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June 2011 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Rail-Trails Down Under

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • On the Trail for a Cure: A 150-Mile Journey by Wheelchair

    By Mark Cheater

    On July 20, Robin Mower will set out from her home in Toledo, Ohio, on a charity ride to the state capital in Columbus, using rail-trails for parts of her trip. The 150-mile journey would be challenging for even a fit person on a bicycle. For someone afflicted with a debilitating disease and confined to a wheelchair, however, it's nothing short of extraordinary.

    Mower, 47, suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Commonly known as 'Lou Gehrig's disease' after the New York Yankees' baseball star who died from it, ALS attacks the nervous system. Despite decades of study, scientists still do not know what causes it or how to treat it. Mower wants to see that change-and hopes her trip helps generate both publicity and donations for ALS programs and research. "It's going to be an extreme adventure, but I feel like I have to take this journey," she says.

    "A lot of people don't know what ALS is, and that there's no treatment or cure," she adds. "This disease can affect anyone at any age-it doesn't discriminate."

    Mower, a former Special Olympics coach, weight lifter and mother of four, was diagnosed with the disease two years ago. She has lost much of the control over her limbs, but she hasn't let the disease dim her competitive spirit. "I want to focus on things I can do, not on what I can't," she says. "This is a great way to get the word out about ALS."

    When she came up with the idea for the motorized wheelchair trip this spring, Mower asked officials at the northern Ohio chapter of the ALS Association to help make it happen. Mary Wilson Wheelock, the chapter's executive director, started searching the Internet for information on paths in northern Ohio and came across TrailLink.com, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) free trail-finder website.

    "I stumbled upon RTC when I was looking for assistance to find Robin a safe path," says Wheelock. "There are a lot of websites out there and a lot of organizations, but RTC was attractive to me because it has an office in Columbus and it is another nonprofit group that we could help raise awareness of." 

    She got in touch with Eric Oberg, manager of trail development in RTC's Midwest Regional Office, who helped Mower's team plot a route along several Ohio rail-trails, including the International Park Rotary TrailNorth Coast Inland Trail and the Olentangy Greenway Trail. He's also worked with partner groups to find suitable roads that connect these trail segments.

    "When you get a chance to help someone like Robin do something like this....it sure makes those tedious days at work a whole lot easier to deal with," says Oberg.

    Mower will be accompanied on her planned six-day journey by her husband, a cousin and a sister. She'll also be receiving mechanical support from Permobil, the company that makes her wheelchair. This will be her first rail-trail experience, and she's excited about it. "It's going to be safer for me-I won't have to brave the traffic and worry about being hit by a car or other vehicle, or slowing them down," she says. "I'll also have a chance to show people the beauty of Ohio."

    Oberg says it's been inspirational to work with Mower and her team on this important project. "For someone like this, fighting a battle like she's fighting and willing to do what she's doing, it brings home the importance of the work we've done," he says. "The only unfortunate thing is that she can't be on a trail all the way to where she wants to go-so it also highlights how much work we need to do."

    You can follow Mower's progress on her blog and sign on to support her effort on the ALS Association's northern Ohio chapter website at http://web.alsa.org/goto/RobinsJourney

    Photos courtesy of Robin Mower. 


  • Jeanine Barone: A Creature of (Travel) Habits

    It's never a dull life, travel writing. Jeanine Barone is sitting in the first-class lounge at LaGuardia airport in New York, fresh from a round of trips to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Finland and Rio de Janeiro.

    Now Barone is gearing up for an adventure of the rail-trail variety. The intrepid traveler is about to embark on a "Bus and Bike" tour of four states in the center of the country that she has never visited: Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. (That will leave only two unvisited states, the Dakotas, for another trip.)

    In each state, she will ride the length of a signature rail-trail--the Osage Prairie Trail in Oklahoma; the Keystone Trail in Nebraska; the Landon Nature Trail in Kansas; and the Arkansas River Trail in Arkansas. She found these routes by searching RTC's trail-finder website, TrailLink.com, and talking with local experts, and she's lined up a rental bike and some riding company for each of her trails.

    We caught up with Barone this morning for a quick chat just as she was preparing to depart for Omaha to begin the latest of her travel adventures.

