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RTC TrailBlog

  • Movement Begins Westward On Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail

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

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

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

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

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



  • In Central Pennsylvania, the Rail-Trails Keep Coming

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

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

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

    Great work, P.A. 

    Photo courtesy www.traillink.com


  • Illinois Rail-Trail Ride Perfect for First-Timers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Herb Hiller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Adirondack Corridor - America's Next Great Rail-Trail

    Though there are more than 1,700 rail-trails across America, covering all different shapes and sizes, a small handful stand out as true superstars of the rail-trail movement. Whether for the beauty of their surrounds, their length, or an indefinable charm and character, these rail-trails become beloved attractions drawing praise, and visitors, from near and far.

    On this list are  trails such as the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho, the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri, and Vermont's Island Line. Right now, plans are afoot for the conversion of former rail corridor that, when completed, will immediately force its way into that elite company.

    Running through the scenic Tri-Lakes region of upper New York is the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor (right). Currently, the line carries a seasonal sightseeing train, which through limited ridership hasn't delivered significant commercial returns in a picturesque region bursting with recreational tourism potential.

    Inspired by the ability of rail-trail projects elsewhere to boost recreational tourism, a group of locals last year formed the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA), with the goal of converting a 34-mile section of track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake into a multi-use trail.

    As they prepared to build a case to convince local residents and authorities of what such a rail-trail could bring to the area, ARTA turned to the experts. For the past year, Carl Knoch, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's manager of trail development in the Northeast, has been working closely with ARTA, evaluating the potential economic impact of an Adirondacks rail-trail, and studying ways and means to build it.

    Knoch's message to the communities between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake is the same message that has sparked the development of similar projects in his native Pennsylvania: Trails are good business for small towns.

    This is not just a gut feeling. Knoch's Northeast Regional Office is a national leader in compiling trail user data to assess the economic stimulus of trails to the towns and villages they pass through. This commercial impact--for hotels, campsites, food outlets and outdoor retailers--and the multiplier effect of an injection into the local economy--has helped promote the development of several renowned trails systems in Pennsylvania and secured the viability of towns once suffering the decline of industry.

    Knoch says the Tri-Lakes is perfectly placed to reap the same rewards.

    "The 60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail has seen about $3.6 million annually in new spending since the trail was created, with 138,000 users on an annual basis," he says of a comparable trail in the neighboring state. "What could 138,000 new users do for Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and Tupper Lake? In talking to the folks that own businesses along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, they basically say the conversion of that railroad into a multi-season rail-trail is the salvation of the valley."

    When Knoch first began traveling to the Tri-Lakes to discuss a rail-trail conversion, he encountered a good deal of local opposition. But after a number of public meetings and a period of outreach and education, business owners, residents and town officials are now supportive of removing the train tracks to construct the optimal rail-trail.

    However the state Department of Transportation (DOT), which has jurisdiction over the corridor, has indicated they plan to leave the little-used corridor, deteriorated in sections, as it is. Undeterred, local officials have begun petitioning the DOT to revisit its management plan for the corridor, which hasn't been reexamined in 17 years, despite the evaporation of rail service in that time. The locals' frustration is evident.

    "...[T]he taxpayers are paying huge unanticipated sums each year to subsidize a money-losing operation while simultaneously blocking one of the best economic development options open to the North Country," Saranac Lake resident Lee Keet wrote to the editor of the Times Union recently.

    Aware that hard data and the recorded experiences of similar communities tell the most compelling story, RTC recently published a study of the proposed 34-mile section, featuring estimated trail-user numbers and related economic impact based on data gathered from similar rail-trails in the Northeast. This study found that a rail-trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake would attract a midpoint estimate of 224,260 visitors annually, each spending between $63.86 and $99.30 per day--worth an estimated $19.8 million to local economies.

    The cost of constructing the 34-mile segment would be approximately $2.2 million, which could be offset by $5.3 million of income from the salvage and sale of the tracks and ties. Knoch says the $3.1 million excess could be applied to construction of future sections of the trail, or maintenance.

