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RTC TrailBlog

  • South Dakota Surprise

    by Kartik Sribarra 

    After riding the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, the Route of the Hiawatha, the Great Allegheny Passage and other stunning rail-trails, I thought I'd ridden the best of the best. I've never heard of a disappointing rail-trail, but some just tend to stand out. No other trail could even approach the beauty I'd seen on some of these jewels, I thought.

    Then, a few weeks ago, I rode the George S. Mickelson Trail in South Dakota with some Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff and partners.

    In one word: wow.

    You want another? WOW.

    Heading south from the trail terminus, mile marker 109 in Deadwood (yep, that Deadwood), the trail surpassed even my tall expectations of riding South Dakota's famed Black Hills. The on-again, off-again showers and steady incline throughout most of the first day--both endemic of the section we rode from Deadwood to Hill City--couldn't put a damper on the heart-lifting experience delivered by thick Ponderosa pine stands and rolling landscapes.

    From Hill City, the landscape opened to sweeping fields, jagged rock formations, white-tailed deer and a bison calf zigzagging across the field, dancing away the gorgeous day just as were we. Riding along at a cyclists' pace, with the scent of pure, open air, I found myself envisioning settlers on horseback, Native Americans on the open plains, and bison as far as the eye could see. A bit overly romantic, perhaps, but such was the magic (fueled by a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument, mere steps off the trail).

    We were warned that the canyons and views at the southern end would blow our minds. Not having learned my lesson, I again assumed I'd seen the best and was somewhat dismissive of the cautionary words. As we rounded the bend to Sheep's Canyon outside of Edgemont, silence overcame the group as we all slowly pulled over and gazed; anywhere our eyes fell carried some secret waiting to be discovered. Though we did not spot any of the bobcat, elk or golden eagles said to make their homes in this area, the natural palette of wildflowers did not fail to impress.

    Maybe after three days spent on what is without a doubt the most amazing rail-trail anywhere on earth, I've learned that, no matter how memorable an experience, there's another one waiting just around the bend!

    Photos of the Mickelson Trail by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • How To Sell 200,000 Ice-Cream Cones: In Illinois, Hard Data Makes the Case for Trail Building

    Looking back, 50 years from now, I suspect this will be seen as the beginning of a new era for trails in Illinois.

    The publication of "Making Trails Count" - a count and study of trail user numbers and spending patterns on six trails across Illinois - is now arming trail planners and advocates state wide with the hard data they need to make the case for why trail building means good things for communities and economies.

    Led by Trails for Illinois and supported by RTC's Midwest Office and Illinois' Office of Recreation & Park Resources, Making Trails Count initially conducted counts and surveys on the Fox River Trail, MCT Goshen Trail, Hennepin Canal Parkway, Old Plank Road Trail, Rock Island Trail, and the Tunnel Hill State Trail in the summer and fall of 2012.

    The Old Plank, Fox River, and Goshen trails received an estimated 127,600, 86,500 and 67,600 annual users respectively, for the first time putting solid data behind what we knew anecdotally - there is a huge demand for biking and walking infrastructure all over the state.

    Says Trails for Illinois' Steve Buchtel: "We want to show Illinois and its communities the Triple Bottom Line benefits-economic growth, improved health, environmental stewardship-that trails are creating. We want to put a number on those benefits so decision makers take them seriously."

    And now, Trails for Illinois is getting ready to release user data for the granddaddy of them all, the Illinois Prairie Path. Given its popularity, we imagine data from the counts there (pictured), which were conducted July to September, will reveal another compelling story about the economic and health benefits of trails to the state.

    Some key pieces of data to emerge from Making Trails Count so far:

    35 percent of trail users reported spending money at restaurants and bars during their visit to the trail.

    Nearly 40 percent of trail users reported household incomes above $100,000.

    The average amount of all purchases during a trail visit was $30.40 per person.

    71 percent of users surveyed were 46 and older.

    32 percent of trail users expected to spend more than 150 minutes on the trail that day cycling, running and walking. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity for adults.

    Want to understand what Making Trails Count really means to trail planners in Illinois? Check out this wonderful testimony from the recreation director for the City of Palos Heights, Mike Leonard.