    So, why rail-trails? What is it about them that appeals to you as a traveler?
    I really like the whole idea of repurposing. It's always frustrating to see people build something, then tear it down a few years later, and then we get a shopping mall. It's great that we are reusing these corridors, and making something that is specifically dedicated to walking, or riding.

    In a car, traveling is very destination-driven. It's about getting from A to B. Things go by too quickly. When you're walking, cross-country skiing or on a bike, it's about the in-between. You get to experience the landscape.

    Cross-country skiing?
    Yes, I've done a lot of long-distance skiing. I once cross-country skied a rail-trail in Minnesota. I like the whole process of moving rhythmically. It's very similar aerobically to cycling. And, like cycling, you get to go slow and experience the land.

    You've done a lot of long-distance trips by bike. What are some of the best rides you have done here in the United States?
    You know, Florida has a reputation for not being very bike-friendly. But I rode some of the dedicated bike paths down in the Panhandle, including the Pinellas Trail, and it was beautiful. Lovely forests, moss dripping from the trees.

    I've also ridden the length of the West Coast, from Seattle down to San Diego, on U.S. Highway 1. A lot of my friends were like, 'You're riding along Highway 1? That's crazy! It's so dangerous!' But it wasn't dangerous at all. It was great--a really beautiful way to see the West.

    The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath is one of my favorites. I've done it a few times, and I just love it. D.C. is so heavily trafficked--it is such a delight to step onto the trail down in Georgetown. It's peaceful, and there's a great sense of history, with some of the original buildings. And if you don't want to camp along the way, you can stay at one of the quaint inns.

    What are you most looking forward to on your rail-trail adventures in these central states?
    To be honest, I try not to do too much research ahead of time. I prefer to discover the places naturally as I travel. The plan is to ride the rail-trail, and then take some time exploring the towns and cities along the way. I am really looking forward to finding the 'under-the-radar' sites, rather than those you might read about in guidebooks. This is how I like to experience a place, and its people.

    I picked Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas in an effort to bring a focus to states that many people on the East Coast don't hold in much esteem. Most people look at them as being very car-orientated. I am trying to show people that there are also some beautiful trails, some beautiful places to hike and ride. 

    You've done plenty of long-distance rides in your time. Got a couple of tips for anybody planning their own rail-trail adventure this year?
    Firstly, you have to prepare. Make sure you spend a couple of months getting some miles under your belt. That's a given.

    One important tip--get a good seat. Try out a few and know that the one you chose fits you correctly. Particularly for women. Men and women have their specific issues when it comes to seats. I have an ergonomic seat, which I know is the best fit for me. It makes a big difference.

    You can follow Barone's trip on her blog at www.jthetravelauthority.com, or by following her twitter feed at @JCreatureTravel!

    Photos: Jeanine Barone, courtesy of Jeanine Barone; Keystone Trail in Nebraska, by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • In Mississippi, an Accident Inspires Community Safety Awareness

    In many neighborhoods, a local bike shop is often the hub of the community bicycle scene. Owners organize riding clubs and workshops, share tips and resources, offer expert advice on the newest products, help advertise races and other events, and generally connect area riders as part of a broader cycling family. 

    Such is the case in Starkville, Miss., where since 2008 Jan and David Morgan have made Boardtown Bikes an integral part of the local cycling scene. So late last month, when Jan was struck and run over by a motorist while riding on the outskirts of town, the accident shocked and galvanized the entire community. 

    According to the police report of the incident, the motorist was talking on a cell phone when she struck Jan, who was riding by the side of the road. The report states that the driver pulled over, got out of the car and, while still talking on the phone, got back into the car and drove off, running over Jan, who was lying injured. Shortly afterwards, the driver was forced from her car by a witness.

    Almost one month later, Jan remains in a serious but stable condition in the critical care unit of North Mississippi Medical Center, with multiple fractures, significant head injuries and a collapsed lung.

    And as riders and friends rally around her husband and the store, a bigger issue has emerged.

    According to local cyclist Jody "Buz" Bennett, who works at a regional medical center, the harrowing incident is merely the latest in what is becoming a worrying trend. "We've had a few people in the state severely injured in accidents with motorists," Bennett says, indicating that while the city of Starkville had been placing more emphasis on bike lanes and sidewalks in recent times (as well as a city ordinance making helmets compulsory), more work is needed to accommodate the growing number of cyclists.

