in reduced oil consumption and environmental mitigation, but also slash wasteful health care expenditure.

    Dr. Bob Sallis is one of the many medical professionals who regularly prescribes walking to his patients. He says that instead of focusing on the numbers of a bathroom scale, people worried about their weight should be focusing on a different set of numbers - how many minutes a week they walk.

    "Walking really is the cornerstone of combating non-communicable diseases," he said. "This is the beginning of a crucial health message. As a public health community, this is like where we were with smoking, 20 years ago."

    Dr. Sallis says he consistently sees improvement in patients from increasing the number of minutes they walk each week - and that for maladies such as depression, walking has a myriad of positive side effects that psychotherapy and medication do not.

    Today, Kaiser Permanente's impressive new facility next to Union Station will host a Walking Summit featuring noted experts in public health, research and walkable communities. The Summit will explain to policymakers why creating a walking agenda would prevent and mitigating chronic conditions in America.

    On Wednesday - RTC will host a walking tour of the Met Branch Trail, from 1 to 3 p.m. To take part, register here, and show up at 400 S Street, NE.

    The Iverson Mall walkers will also host a morning walk on Wednesday from 7:30 to 11 a.m. at the Iverson Mall in Hillcrest Heights, Md.

    On Friday - there's something awesome for the kids, parents and teachers. The Forum on Walking and Kids will address the economic, environmental, transit and safety aspects of creating a culture of walking. The Forum will be followed by a noontime walking school bus with D.C.-area school children, led by the Samurai Power Rangers, stars of the #1 kids action series! The Power Rangers are teaching kids and families how to put the Power Rangers values of teamwork, confidence, health and physical activity into action.

    To register for Wednesday's walk on the Met Branch Trail, or any of the Every Body Walk events this week, follow this link.

    For more information, visit www.everybodywalk.org

    Photos by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy - RTC President Keith Laughlin and Dr Bob Sallis discuss the nexus of trails infrastructure and public health at the new Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington D.C.

  • 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.


  • 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.  


  • Goat Maintenance: The Kids Are Hungry in Red Mountain Park

    Acres and acres of overgrown thickets of invasive plants: It is a land manager’s worst nightmare, but a goat’s ultimate dream. It’s time these two were introduced.

    Ian Hazelhoff, natural resource specialist at Red Mountain Park, is overseeing a goat-browsing project to evaluate the effectiveness of goats on invasive species removal. Fifty goats are feasting on foliage at the park outside of Birmingham, Ala., this week.

    What do these goats eat? According to Hazelhoff, everything, so he does recommend caution when one is considering making use of the enthusiastic eaters.

    “In an area where you have both native and invasive plants, goats might not be an ideal management tool, because they’ll eat just about anything,” he explains. Hazelhoff adds, however, that in the 3.5 acres in Red Mountain Park where goat maintenance is currently taking place, the two main culprits, kudzu and Chinese privet, have outcompeted nearly all other plants—"requiring a heavy hand from a management perspective." For this particular plot of land, the goats fit the bill.

    If the goats weren’t munching away, what would be the solution for removing these invasive species? 

    “Most of the time for this part of a restoration project, we have to use heavy machinery. We can clear roughly the same plot of land in about a day’s work, but it has some negative aspects,” explains Hazelhoff, adding that the machinery requires diesel fuel and leaves biomass such as sticks, leaves and seeds that can propagate and allow the invasive plants to return, despite all of their work. “With the goats, there is no problem of leftover biomass; they don’t leave anything in their wake. Goats eat all of that, and there is much less site preparation as the restoration moves forward,” says Hazelhoff.

    Creating innovative solutions and sustainable management practices are important goals for the folks at Red Mountain Park, and the goat-browsing project satisfies both objectives. Hazelhoff cheerfully reports on the goats’ progress after a few days of their buffet: “I’m quite pleased with the volume and speed at which they’re clearing the plot!”

    Red Mountain Park isn’t alone in their goat-grazing ways; land managers in Bozeman, Mont., have used goats at a local trailhead to deal with invasive plants. Weiser River Trail in Idaho has integrated goat grazing into their noxious plant management plan. But it’s not just trails and rural areas that are benefiting from goats’ appetites. Even Boston, Mass., is jumping on the goat bandwagon! And the city of Wilsonville, Ore., uses goats to control the English Ivy in a municipal park.  