    "If you're selling it to a city manager, or a council, you have to sell the economic benefit of it. The only way you can do that is with documents like this, that directly correlate economic impact to trail use."

    "When a developer comes to town, you can push this across their desk and say 'you know what would work really well here? A microbrewery. You know what would really work here? An ice-cream shop.' 'Why?' 'Well, you don't want to sell 200,000 ice-cream cones?"

    The full report is available as a free download at www.trailsforillinois.org/maketrailscount

    Photos courtesy Trails for Illinois

     

  • A Georgia Gem: The Columbus Fall Line Trace Opens

    Residents were so eager for the Columbus Fall Line Trace to open, they started trying to use it while still under construction, says Rick Jones, planning director for the city of Columbus. Happily, the 11-mile rail-trail in southwest Georgia opened for official use late last fall and was immediately popular.

    "We have a rest stop on the trail with 90 spaces for parking, and it's completely full on the weekends," Jones says.

    That rest stop, along with one other along the trail, features new buildings that house restrooms, drinking fountains, benches and retail space for bike shops and other services useful to trail-goers.

    Extending from downtown Columbus to Psalmond Road in Midland, the trail offers an eclectic cross-section of the community: busy shopping areas, business districts, a medical complex, neighborhoods, the Columbus State University campus and other schools. At the northern end, a completely serene stretch under a heavy canopy of trees makes you forget you're in the city.

    A connection to the beautiful and historical 15-mile Chattahoochee Riverwalk at the trail's southern end adds to its appeal. At the river, outdoor enthusiasts will soon be able to enjoy the city's whitewater course, expected to be a major tourist draw for the area.

    So whether by foot, wheels or paddles, the trail is definitely one to explore.

    Photos of the Columbus Fall Line Trace courtesy of the Columbus Planning Department.

     

     

  • What Sequestration May Mean for Trails, Biking and Walking

    There has been a lot of news coverage and analysis recently of a federal government sequestration and its potential impacts. At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, our experienced policy and research staff have been mining their sources and sorting through all available information to estimate what impact sequestration could have on our movement for better trails, biking and walking.

    The US Department of Transportation has determined that monies in the Highway Trust Fund are protected from sequestration. However, we can expect some cuts to transportation funds that do not come from gas taxes, which could marginally reduce road investments and multi-modal programs such as TIGER.

    In addition, programs administered by other federal agencies that promote healthy, safe transportation and trails may also be cut. These programs include the Community Development Block Grants, CDC Community Transformation Grants, Department of Interior funds for trails, and other programs.

    Here are some actions you can take to mitigate program losses due to sequestration.

    1. Push project sponsors and state agencies to obligate funds as early as possible. As time goes on there will be less money available for unobligated projects.

    2. Propose projects with higher than required local matches. Reducing the federal share will help the money go further.

    3. Encourage state DOTs to use money from their safety programs for projects that benefit trails, biking and walking. Safety programs aren't being subject to the same cuts and thus have more money available. These funds can be used for education initiatives, encouragement campaigns and safety improvements to roadways.

    Please take a moment to pass on this informational post to friends and colleagues in the trails and active transportation movement who might be interested. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

     

     

  • Signature New Hampshire Rail-Trail Continues Expansion


    The Northern Rail Trail is already one of the most well-used and well-loved trails in New Hampshire. Combining sections in Merrimack and Grafton counties, the pathway runs for 46 miles through forests and valleys, past small towns and lakes, and is a huge draw for cyclists, hikers, horseback riders, skiers and snowmobilers from all across the region.

    And it's only getting better.

    Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Merrimack County (FNRT-MC) this week announced the opening of an additional 2.5 miles of the Northern Rail Trail at the trail's eastern end in West Franklin. The new section of trail was made possible by a recent New Hampshire Recreational Trail Program grant, assistance from the city of Franklin and lots of volunteer help. This addition brings FNRT-MC closer to its ultimate goal of extending the trail southeast to the city of Concord.