    In honor of Jan, Bennett and other supporters are organizing a community ride to be held this Saturday, June 25, that he hopes will encourage both motorists and cyclists to be conscious of safe ways to share the road.

    The "Ban Together for Jan" ride will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Boardtown Bikes store at 200 S. Montgomery Street in Starkville. Participants are asked to arrive at 7 a.m., and Bennett hopes to see as many riders as possible come out to bring attention to an issue that affects all cyclists and pedestrians.

    "We have painted a bunch of a yard sticks bright yellow to give everyone a visual understanding of what 3 feet looks like--that's the distance motorists and cyclists are supposed to give each other on the road," Bennett says. "We want to educate motorists on how to share the road with cyclists, but we also want to educate cyclists on how to be conscious of motorists, too."

    The ride is sponsored by OCH Regional Medical Center and Boardtown Bikes.

    For more information on "Ban Together for Jan," e-mail Bennett at jbennett@och.org. To learn more about bike and pedestrian safety and advocacy in Mississippi, contact Bike Walk Mississippi or Starkville in Motion

  • Trail Voices: Megan Odett

    By Megan Odett

    Before I had a kid, I used to be a cyclist of the "strong and fearless" variety. No road was too busy and no bike lane too narrow to stop me from getting to my destination by the most direct route. After I had my son Alex, though, it was as if I had become a newbie all over again. Suddenly I was hyperaware of every vehicle, every pothole, every pedestrian and every hazard on the road. I began to prioritize traffic calmness much more in choosing my routes.

    Around the same time, I discovered the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

    A little miracle in the heart of Washington, D.C., the Met Branch Trail enables Alex and me to bike from our Bloomingdale home to some of our favorite destinations while avoiding some of the city's most dangerous roads. From our house, it's an easy four-block ride to the trail's R Street access point. From there, we can head south to NoMa and Near Northeast, skipping the twin nightmares of New York and Florida avenues. Or we can pedal north to Brookland, gliding over the commuter artery of Rhode Island Avenue.

    The Met Branch is a huge help during our several-times-a-week commute to daycare. For those trips, we bike north on the trail to Brookland, then zigzag on side streets over the Maryland border to Hyattsville. The trail helps us bypass the commuter traffic of Rhode Island Avenue and converts the exhausting ups-and-downs of Edgewood into a persistent but manageable uphill climb.

    My favorite part of our daycare commute is the trip home, when the sweat from the morning's uphill climb pays off in a long downhill run and we fly past the trees and the railroad tracks, with the Capitol dome ahead of us and Alex waving his hands in the air to feel the wind. 

    The Met Branch is still a work in progress. The District Department of Transportation and numerous other partners are still working to complete the trail from Union Station to Silver Spring, Md. Even before the rest of the trail is completed, there are projects that will improve the trail's connection with neighborhoods and transit stops.

    Since we live in Bloomingdale, we use the R Street NE entrance in Eckington to access the trail. For us and many others, R Street is not only a gateway to the Met Branch Trail, it's an important cross-town street for cyclists, stretching nearly three miles from the Met Branch Trail in Eckington to Rock Creek Park.

    The only problem is that R Street is one-way for a single block in Eckington. In order to avoid illegally bicycling against traffic on our return trips, I hop up on the curb for that one block. Although a legal maneuver outside of downtown D.C., it's not the best solution. The sidewalk is narrow and residents store their trash cans there. I'm always worried that I'm going to run into a fellow sidewalk user or knock over someone's trash can--especially on days when we're using our bike trailer.

    For that reason, I've been following the recent debate over proposed changes to R Street with interest. I support the proposed addition of a contraflow bike lane to the one-way block and sharrows to the rest of R Street NE from North Capitol Street to the trail entrance. It will make this section of R Street safer for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians by slowing down traffic in this residential neighborhood--without eliminating any on-street parking spaces.

    This connection may face debate and delay, but it is critical to making our neighborhoods better places to walk and bike--not to mention raise a family. The Met Branch Trail has made it easier and even more fun to bike around town with my son. I'm so grateful to have this resource, and I look forward to many more miles on the trail with him.