    To read and download the Adirondack Rail Trail study, and other RTC research publications, visit community.railstotrails.org/media

    Photos of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor by Carl Knoch/RTC.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Scared Off: Crime Myth vs. Reality on Trails

    On the urban planning news website Planetizen, Diana DeRubertis recently noted that trails in her neighborhood weren't getting enough use because they seemed isolated, and as a result, unsafe for users on the trail alone. Despite the reality that trails are no more dangerous than their surrounding areas, this misperception is a serious issue that discourages trail use. First, the hard numbers: In Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's survey of crime on rail-trails, results show that the real issue is one of perceived rather than actual danger. Of 372 trails surveyed, only three percent reported major crimes such as mugging, assault, rape and murder. Other studies of crime along trails have shown the same result: trails are simply not dangerous places. In fact, rail-trails often clean up formerly derelict areas that had hosted criminal activity, as Charles R. Tennant, former chief of police in Elizabeth Township, Pa., has discovered. "We have found that the trail brings in so many people," he said, "that it has actually led to a decrease in problems we formerly encountered such as underage drinking along the river banks."

    Despite these facts, the perception of danger remains and many potential users are dissuaded from getting out on the trail. Yet with proper design and programming, trail managers can ensure their trail is a safe, appealing community resource.

    Smart design is paramount to making users feel secure. In addition to lighting the path, trail managers need to work with local emergency services to create a locator system similar to those in Dallas, Texas, and San Jose, Calif., so trail users calling 911 can relay their location to the dispatcher. In addition, new construction along the trail should face the path instead of ignoring it. Turning the trail into an inviting neighborhood front porch is more effective for improving safety than treating it as a back alley.

    Similarly, a trail cannot be ignored once it is built. First, you must overcome the perception that trails are unwatched areas. Part of the challenge is the location of some trails. Continuous paths suitable for trails are often found along long-ignored waterfront or rail corridors, and many trails - even in busy urban neighborhoods - are located in areas that have not traditionally hosted many people. But along seemingly hidden trails, you can turn residents into regular trail users by engaging communities along the corridor with meaningful programming.

    Sometimes that includes volunteer patrols or programming with local police. But more often, programming serves to encourage area residents to use the trail. Recently, we hosted a grand-opening celebration for the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. Nearly half of those who filled out surveys at the event hadn't used the trail before. The event introduced a new set of potential users to the trail and made them more likely to use it again. The "safety in numbers" phenomenon applies to trails, as well. With more trail users, there are more eyes on the trail and fewer opportunities for criminals to attack. With proper design and programming, trails become cherished places that attract more and more users - so many users, in fact, that overcrowding can become an issue. With bicycling and walking on the rise nationwide, increased demand for trails is something we should all be working to address.

    Photo: An officer patrols the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. by M.V. Jantzen/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • From Great Plains to Great Lakes: Experiencing Minnesota by Bike

    As RTC highlights Minnesota in April, we're pleased to bring you this guest blog by our own policy intern, Katie Harris, who rode across Minnesota last year during her bike trek across America.

    "Traveling by bicycle allows me to see the world from a unique perspective; in a car, we are isolated from the world around us, zipping past it all at “unnatural” speeds. On a bike, we move at a pace that gives us a true sense of a place: the smells, the sounds, the topography, the people, the weather." - Katie Harris

    Last summer, I was fortunate enough to travel by bike across the country—from the coast of Washington State to the coast of Maine—with my best friend Camrin. The impetus for the trip was our desire to see the true fabric of America. 

    During our 83-day trip, we pedaled 4,000 miles, met people from around the world, ate more than you can imagine and had the time of our lives. And one of the absolute highlights of our trip was riding across the state of Minnesota.

    Neither of us had ever been to Minnesota before, but when we entered the state, the mid-western welcome was amazing. We had just spent three weeks on the arid plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota, and entering Minnesota was like taking a breath of fresh air. The lushness of the state captured us. Minnesota’s charm permeated every interaction in every place we stopped, from the bike shops to the grocery stores to the campgrounds. It felt like coming home.

