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July 2009 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Trail Voices: Neal Brendel

    Brendel on an outlook near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Afton, Va.

    “Trail Voices” highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, walking and bicycling movement is too big or too small–dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.

    Neal Brendel has been a lawyer with the Pittsburgh office of K&L Gates since 1979. He’s been a partner since 1986, and one of his projects is to provide pro bono legal work for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). At K&L Gates, Brendel represents parties in commercial disputes, often involving contracts and insurance. Providing legal counsel for RTC, though, allows Brendel to combine his law career with his love for the outdoors by clearing legal hurdles for trail development. “There are many different legal challenges people make, but at the end of the day we do what we can to remove those barriers so that the entities can complete their trail,” says Brendel.

    Most recently, Brendel, along with K&L Gates attorney William Semins, worked on a case for RTC involving the 52.5-mile Armstrong Trail in western Pennsylvania. The Moody v. Allegheny Valley Land Trust case dealt with the issue of railbanking—a federal law that allows an out-of-use railroad corridor to be converted for interim trail use, thereby preserving the corridor until such time as rail service is deemed necessary again. On July 20, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed that the Armstrong Trail is entitled to the protections of private railbanking, establishing an important precedent for rail-trail development around the country. (When fully completed, the Armstrong Trail could connect to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage and link to a continuous route from New York to Maryland and onto Washington, D.C.)

    RTC’s legal program, administered by RTC General Counsel Andrea Ferster, is often behind the scenes yet very much at the forefront of RTC’s work promoting and protecting rail-trail corridors. The assistance of Brendel and other pro bono attorneys is critical to RTC’s efforts to influence trail policy at the courtroom level and offer legal assistance to trail groups in particular cases around the country.

    What got you interested in doing work for RTC?
    I grew up right outside Pittsburgh, Pa., and used to always find time to ride the Great Allegheny Passage. I watched the trail movement grow, especially in the Pennsylvania area. I enjoy doing work for RTC because it is a nice break from the usual sort of cases I deal with. RTC cases are always fun and interesting.

    What is the most rewarding part about doing pro bono work for RTC?
    For me, the biggest reward is that the legal work is for a good cause. At the end of the day, I know there will be a new trail to ride on, and lucky for me it’s right in my backyard. When I ride down the Allegheny, there are parts of the trail that are still barricaded off, so it’s satisfying to be able to see parts of the trail open up.

    What has been your most memorable rail-trail experience?
    My favorite trail experience has been the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, a rail-trail in western Pennsylvania that connects the city of Butler to the Allegheny River port of Freeport. I love biking on this trail because it goes through so many different terrains. As you start the climb away from the valley, you encounter everything from open woods to forest to farmland. The trail is also great for bird watching.

    Another reason the Butler-Freeport Community Trail is one of my favorites is because it was one of the first trails that gave rise to the legal precedent where courts started to recognize the concept of private railbanking. Whenever I ride the trail, I think of its legal precedent.

    How often do you get out on the trails?
    In the summer I try to go out for about 40 to 50 miles once or twice a week. My wife is actually doing a trail ride with a community group from D.C. to Pittsburgh. It’s exciting because she’s riding all rail-trail connections, about 360 miles. It’s satisfying to see the number of people who love using the trails. I have the impression that it takes a while for people to become aware of a rail-trial, but now you see everyone using them. It’s great!


  • Portland region develops "The Intertwine" concept for regional parks and trails

    Already a national leader in urban cycling, the Portland, Oregon, area is moving forward with an initiative formerly known as Connecting Green that will be renamed and launched to the public in September as The Intertwine. At its heart, The Intertwine is an effort by the Portland area's Metro regional government and its partners to both facilitate regional cooperation in the creation of a regional park and trail system, and to make this system easy-to-use for the public by providing information about and connections within the system. The partners behind The Intertwine understand that park and trail planning includes both transportation and recreation. From BikePortland, which covered The Intertwine's unveiling on June 30:

    The Intertwine has five major focus areas...one of which is “Trails”. Don’t let that word fool you, this is not just about recreational, multi-use paths. Through this effort, Metro convened a Blue Ribbon Committee for Trails that ended up focusing more on trails as transportation corridors and building the case for an “integrated mobility strategy” (you can download a PDF of that here).

    U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley spoke at the June 30 event. The Oregonian has also editorialized in support of The Intertwine: "It's great to have one senator intertwined," the paper wrote. "Eventually, we could use two, or four."

    The Intertwine is the type of local and regional effort that complements two of RTC's national efforts: our 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation to advocate for increased walking, biking and trails funding in the next federal transportation bill; and our new Urban Pathways Initiative, which seeks to encourage active transportation and healthy recreation on multi-use pathways in urban and metropolitan areas. It should come as no surprise, then, that in its final report the Blue Ribbon Committee for Trails identified continued work with RTC as important to advocating for federal funding to implement this regional trail vision. You can download a PDF of Portland's case statement for RTC's 2010 Campaign here.