    An important part of the state's outdoor tourism landscape, the Northern Rail Trail was also featured in a book written by Dr. Charles Martin, a long-time friend and supporter of RTC. New Hampshire Rail Trails catalogues New Hampshire's diverse rail-trail offerings and sheds light on what Martin says are often little-known resources of the region. (In 2008, the New Hampshire TV station WMUR produced a video on Martin and the state's rail-trails as part of its New Hampshire Chronicle series.)

    Martin has worked with RTC in the Northeast for many years. He is widely recognized as the go-to source of information on the landscape and history of rail-trails and railroads in the state. "I wish we had advocates as strong as Charles Martin in every state in the region," says Carl Knoch, manager of trail development for RTC's Northeast Regional Office. "He's helped organize a number of rail-trail groups in the state."

    Knoch credits Martin with founding the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition, of which he is now president. Dr. Martin was also instrumental in organizing the first-ever New Hampshire rail-trail conference.

    Now in its fifth year, the Statewide Rail Trails Conference will be held in Concord, N.H., on November 12 this year. No doubt the extension of the Northern Rail Trail will be a subject of proud reflection.

    Photo of the Northern Rail Trail by Stephen Robinson/TrailLink.com. 

  • Michigan's Campaign to Protect Bicyclists, Pedestrians and Wheelchair Users

    Michiganders - urge your Representative to support legislation that makes it safer for people to ride and walk.

    Trails are important community amenities that provide opportunities for recreation, fitness, and transportation. But too often the only way to access them is by carrying your bike on your car. On-road connections, too, play an important part in developing safe and convenient non-motorized transportation options in our communities.

    That's why the League of Michigan Bicyclists supports the concept of Safe Routes to Everywhere for Everybody. This concept recognizes that in order to get to great trails you also need great bike lanes, cycle tracks, transit that carries bikes, and safe sidewalks and crossings. It's about designing our communities to accommodate people, not just automobiles.

    Not only is Michigan leading the way in building world-class trail systems, but with nearly 100 local communities adopting Complete Streets policies that recognize the need to accommodate all modes of travel, Michigan is making real strides in becoming more friendly to people who travel by foot, bicycle, or wheelchair.

    With that being said, more must be done across Michigan to help educate drivers on how to safely safely interact with bicyclists on the roads, and to hold them accountable when they do not.

    Each year approximately 2,000 bicyclists are injured in crashes in Michigan, with about 25 of these crashes resulting in fatalities.

    More often than not, these crashes are caused by driver error, and sadly, oftentimes little is done to hold these drivers accountable. Unless a victim can prove that the driver was grossly negligent, he or she usually has limited legal recourse. In fact, blame even often gets shifted to victims with insulting statements like "this wouldn't have happened if they weren't in the road."

    This sends the message that driver negligence resulting in personal injury or death is "okay," as long as the victim is on a bike or on foot. Ultimately, this creates public fear that discourages more people from bicycling or walking.

    Here in Michigan, the law places little burden on drivers to be alert for other roadway users. That's why the League of Michigan Bicyclists, along with diverse transportation partners, is currently urging lawmakers across the state to enhance criminal penalties for motorists that injure or kill a bicyclist or other "vulnerable roadway users". This would bring Michigan law in line with existing penalties for drivers that hit construction workers in construction zones, farmers driving farm equipment, and school children. A vulnerable roadway user law would also provide unique opportunities to educate young drivers about the need to safely share the road.

    Please help us make Michigan roads safe for everyone by asking your Representative to pass Vulnerable Roadway User legislation.

    On October 16, the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee passed bipartisan legislation that would enhance criminal penalties for motorists that injure or kill vulnerable roadway users, including people riding bicycles. The next step is to make sure this legislation passes the whole Michigan House.

    If you believe that people riding bicycles have the right to feel safer when sharing roadways, you can help us make that happen. Contact your Representative, and ask them to support HB 4792 and HB 5080.

    John Lindenmayer is the Advocacy and Policy Director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists, a nonprofit statewide membership organization working to improve conditions for bicycling in Michigan. More info at www.lmb.org

    Photo courtesy Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

     

     

  • Today's Arguments in Supreme Court a Pivotal Moment for Rail-Trails

    I just returned from the United States Supreme Court where I witnessed oral arguments in a case that could forever change the course of the American rail-trail movement.