    Megan Odett is the organizer of Kidical Mass DC, which promotes safe, fun family biking in the Greater Washington area.

    Crossposted at Kidical Mass DC.

  • Making Trails Truly Multi-Use: A Perspective From the N.Y. Equestrian Community

    On rail-trails throughout the country, local managers and planners make decisions about the types of users a pathway will support. Rail-trails generally allow for a wide spectrum of activities, from cycling and horseback riding to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, depending on the season and region. But these various user groups often require specific trail conditions and amenities, whether it's asphalt for skate wheels or space in parking lots for horse trailers. And even though these users all support a common cause--trails--tension over permissible uses can still occur on some pathways.

    In almost every case, though, improved communication and understanding among trail groups can prove the greatest asset in promoting shared uses on a trail--and making sure future trail projects are designed to allow as many user types as possible. Each group offers something valuable to the trail community, from economic impact and trail maintenance to vocal support at the legislative level. Learning about the roles these different users play is a central part of appreciating the shared nature of the rail-trail movement.

    In that spirit, we recently connected with Sharon Young Slate and Gary Slate of the New York State Horse Council, and we asked for their take on trail access and involvement with the New York equestrian community.

    From the Slates: The New York State Horse Council serves as an umbrella organization for the many diversified equine interests in the state. One purpose of the Horse Council, stated on our website, is to "facilitate grassroots efforts to educate N.Y. State Legislators regarding the tremendous economic impact ($4.8 billion dollars) provided by our horse industry and develop appropriate equine agricultural legislation." While some people see New York as pavement and skyscrapers, the top industry in the state remains agriculture--and horses are a valuable part of this industry, taking second place only to dairying. There are more than 200,000 horses in New York, representing everything from racing interests to a significant number of show horses, hunters and jumpers, draft horses and lesson animals, and a very large pleasure horse and trail riding horse population (in fact, 70 percent of New York's horses are involved in showing and recreational riding). The Horse Council works to create a "strong and unified voice for all those interests toward the preservation of a future for horses in New York State."

    Several trails open to horses do exist in the state, but the unrelenting push for more development in many areas--and the fact that many small farms have closed--often leaves riders without spaces and areas previously open to them. This shortage of publicly available land is likely true in many other states as well. The Horse Council has been a strong supporter of groups developing trails, and the large horse-owner population in New York has been diligent in working alongside other groups in maintaining these trails wherever possible.   

    Trail users, whether hikers, cyclists, runners, inline skaters or horseback riders, have far more in common than many of us realize. The majority of horse owners we know are responsible trail users and are grateful for the opportunity to share these trails with other interests. While basic rules of trail etiquette must be established, and appropriate footing (surface) is necessary for horses, we have found that all users can coexist when we work together in planning and management.

    In some cases and when possible, a parallel trail to that used by pedestrians and cyclists works best for horses and keeps users simultaneously and safely on the corridor. In others, where trails have a solid base and are sufficiently wide to allow for quiet passing where and when necessary, the same trail can be used, providing the footing is appropriate for horses. An appropriate footing would be dirt, grass or a very fine gravel base, well packed and well settled ("stonedust," for instance). Any pavement such as blacktop or cement is dangerously slippery for horses, and gravel, especially if it is sharp or at all large, can pose real problems for hooves.

    To allow equestrian use, bridges should be sufficiently sturdy and wide and provided with safe railings. A metal deck should be avoided where horses will be involved. Parking areas need to be large enough to accommodate trucks and horse trailers, leaving ample room for riders to tie their animals to the trailer to tack up and prepare to ride.

    Not every trail can or should be a multi-use trail that is accessible for horses. However, where horses are welcome and appropriate, horse owners and supporters will gladly carry their share of the load. Horseback riders, like others who enjoy nature and the use of trails, are eager to share in the development or opening of these trails, would unite to stand against their closure, and would be willing to stand side by side with other users to help with maintenance.

    Trail horses can share an appropriate trail happily and comfortably with hikers, cyclists and other users. The continued development of rail-trails provides an expanding and exciting opportunity for those of us who enjoy the natural beauty of our nation--and who promote recreational facilities that many Americans can enjoy in their own way.