  • Trail Voices: Stacey Capers

    Stacey Capers getting loose before a workout.

    “Trail Voices” highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, walking and bicycling movement is too big or too small–dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.

    Since she was 20, Stacey Capers had weighed more than 200 pounds. She was an athlete in high school, yet for her entire adult life she struggled with being overweight. This past year, though, Capers and her husband Adam became contestants on the sixth season of NBC’s reality TV show, The Biggest Loser: Families, which challenged couples to lose weight through improvements in diet and exercise. “Never in a million years did I think we would get chosen for the show,” says Capers. “It was a huge blessing.

    During the course of the show, Capers and her husband lost a combined 145 pounds. They didn’t win the competition, but they were so inspired by the experience they decided to start their own company, called I Can Do Fitness. Their mission is to provide “resources, advice, outreach and support for individuals committing to a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and physical fitness.” I Can Do Fitness helps clients use different types of interval training to increase their weight loss, and they encourage clients to be creative with their exercise plans to stay motivated. That was a lesson she learned from her trainer on the show, who introduced her to the 44.8-mile Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park (W&OD).

    Growing up in New York, Capers was always more familiar with urban areas, but she now takes full advantage of the many trails in the Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia area—especially the W&OD trail, which runs from Shirlington on the outskirts of D.C. to Purcellville, Va. These days, she regularly incorporates the paved trail into her workout sessions. Using trails for exercise has given Capers a new appreciation for the outdoors, and she hopes to continue using them to achieve her weight-loss goals and live a healthy, active lifestyle.

    Did you ever use trails before you made your commitment to losing weight and getting healthy on The Biggest Loser?
    No, I got introduced to the Washington & Old Dominion trail by my trainer. I started using the trails by my gym in Vienna to run, and I would use the mile markers to push myself farther each time. Your body will quickly adjust to your workout routine if you do not push it to work harder, and running on the trails really allows me to do that. As I started to lose weight, I was able to run for longer periods of time. It was a really good switch of environment from my typical gym workouts.

    What benefits do you enjoy from outdoor activity versus working out in the gym?
    The good thing about [running on trails] is that once you run two miles, you have no choice but to turn around and run two miles back home. I also love how running outside allows you to see so much nature, and you can just escape in your thoughts. I’ve learned that you can use the outdoors to do the same gym-quality exercise. We encourage this idea to all of our clients.

    Are you training for anything in particular right now?
    I [ran] in the American Heart Association Lawyers Have Heart 10K in Washington, D.C., which I primarily used trails to train for. I also just signed up to do my first triathlon, so I plan on starting to bike more often. I don’t actually own a bike right now, but I think that this triathlon will encourage me to buy one. 

    Before the show, could you ever imagine yourself getting in shape so successfully on trails?
    Definitely not. Now that I’ve been introduced to it, I always prefer to exercise outdoors rather than being cooped up inside the gym. When I was carrying around all of the extra weight, it was very uncomfortable to be outside. Now I am able to enjoy it, and for the first time I actually love summer. It’s also a good way to spend time with the family. I love picking up my daughter from school and taking her to the trail for a walk.

  • RTC president on why the next transportation bill should help you drive less

    Last week, National Journal's Expert Blog on transportation asked: "Is [reducing vehichle miles traveled] an appropriate goal for federal transportation policy? Is it a practical goal? How might that be accomplished and what might be the consequences?" RTC President Keith Laughlin responded:

    Yes. As a matter of policy, reducing per capita VMT should be an essential objective for the next surface transportation bill... Reducing per capita VMT is not forcing people to do something they don’t want to do; rather it is helping them do more of something they are already doing...It is time for investments in walking, biking and public transportation that provide the American people with more transportation choices as they contemplate getting from Point A to Point B. Not only will such a strategy reduce per capita VMT, it will provide the American people the choices that they eagerly want.

    National Journal has Laughlin's full response.

  • Statewide rail-with-trail policy: A real possibility for Virginia

    This just in off the Blogroll: Virginia Bicycling Federation's effort for a state-level rail-with-trail policy has gotten some press coverage in Roanoke. From our friends at VBF:

    In this video taken at last week’s Governor’s Ride on the Roanoke River Greenway, Barbara Duerk explains how rails with trails are a no-brainer. It can be done in Virginia! See the accompanying story in the Roanoke Free Press, with pictures from the Governor’s ride.

    Individuals can sign VBF's rail-with-trail petition. Encourage your organization to support it, as well - Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has!

  • This weekend's trail events, from California to the New York islands

    From one coast to another, summertime events are planned for this weekend to get Americans out walking and biking.

    Whether you are near the Lincoln Tunnel or the Golden Gate Bridge - or anywhere else in the U.S. - July is a great month to get out on a rail-trail. Find yours at TrailLink.com, powered by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Meet the Lafitte Greenway

    The Lafitte Greenway is one of seven projects receiving in-depth assistance as part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Urban Pathways Initiative. This video by Charlie London provides a brief introduction, featuring video of the successful National Trails Day event held by Friends of Lafitte Corridor.


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