    Alongside me was a small army of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff and supporters. We are under no illusions about how much is at stake in this case, in which a private landowner, supported by a number of well-known property rights groups, is suing the United States to bring a public rail corridor into his private ownership.

    Sitting in the packed courtroom today it was obvious that the justices understand the great significance of how their decision on this one section of rail corridor inside the Medicine Bow National Forest may impact public and private land across the country. They were eager to know how many miles of federally-granted rights-of-way were out there, so as to gauge the impact of a ruling on whether the United States retains an interest in such railroad corridors after train service has stopped.

    It was great to see in the court today the Assistant to the Solicitor General, Anthony Yang, move to dispel the myth that affirming the United States ownership of these rights-of-way would result in us "waking up tomorrow to find bicycles riding through people's living rooms," as one of the justices asked. Rather, as our own legal counsel Andrea Ferster has surmised, a win for the United States will not result in a great rush of rail-trail development, but a loss would mean a rush of landowner litigation against the United States.

    We think it's a clear case of a land use that benefits the many versus one that enriches the few. That's what the rail-trail movement has always been about - providing access for all along corridors of land that were always intended for the public good.

    You can read a transcript of today's arguments here. Our legal and executive staff are currently digesting the statements and arguments from today. Stay tuned in the coming days for expert insight on how the case is playing out, and what it could mean for America's rail-trails. Sign up for our eNews, and make sure you get the news as soon as we do.

     

     

  • Bike Touring Too Intimidating? Try a Bike Overnight!

    Photos and story by Heather Andrews

    Helping Adventure Cycling Association as a summer intern has been pretty fabulous. One of the projects I've been working on is their newest website, BikeOvernights.org, which features the stories of regular people--people with jobs, spouses, families, responsibilities--sharing their favorite places to go on a one- or two-night trip by bicycle. Our thinking is that a lot of people are intimidated by the phrase "bike touring," and we're showing that it can start with just an overnight.

    In fact, I'm the site's ideal audience--I've been commuting regularly by bike in Portland, Ore., since 1999, but my own mental roadblocks have kept me from thinking I could ever do bike touring. Ride on the edge of a highway next to fast traffic--wouldn't that be really unpleasant? Carry a bunch of gear? What if I got a flat? Could I even bike that sort of distance? With enormous hill climbs? How would I check my e-mail?

    Despite my reservations, I have done a few bike overnights. The first was in July 2009, to Stub Stewart State Park in Oregon. Many people I knew had done trips with Cycle Wild, and I decided to give it a try.

    There are two reasons Stub Stewart State Park is such a popular destination. The first is that the park is only about 25 miles from the western terminus of Portland's light rail line, MAX--and there are bike hooks on the train! Since I live near the eastern suburbs of Portland, using MAX cuts my distance in half, and I don't have to climb over the west hills of the city.

    Once you're off MAX, a series of rural backroads, with just a few rolling hills, takes you past farms growing blueberries, apples, wheat and more. If the weather's cooperating, Mt. Hood, about 60 miles to the east, is often visible peaking over the year's crops.

    The second reason the destination is so popular is because it's directly connected to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Stub Stewart is in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, yet using this rail-trail makes it feel like you're barely climbing at all. Just 10 miles of car-free glory as you whoosh past more wheat fields before being enveloped by a shady forest of Douglas-firs.

    Once you're in the park, the climb is a little more challenging, but it's short. Maneuvering to the hiker-biker camp also requires traversing a gravel trail that dips down and then back up again, for about a quarter mile. But the payoff is sweet: an area secluded, where you can hear a gentle breeze play through tree branches instead of the drone of vehicles. If tent camping doesn't suit you, Stub Stewart also has rustic cabins available by reservation--a great option in cold weather.

    On the way home the next morning, the slight rail-trail grade still gives you a delicious downhill. You'll whiz down the trail at a perfect pace, barely pedaling. Is it any wonder that Stub Stewart is such a popular destination for Portland bicyclists?