    On our second day in Minnesota, we jumped at the chance to ride on the Heartland State Trail, a 49-mile paved pathway from Park Rapids to Walker. Camrin and I rode the entire length of the trail side by side, chatting, laughing and sharing our gratitude for the experience. We didn’t have to worry about traffic. We didn’t have to worry about our safety. We could just enjoy the day, our surroundings and each other.

    That evening, I wrote a postcard to my sister that simply read, “Minnesota has been lush, full of friendly folks, bike paths and ice cream. Pure happiness.”

    After a relaxing pit stop with friends in Duluth, we continued on—our sights set for Canada. Tracing the North Shore of Lake Superior, we pedaled in awe of the massive body of water and the dramatic vistas along the way. Cool, foggy mornings were a welcome change from the more than one month of heat that we had endured across the Great Plains. We awoke every morning with a new respect for this place. 

    Once connected, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will span 88 miles along the North Shore. We enjoyed every inch of the 25 miles that are currently complete, our spirits sinking only when we had to return to the highway. Minnesota’s state parks along the lakeshore are incredibly popular in the summer months, and the Gitchi-Gami Trail connecting these parks is heavily used by locals and visitors alike. This trail is a huge asset to the area, and we were two among many celebrating it on a beautiful July afternoon.

    During our trip, it was evident to us that Minnesotans cherish their trails. There are 30,000 miles of recreation trails in Minnesota, and although we crossed the entire state, we barely scratched the surface of its potential for adventure.

    So much of our perspective of, and affinity for, a place on our journey was determined by the answer to two questions: Did we feel safe? Were our needs being met? 

    In places where the answer was “yes” to both questions, we spent more time and more money and talked about returning on future trips. Minnesota was absolutely one of those places. In fact, we are planning another adventure to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” this May, and we’re bringing our bikes. 

    All photos by Camrin Dengel. Used by permission.


    Katie Harris is RTC’s transportation policy intern. She joined our team this spring in the national office.

  • From Recreation to Transportation: Minnesota’s Lake Wobegon Trail

    Lake Wobegon may be a fictional town in Garrison Keillor’s popular radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” but the Lake Wobegon Trail is a real, 62-mile pathway from Osakis to St. Joseph that is perfect for bikers, walkers and trail lovers.

    When Lake Wobegon Trail Association President Cliff Borgerding talks about Lake Wobegon, it sounds like a trail enthusiast’s dream, with activities and amenities on nearly every part of the route. 

    In Osakis, visitors can grab locally made ice cream and enjoy an idyllic lakeside view. Further down the trail in Melrose, Riverside Park lies just off the trail on the Sauk River; it’s touted as a perfect spot in which to stop for an afternoon. In Freeport, travelers can duck in for a caramel roll at Charlie’s Cafe or a pint at the Pioneer Inn, both said to be the inspirations for the fictional Chatterbox Café and Side Track Tap, respectively, in “A Prairie Home Companion.” By the way, caramel rolls are a staple in the area, and the trail association will host its annual “Caramel Roll Ride” on June 14, with shops selling the sweet treat along the route. Each rest stop on the ride will have free caramel rolls for the riders!

    Moving further down the trail, the city of Albany has a café and public library with Internet access. The city of Avon boasts a public swimming beach and a fishing pier. Between Albany and Avon, you will find Minnesota’s state flower, the Showy Lady's Slipper. Flower lovers take note. The trail association is hosting a “Lady Slipper Nature Ride” on June 21.

    Between Avon and the end of the trail in St. Joseph, you can visit St. John’s University for Men and a Benedictine Abbey for monks. Then in St. Joseph, you'll find the College of St. Benedict for Women and a Monastery.

    From start to finish, the Lake Wobegon Trail offers something for every visitor, but trail enthusiasts aren’t stopping there…

    “Saintly Seven” Trail Connection

    The Lake Wobegon Trail is already well-connected to other great trails, including the Central Lakes State Trail (in Osakis) and the Soo Line Recreational Trail (just past Holdingford). Presently, a seven-mile extension from St. Joseph to St. Cloud is also in the works! The extension will link up with the Mississippi River Trail that runs more than 3,000 miles from the headwaters of Lake Itasca, Minn., to the river’s end in New Orleans, La.