    Invasive species removal is a major task for many trails and conservation areas around the county, and solutions like Red Mountain Park’s goat grazing pilot project will inform other land managers for future projects. But for now, graze on, goats, graze on!

    Want to learn more about other management techniques used on trails across the country? Check out our management and maintenance toolbox pages for a bevy of helpful resources!

    Photos courtesy Solomon Crenshaw Jr. from AL.com. Used by permission.


    Katie Harris is a member of RTC's communications team. She is a frequent user and advocate of active transportation and recently completed a bike trip across the United States.

  • 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.



  • 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



  • Leveraging Federal Dollars to Create a Regional Legacy

    When all 750 miles of the Circuit are connected, Greater Philadelphia will have a trail network unlike any other in the country—connecting the urban, suburban and rural communities of the fifth-largest metropolitan region in the U.S. 

    Sarah Clark Stuart is deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and chair of the Circuit Coalition. In honor of Pennsylvania Month, Sarah shares the story of how the Circuit has leveraged federal funds to maximize their impact on trail development. Projects across the country should take note: Finding funding for major trail networks is not easy, but by leveraging existing funds, prioritizing trails and capitalizing on existing relationships and connections, the Circuit is a shining example of how trail development is done successfully and how Pennsylvania is a trail state that is doing it right! 

    In early October, the Philadelphia region will celebrate the opening of the 0.75-mile-long Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. This trail, which is built along the east side of the Schuylkill River, is the final in a set of trail segments funded by federal dollars in 2010 that sparked an incredible amount of interest, enthusiasm and prioritization of other trail projects around the region. As we celebrate the opening of the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, an even greater cause for celebration is the way in which federal funds have served as the catalysts for a region-wide trail network.

    There are a few federal programs—run by different agencies—that provide funds that support active transportation. Each of these programs require matches from the project sponsor and, therefore, leverage local and county funds, other federal funds and, in some cases, private dollars.   

    Trails are an important priority for the state of Pennsylvania, and dozens of studies have been conducted on many miles of trails. However, trails must compete with many other types of bicycle/pedestrian projects for the federal funds managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), and construction funding is highly competitive.  

    In 2009, TIGER (Transportation Investment for Generation of Economic Recovery), a federal competitive grant program initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), created the first opportunity for the Philadelphia-Camden metropolitan region to prioritize its most “ready to go” trail projects and help move the needle on completing the region’s network of trails. Of the original, and very extensive, application submitted by the City of Philadelphia, the region was awarded a TIGER grant of $23 million for 10 (integral) projects.

    Seven trail projects in the application were not funded—which was a disappointment to the surrounding suburban counties; however, the TIGER grant did ultimately benefit them. The grant prompted the William Penn Foundation, a local philanthropy organization, to make an unprecedented $10 million grant to fund a new regional, competitive re-grant program for planning, design and capital for trails. Over three years, more than 20 miles of trails were built, and another 25 were planned. In addition, the William Penn Foundation was inspired to work with the trail advocacy community to rebrand the region’s trail network—an effort that gave birth to the Circuit

    It was the spark from the TIGER grant, and the involvement and commitment from the William Penn Foundation, that has helped raise the profile and potential for all 750 miles of trails that comprise the region’s trail network.

    The federal funds from the TIGER grant also brought certain projects to the attention of the community and reinvigorated interest in their development. This is absolutely the case with the Manayunk Bridge, a beautiful structure that spans a highway, two rail lines and the Schuylkill River between Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County. While the project wasn’t among those chosen for the 2010 TIGER grant, being part of the original proposal brought the attention necessary for decision-makers to find other sources of funding beyond the TIGER grant. In an unprecedented short amount of time, the City of Philadelphia teamed up with Montgomery County, Lower Merion and local funding sources, including the William Penn Foundation’s new trail grant program, and the bridge is expected to open in 2015!  

    The 2010 TIGER grant was limited to 10 projects in two counties. However, it leveraged another $10 million for 30 projects in the nine-county region and significantly changed the dynamic of trail prioritization and construction! 

    As the Circuit continues to develop the 750-mile network, the leveraging of federal funds will continue in an effort to maximize the impact of every dollar spent for trails.

    Photos courtesy Sarah Clark Stuart


    Sarah Clark Stuart is deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and chair of the Circuit Coalition, as well as a member of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission. She currently resides in Center City with her two daughters.

  • 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  



  • 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?

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