    What happened with all of my concerns about touring? I've yet to have a flat on the road, largely because I have great tires on my bikes. Avoiding high-traffic highways largely involves not planning your route on them, and sites like RTC's TrailLink.com are great for mapping your way via trails (sometimes, though, busy roads are unavoidable). I'm still working on building my ability to bike longer distances. And since Stub Stewart is on the top of a mountain, I was able to check e-mail on my iPhone!

    There are plenty of other rail-trails in the Portland area that could be used in planning a great bike overnight trip. I live very close to the Springwater Corridor, an enormously popular rail-trail that opened in 1996. It starts near the center of Portland and can be taken to the very eastern side of the Portland area. If you're riding a bike that can take some gravel and bumps, the unpaved part of the trail even goes out to the misleadingly named Boring, Ore. (It's really quite nice--it even has an Army surplus store with some great deals on camping gear.) There aren't a lot of camping opportunities right along the Springwater, but the trail can get you most of the way to Oxbow Regional Park or Milo McIver State Park.

    These rail-trails are just two of many routes that are part of the Intertwine, an effort to connect the region's parks, trails and greenspaces. The name is new, but the concept is not. As far back as 1903, famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead envisioned a citywide loop of green spaces and parks for Portland.

    Even if your town doesn't have as many rail-trails as Portland, chances are there's a rail-trail and a campground near you. Summer is fleeting, and rail-trails can help make your first bike overnight easy and enjoyable. What are you waiting for?

    --------

    Bikeovernights.org provides inspiration, resources and tools for short bicycle tours (1-2 nights). You'll find stories, tips and how-to's about embarking on overnight cycling adventures, whether you're traveling solo to a beautiful state park, lounging at a bed-and-breakfast with friends and family, or anything in-between! BikeOvernights.org is a resource of Adventure Cycling Association, which has more than 44,000 members in North America. Adventure Cycling is dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to travel by bicycle.

  • Rail-Trail Ribbon Cuttings in Maine and Pennsylvania

    The network of rail-trails across America continues to grow, with a number of ribbon cuttings scheduled for communities in the Northeast during the next couple of weeks.

    The new sections of trail are the result of strong local organizations and advocates, often supported by the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, which is the only dedicated source of funding for non-motorized transportation projects.

    In southwest Maine, a grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting for a 1.5-mile addition to the Mountain Division Rail Trail (MDRT) is scheduled to be held this Friday, October 14. The new section of the MDRT will connect the Maine Visitor Center on Route 302 to Porter Road south of the village.

    The opening of the Fryeburg section of the MDRT follows six years of planning by the town of Fryeburg, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Mountain Division Alliance. The project was made possible by a TE grant of $1.3 million, and is the precursor to a section of the trail to be constructed next summer, continuing south to the regional airport near the Brownfield town line.

    When completed, the 52-mile MDRT will connect nine communities between Portland and Fryeburg, providing both a recreational resource for locals and visitors and an active transportation corridor for schoolchildren and residents.

    In central Pennsylvania, the people of Lewisburg are preparing to celebrate the opening of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail (BVRT), a nine-mile segment of trail between Mifflinburg and the west side of Route 15 in Lewisburg, following the out-of-service West Shore Railroad corridor.

    The BVRT project was driven by the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority (LARA), which acquired the corridor in 2008 for $200,000. It received a $350,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for design and engineering, followed by a $3.7 million grant through the Department of Transportation's Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative program for construction. There are plans to extend the trail across the Susquehanna River into Montandon.

    Eager to preserve artifacts of the railroading tradition and heritage inherent in the corridor, LARA donated two rail turnouts from the section to the National Railway Historical Society, and protected whistle stop and mile marker signs during a salvage process prior to construction. The trail will be about 10-feet wide, with both paved and gravel sections.

    The BVRT will receive its official welcome into the community with a "Flat 'N Fast" four-mile run/walk from Vicksburg to Mifflinburg on Saturday, November 5.

    For more information, or to register, visit www.golara.org, or register on the day from 9 to 10:15 a.m.

    To learn about trail projects under way in your region, visit www.traillink.com, and click the "Show Trails in Development" box when you search.

    Photo of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail courtesy of the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority.