    Photos: Sharon and Gary Slate, by Ralph Goldstrom; riders on the Paulinskill Valley Trail in New Jersey, by Boyd Loving.

  • RTC Partners with Guardian Angels for Trail Patrol Program

    The recently opened Met Branch Trail connecting downtown Washington, D.C., with neighborhoods to the north is a great example of how urban rail-trails serve a wide variety of needs--from everyday commuters to casual runners and the people and businesses in communities along the trail.

    But one of the realities of life in a big city is the threat of crime and assault, particularly after dark. Trail users returning home of an evening are often a target.

    Having been one of the key proponents of the construction of the Met Branch Trail, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) understands that building the trail is only half of the mission. The other half is to make sure the trail is well-used and well-loved, and that nearby residents become stewards of the pathway. That includes things like landscaping along the corridor to create places for rest and relaxation, and helping local school students build a natural connection to the trail.

    It also includes making the route safe.

    Following a number of troubling incidents on the Met Branch Trail in recent weeks, the challenge of reducing the threat of assault and robbery has received increased attention.

    That's why RTC is partnering with a national volunteer patrol agency, the Guardian Angels, to see what can be done about making the Met Branch Trail a place where all people feel secure.

    Last week, members of RTC's trail development staff met with a group of Guardian Angels, including one who often walks the Met Branch Trail on his way to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, where he connects to patrols throughout the Metro system.

    The plan is to build a closely connected network of trail security volunteers from neighborhood groups, trail users and residents in the area. Given that many of these volunteers probably won't have the burly presence of your average Angel, safety patrols will be made up of four or five volunteers, who will walk or bike sections of the trail together.

    It will not be the role of the volunteer patrols to directly confront troublemakers or act like citizen police in foiling crime. The idea instead is that one of the biggest deterrents to threatening behavior on the trail is a regular presence of groups of people.

    The hope is that these small volunteer patrols will be the kernel that develops into a strong sense of community ownership along some of the trail's less traveled and isolated spots.

    Interested? Join RTC, the Metropolitan Police Department and the Guardian Angels at a public safety open house between 4 and 7 p.m., June 22, at the S Street Pocket Park on the corner of S and 4th streets NE to discuss the formation of regular community patrols, and sign up today to join the trail patrol.

    Also, at the urging of one local rider, there is now also a "Bike Buddies" sign-up sheet, where trail users can connect with others who will be on the trail at the same time. Information about the volunteer security patrols, and the Bike Buddies system, can be found by joining the Met Branch Trail listserv.

    For more information, contact Stephen Miller at 202.974.5123, or e-mail stephen@railstotrails.org.

    Photos: Cyclists on the Met Branch Trail north of the New York Avenue Metro station; community members gather for the "Meet the Met" celebration in 2010, by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Funding a Trail One Ukulele at a Time

    Ferry County Rail Trail Partners in northeastern Washington State just raised $17,100 in an online auction of a ukulele signed by Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. That kind of creative fundraising and marketing shows how large gifts can be generated in small rural areas to have big impacts on developing trails. The Ferry County Rail Trail Partners are moving quickly to complete their 30-mile trail, which was largely designated as a non-motorized corridor last year, and which will eventually connect as an international trail into Canada. The funds from the ukulele auction will be combined with a Transportation Enhancements grant from Washington State to help deck the trestle over Curlew Lake and improve the surfaces around the lake.

    "Funding this rail-trail is a direct investment in our economic, social and environmental infrastructure, as well as a way to preserve and communicate the amazing geological and cultural history of our area," says Bob Whittaker, president of the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners. "This [trail] will have very, very positive long-term results for our region." 

    "Eddie just called me to congratulate us, say that he was happy to be a part of it and wished Ferry County luck with its 30-mile rail-trail project.," said Whittaker after the auction ended. "Big thank you to Eddie, Pearl Jam and the whole Pearl Jam management team for helping our community!"

    To be fair, not every trail organization has the music industry connections of Whittaker, who happens to work with REM. But even if you don't have Eddie Vedder's number in the your cell phone, the Ferry County auction still offers a great lesson in using available resources. Other trail groups have successfully used community events, corporate or foundation partnerships and other drives to raise money and awareness for a project. If you've used or heard of other great fundraising ideas, let us know! 

