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RTC TrailBlog

  • 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.

     

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

     

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

     

     

  • 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

  • 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.

     

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

     

  • 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

     

     

  • 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. 

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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