  • Cal Park Tunnel Opens to Great Fanfare in Marin County

    Last Friday, hundreds of cyclists and walkers celebrated the long-awaited opening of the Cal Park Tunnel in Marin County, Calif., with some even setting off fireworks to commemorate the occasion. All the work by the County of Marin, Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) and others now pays off with a quick, smooth ride through the hill that separates San Rafael from the ferry terminal in Larkspur and southern Marin County. The shared-use path will share the tunnel with SMART commuter trains when they start running, though the path is walled off from the train in the tunnel and has its own ventilation system. The tunnel features lighting, video monitoring, cell phone reception, a fire suppression system and graffiti-resistant walls.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has advocated for opening both the Cal Park and Alto tunnels in Marin, and work on the Cal Park Tunnel led to the publication of  our Tunnels on Trails study in 2001.

    At the opening, speakers touted the shared-use path as the most important aspect of the SMART project, and supervisor Steve Kinsey quipped, "We don't have a high-speed rail, but we do have a high-speed trail... and a low-speed walking trail." You can take a virtual ride through the new tunnel and see it for yourself!

    The Cal Park Tunnel joins the recent opening of the Lincoln Hill Path north of San Rafael to complete two new links in the North South Greenway, a non-motorized transportation corridor through Marin County. The Lincoln Hill Path is sandwiched between the SMART train line and Highway 101and allows for an unbroken coast down the hill in an interesting urban canyon of hill cuts and sound walls. If you missed the Cal Park ribbon cutting, the Lincoln Hill Path ribbon cutting will be coming up in January 2011.

  • In Oregon, Historical Trolley Line Reborn as Rail-Trail

    National Trails Day, June 2, is really shaping up as being a big one for rail-trails. In northern Oregon, the people of Clackamas County are getting ready to celebrate the opening of the much-anticipated Trolley Trail, a six-mile multi-use trail that follows a historical streetcar line from Milwaukie to Gladstone through the heart of Oak Grove.

    "The completion of the Trolley Trail project is the product of local determination to turn an unused tract of land from our proud past into a landmark that can be used for future generations," said Clackamas County Commission Chair Charlotte Lehan.

    Well said. This is, of course, what rail-trails are all about--recycling and reusing these important corridors and keeping them alive in the American communities of today.

    The North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District and Portland's Metro will be hosting a free ribbon-cutting and dedication event from 10 to 11:30 a.m., June 2, at Oak Grove Elementary School, 2150 S.E. Torbank Road, Milwaukie.

    In addition to tours of a historical 1932 trolley, there will be bicycle safety information and demonstrations from the fire department, a guided historical walk along the Trolley Trail, entertainment and snacks.

    The idea of developing a trail within this right-of-way has been a dream in the community for decades. The trail now connects with existing bike lanes in Milwaukie and Gladstone to complete an essential link in Metro's regional trails system. Ultimately, the trail will be part of a continuous 20-mile loop connecting Portland, Milwaukie, Gladstone, Oregon City and Gresham.

    "I love to see trails open that pass right through neighborhoods and connect the cities that grew up along the rail lines," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "Now residents can take the Trolley to get to their neighborhood destinations, explore the 20-mile regional loop, or even take the Springwater Corridor all the way out of the metro area. Just the name Trolley Trail conjures a sense of history, and a feeling you can hop on and get where you want to go."

    More info: www.hhpr.com/trolleytrail.

    Historic photo - known to be one of the oldest ever taken of Oregon City - courtesy of Oregon Historical Society
    Map courtesy of North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District

     

  • Pete Bostich: A Passion for Rail-Trails

    By Mark Cheater


    It was a motorcycle, ironically, that got Pete Bostich into the rail-trail movement. The Orlando, Fla., resident was in a debilitating accident on his motorbike a few years ago, which led him to rail-trails as part of his recovery in 2010. Since then, Bostich has pedaled more than 3,000 miles on trails in Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Pennsylvania--"Hence, I owe RTC a lot of my time in the future for as much as I have used them!" he says. Lately, the 54-year-old retired sales engineer has been spending much of that "pay back time" helping our Florida and national offices in the battle to preserve federal funding for trails, walking and biking.