    According to Borgerding, there are challenges involved, not the least of which is coordinating 19 federal, state, city and township agencies. The other challenge: funding. 

    Local legislators have introduced a bill to complete funding for the first stage of the project; and this bill could do for the Lake Wobegon Trail what a statewide bill (HF2395 and SF2107) could do for biking and walking infrastructure across Minnesota. Alternatively, local and state advocates recognize the potential for the statewide bill to fund the Lake Wobegon Trail extension if the project is deemed important for transportation. 

    When asked about the future of the trail, Borgerding said he envisions that this project, though in its infancy, has great potential to be used “not just for recreation opportunities but as a viable transportation option” for residents and visitors.

    That could likely be the case, given that the trail extension links St. Joseph and towns along the trail to the metropolitan city of St. Cloud. Commuters, students and families can take advantage of the trail as a transportation option for work, class and daily errands, while enjoying its scenic beauty…and Borgerding’s vision will be realized.

    Top photo courtesy Jennifer Flaa via Flickr

    Right photo courtesy Matt Green via Flickr


    Leeann Sinpatanasakul recently joined RTC as advocacy coordinator for the public policy team. She focuses on generating grassroots support in America for state and federal trail funding.

  • California's Gold Rush Country Celebrates New Rail-Trail

    Photo and story by Steve Schweigerdt/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Trail advocates in El Dorado County, Calif., celebrated the opening of a new 2.75-mile stretch of the El Dorado Trail on October 17 at the County Government Center. Passing through California’s historic Gold Rush country, the newly paved section forms an important link between Placerville and Diamond Springs, including the Weber Creek trestle that dates back to 1903 and towers about 100 feet above the creek. The trail winds along the mountainside through mixed forest cover and is already heavily used by community bicyclists, equestrians and runners, or those looking for a quiet stroll.

    The local group Trails Now has been pushing for the trail to connect all the way from the American River Bikeway and the Pony Express Trail that leads to South Lake Tahoe. Additional sections are planned in the near future to connect to downtown Placerville and to continue from Missouri Flat Road southwest to the town of El Dorado and Mother Lode Drive. The route will traverse the site of a historical lumber mill, and connect with the future site of a county railroad museum.

  • 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


  • New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut

    It's hard to believe that no sitting state governor has ever addressed a single meeting of the East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) Trail Council or Board, given the tremendous tourism and recreational significance of a trails network that will eventually link communities along the entire eastern seaboard.

    So when Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (right) walked into an ECGA meeting in Simsbury, Conn., earlier this year, the trails community took notice. And when Malloy started talking about hiking and biking as keys in the battle against obesity, and of a changing culture in the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) in favor of cycling and walking, it was hard to ignore what appeared to be genuine support from the new administration. 

    Malloy's appearance at the ECGA meeting was just the latest in a series of shifts in Connecticut's transportation and planning leadership that has sparked optimism among trail advocates. His election in 2010 has coincided with the introduction of a number of people in key positions with a history of promoting multi-modal transportation projects, and the creation of the state's first-ever full-time bike/ped coordinator.

    Kate Rattan, who assumed that role in February after four years in corridor planning in the same department, says it's an exciting time for Connecticut. "Now we're moving forward," she says. "Our administration is amazing."

    Rattan pointed to Malloy's interest in non-motorized transportation--and the appointment of James Redeker as DOT commissioner and Tom Maziarz as chief of policy and planning--as reasons for optimism among bike and pedestrian advocates in the state. In their previous roles, both men demonstrated a support of non-motorized projects and an ability to work with other agencies and community groups.

    At the opening of a new 1.8-mile stretch of bicycle trail in Canton recently, Redeker told local reporters the transportation landscape was changing. "I'd say it's moving very quickly from being a highway department to being totally intermodal," he said.

    These changes at the top are being translated into real improvements on the ground. Rattan says CDOT was about the launch a pilot to equip the Metro-North trains into New York with bike mounts, so commuters can carry their bikes on the train even in peak times.