    How did you first get interested in rail-trails?
    In 2008, I was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident and spent the next eight months in a wheelchair. I started riding a bicycle as rehab, but with hearing loss--also from the accident--even side streets were scary. On May 9, 2010, I got on a rail-trail for the very first time. My son-in-law Eugene and I rode the West Orange Trail from Apopka-Vineland to Winter Garden. I loved every minute of it! I was hooked!

    What do you like about rail-trails?
    I love rail-trails because they're getting me healthier and stronger and keeping me from being a negative statistic in an overburdened health care system. Obesity is becoming a major health concern, and we find ourselves having to pay to do any type of physical exercise. Rail-trails offer a safe opportunity for people to get into a healthy lifestyle that has long-term benefits on our infrastructure, economy and environment!

    I also love rail-trails because they link us to where we came from. Look beyond the pavement and you will see hints of how a community came to life. Ride any rail-trail and I guarantee there is a hidden history lesson!

    Rail-trails also link us to a better future. Next time you are in traffic sitting at a red light, look at the other cars and see how many have a single occupant. How many people could have walked or cycled if the infrastructure were there? How much money could we have kept out of the pockets of OPEC members and placed into our own economy? Rail-trails are a required foundation for that kind of future.

    What drew you to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy?
    I found RTC because, by nature, I am an adventurer. RTC creates opportunities for adventure, new places to discover and better ways to challenge my physical limits. I remain engaged because I value the work they do for everybody, member and nonmember alike. Our voice needs to be heard loud and clear by those in government and elsewhere. And I promise you that I will remain engaged as long and my voice and heart allow me! 

    What makes you such a passionate advocate for rail-trails?
    I don't know where I would be in my recovery process from my 2008 accident if it weren't for rail-trails. I owe a lot in the way of health and attitude to RTC. It is time for me to pay back. I desire to keep the RTC network in the growth mode and to see usage exponentially grow with the network.

    What do you think is biggest threat to rail-trails?
    The lack of knowledge that the vast majority of casual rail-trail users have to the potential loss of rail-trail funding in the next federal highway transportation bill. 

    Dollars are getting scarce. The private sector isn't contributing as much because they don't have as much. Government is facing the same problem, but that is compounded with the fact that every special interest group is trying to get its large share of the pie at the cost of the smaller players. We are going to be the losers if we don't get our senators and representatives to see that rail-trails are legitimate, economically valuable infrastructure needs. 

    Tell us about the work you're doing to protect federal funding for rail-trails?
    On a daily basis, I watch my news searches for Rails-to-Trails, John Mica [a member of Congress from Florida who, as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has major influence over funding for rail-trails] and Florida government actions that can affect rail-trails and cycling. I respond via e-mail to government officials with my viewpoint. I also network with friends who share my interest.  

    What's the best thing other trail users can do to help support the cause?
    First and foremost, find out who your congressmen and senators are. Save their e-mail address. Then watch the RTC website or "like" them on Facebook. Watch for calls to action and be ready to send your opinion to your representatives. 

    Secondly, recruit anyone and everyone you know who takes advantage of rail-trails. Rail-trails attract an incredibly diverse cross-section of our population, but most of them are not members of any organization or even aware of RTC. Get them on the same page with you and have them contact their representatives. I would love to see this become a call to arms for all RTC members to get on the trails and start recruiting the non-member trail users to join the ranks to be heard by our government officials.

    Remember, we are the little guys in this game, and most of the time the little guys get beat up by the big guys; unless of course the little guys win with sheer numbers. We need to do that!

     ............................

    For more information about how you can help out in the effort to preserve federal funding for rail-trails, become part of RTC's Action Alert Network.

    Photos by Kathryn Prestera, courtesy of Pete Bostich.

  • The Coast with the Most - Rail-with-Trail A Huge Boost for Santa Cruz County

    The setting is perfect - the unique coastal landscape of California, the shimmering Pacific Ocean, the calm, protected waters of Monterey Bay. When it's complete, some seven years from now, the 32-mile rail-with-trail running along the coastline a short trip south from San Jose, California, will without doubt be one of the most remarkable rail-trails in the country.