    New road design guidelines bring city roads in from 12 feet to 11 feet, allowing some extra room for pathways, and CDOT is experimenting with new sharrow designs and other ways to make biking safer on the road. A ban has been lifted on CDOT staff traveling out of state for multi-modal planning education and training. And CDOT and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are collaborating on trails and sidewalk projects like never before.

    CDOT has also made effective changes to the way it applies Transportation Enhancements (TE) funding, resulting in more money being utilized for trail improvements in local communities. And Surface Transportation Program funding is for the first time being made available to trails and sidewalks projects.

    These adjustments are part of the reason Connecticut has either completed, or is in the process of completing, key connections in its trail system, including a long-delayed segment of the Farmington River Trail.

    Next month will see the opening of a five-mile section of the Charter Oak Trail between Manchester and Bolton, a vital link of the East Coast Greenway chain that will also serve commuters and local users.

    Steven Mitchell, a member of the ECGA Board of Trustees and a resident of Simsbury, Conn., is excited to see state administrators catching up with what has been a dynamic and active biking community for many years. "When he was mayor of Stamford, Governor Malloy always had a strong awareness that cities which have parks and trails and green space thrive," Mitchell says. "He made it a more desirable place to live and do business. He built the jewel--he and his administration."

    Mitchell says the excitement in the biking and trails community at the moment is palatable, generated by a new energy from CDOT, but also a growing awareness across the country that Connecticut has a lot to offer. The Tour DaVita was held in Connecticut this year, the first time it has been staged in the Northeast, bringing 500 riders and support staff to towns like Simsbury. Connecticut has risen to 21 in the League of American Bicyclists' Bike Friendly States Rankings this year, up from 40 in 2010.  "We want to keep moving forward," Mitchell says. "The goal now is to crack into the top 15."

    The good news keeps coming. This month, CDOT announced they would add a 6-foot-wide pedestrian walkway to the Putnam Bridge, which carries Route 3 over the Connecticut River between Glastonbury and Wethersfield. And on October 1, CDOT and ECGA officials will cut the ribbon to open a new bridge on the Hop River Trail in Andover, which has long been closed to trail users.

    ECGA's Eric Weis, who has been involved for more than a decade in efforts to complete the bridge link at Andover, says he is delighted with CDOT's newfound understanding of the many benefits of trails. "Governor Malloy deserves a big pat on the back indeed," says Weis. "His support has caused a sea change in state agency support for bicycling and walking programs. Employees who have been chafing at the bit for years are finally able to address issues the way they should be addressed."

    Connecticut riders are particularly excited about plans for a redesign of the Merritt Parkway to provide for an off-road bike and pedestrian path. Built in the late 1930s, the parkway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is renowned for the beauty of its scenery, as well as its narrow shoulders and dangerous, winding alignment. With the right improvements, it has the potential to be a crucial non-motorized link.

    "The Merritt Parkway offers access to some of the region's largest employers, and a number of residential areas," Rattan says. "An off-road bike route would connect to transit stops along Metro-North's branch lines. It would also be a lovely ride."

    Malloy used his visit to the ECGA meeting in Simsbury to announce a $1.1 million grant had been secured to study the feasibility of using the right-of-way along the Merritt Parkway for a non-motorized corridor. Malloy says it was an idea he pursued during his tenure as mayor of Stamford, but to no avail. Supporters hope as governor he will be more successful.

    Many trails advocates believe, and Malloy himself acknowledged, that credit for this system belongs to the well-organized grassroots groups that have long lobbied for funding and mobilized volunteer labor. In recent memory, the state DOT was seen as an obstacle rather than a partner. So while it is early yet, the direction that Malloy and his transportation chiefs are heading is a pleasing sight for many in the Connecticut trails community.

    Photo of Gov. Malloy (top) courtesy of East Coast Greenway Association; photo of newly completed section of Charter Oak Greenway (middle) courtesy of Robert Dexter; photo of Merritt Parkway (bottom) courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr.

  • 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.



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