    Even more remarkable - the trail will share the corridor with an active tourist, and possibly transit, train service. Yet another project demonstrating the growing popularity of rail-with-trail, the proposed Coastal Rail Trail will be a tourism draw, a recreational amenity and a vital piece of transportation infrastructure rolled into one. Such is the efficiency of designing bike and pedestrian trails into rail reactivation plans.

    In 2010 the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission decided to purchase the 32-mile section of corridor from Union Pacific, fully aware of its transportation utility and recreation potential. Championed by U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, the project has inspired an organized and energetic local community of advocates, including Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT), People Power of Santa Cruz County, and the visionary folks at the transportation commission (confusingly known as RTC - hey, that's us...)

    One of my favorite things about this project is that, in addition to being just a short trip from the Bay Area, the trail passes within one mile of half the county's entire population and provides access to 88 parks and 42 schools.

    The Coastal Rail Trail in Santa Cruz will be a key segment of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network, which Congressman Farr is championing in part to foster appreciation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

    Although there is tremendous local and regional support for the project - residents have voted in favor of local tax dollars being directed toward acquiring the corridor - these things take time. Supporters hope to see the first section of the trail begin construction within the next three years.

    What a great day that will be for those Californians, like me, who believe that pathways for active transportation are terrific investments in the places we live.

    Photo courtesy FORT

     

     

  • Rail-Trails Down Under

    All across the world, people are discovering the benefits of rail-trails--from the recreational opportunities they provide to the promotion of tourism and more dynamic transportation planning.

    Down in the southern hemisphere, Australia has developed an especially active rail-trail development program. Here's a snapshot of what's happening around rail-trails on the (literally) other side of the world!

    Central Highlands Rail Trail
    Communities across the Macedon Ranges in the southern state of Victoria have joined forces to campaign for a 45-kilometer rail-trail from Daylesford to Woodend. According to the Macedon Ranges Leader, an online petition and map of the route is also attracting hundreds of backers from across Bicycle Victoria's 45,000 members.

    Arlen Keen, Bicycle Victoria recreation and rail-trail manager, says the trail would be among the most popular in Australia. "It would pay dividends from expanding the tourism base in an area loved by many regular visitors."

    The Central Highlands Rail Trail Working Group has estimated the rail-trail will cost between $4.5 and $5 million to develop.

    Gippsland Plains Rail Trail
    Also in Victoria, the long-awaited Gippsland Plains Rail Trail could be completed soon.

    The Latrobe Valley Express tells us that the Latrobe City Council has applied for AU$2.3 million in funding under the Federal Government's Regional Development Australia program.

    Rail Trail Alliance Secretary Tracey Anton says an AU$800,000 state government grant had given the project the boost it needed to get more funding. Anton says the price of steel had driven up the cost of building the necessary bridges, particularly one large bridge to go across the Latrobe River.

    The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail is the only rail-trail in the state that has an operating railway station at each end. When completed, cycling enthusiasts would be able to catch a train from Melbourne to their preferred starting point, ride the trail and then return by train to their starting point.

    Grand Ridge Rail Trail
    More than two years after bushfires devastated the Strzelecki Ranges in southern Victoria, destroying 44 houses, a key local tourist attraction is one big step closer to reopening, with two 66-meter bridges--"mini Sydney Harbour style"--recently installed on the Grand Ridge Rail Trail.

    According to The Melbourne Age, if the weather stays fine for a few weeks and drainage, earthmoving and resurfacing work can be completed, project organizers hope to open the popular bush trail by the end of August.

    Three 22-meter spans of the final bridge were lifted into place at the Bair Creek crossing by giant cranes last week. Residents welcomed the progress and are keen for the 13-kilometer trail to be reopened, saying it is popular with cyclists, walkers and horse riders and is a crucial link between Mirboo North and Boolarra. They say the trail brings visitors from the Latrobe Valley, South Gippsland and as far afield as Melbourne and interstate.

    The AU$1.6-million fire recovery project is funded by the Victorian bushfire reconstruction authority and the state's Department of Sustainability and Environment.

    Photos: Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, courtesy of Gippsland Plains Rail Trail Committee, and the Grand Ridge Rail Trail, courtesy of the Grand Ridge Rail Trail Committee. 

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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