    Photos: Eddie Vedder with the signed ukulele, and a trestle along the trail corridor, courtesy of Bob Whittaker.

  • Pop-Up Bike Shop Energizes Blue Island, Ill.

    It is always great when Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) can be involved in a project that goes way beyond building trails.

    So we were very proud to be a part of the very cool Cal-Sag Cycles Pop-Up Bike Shop in Blue Island, Ill., earlier this month.

    It was truly a community-wide effort that brought together youth advocates, Friends of the Calumet-Sag Trail, the Active Transportation Alliance, a local bike shop and other businesses, a temporary art space, and a bunch of great community energy and goodwill.

    On June 11, 15 at-risk teenagers and their adult mentors opened a temporary ("Pop-Up") bike repair shop in a vacant building in a section of Blue Island that had fallen on hard times. The Pop-Up Bike Shop was housed in the same building as a Pop-Up Art Gallery, the latest in a creative effort to bring life back to Blue Island's historical central business district.

    Under the expert instruction of staff from the local bike store, West Town Bikes, the kids learned the nuts and bolts of basic bike maintenance. Then, on June 11, they opened a one-day only, free-to-the-public bike garage, putting their newly acquired skills to work and helping local cyclists keep their machines running smoothly. 

    The teen bike mechanics serviced 90 bikes in just four hours. But RTC has a little more work for them to do. This week, a shipment of brand-new bikes from our friends at Fuji Bikes will arrive in Blue Island, awaiting assembly. Once each young mechanic has put together a bike, it is theirs to keep, courtesy of RTC's Metropolitan Grants Program, funded by the the Coca-Cola Foundation. The teens will also receive a helmet, lock and light at the culmination of this exceptional program to encourage young people to tap into their pedal power, take advantage of their local rail-trail, and provide another bright spark of creativity, commerce and collaboration in their hometown.

    Better yet, the blueprint has now been created to allow the program to be recreated anywhere in the region.

    Congratulations to everyone who made it happen!

    Photos courtesy of Cal-Sag Cycles. 

  • Past, Present and Future: A Florida Policy Update

    Many of you were aware of the recent effort to again gut the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) this state legislative session. Initial efforts aimed to eliminate 16 Tallahassee positions and merge the trail operations with that of the Florida Parks Service. After a hard-fought session and many tough conversations, we can report that OGT will remain an office, it will keep its own identity and the nine state trails will continue to be managed by the same team that has set the high bar we have come to expect.

    We will, however, lose several vacant positions as well as several valued members to the OGT team. But considering where the conversation started at the beginning of the 2011 session, this result is something to be proud of, and know that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) will be well prepared to protect the program again next year. Kudos to the Department of Environmental Protection, Deputy Secretary Ballard and Park Service Director Forgione for their handling of a tough situation and for results that out-preformed initial expectations.

    In the present, all eyes are looking to Florida. U.S. Representative John Mica of Florida's 7th District chairs the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He is considering allowing states to eliminate the federal set-aside that invests in trails, walking and bicycling. This proposal would include the Safe Routes to Schools and Recreational Trails programs, as well as the Transportation Enhancements program--the nation's largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling.

    Please tell Rep. Mica his proposal is a bad idea. For the innumerable economic, health and environmental benefits of more active transportation, now is absolutely the wrong time to be jeopardizing these crucial programs. Send him a note that eliminating the set-aside is not acceptable!

    Looking to the future, there is another opportunity to make lemonade from lemons with the Florida Communities Trust (FCT). FCT will be transferred to the Department of Environmental Protection from the Department of Communities Affairs (DCA). When the program transitioned from Preservation 2000 to Florida Forever many years ago, the legislature saw the need for increasing funding for trail systems and passed into law language that required no less than 5 percent of the monies deposited into the trust to be used to acquire lands for trail systems. The intent was to start encouraging connections between neighborhoods, schools, places of business and to other parks and trails. However, DCA passed a dreadful rule that relegated this great accomplishment to mere points on an application. With the transfer to DEP and the return of such leaders as Senator Latvala, it is hoped that this regrettable rule will be corrected and the original spirit of the law honored.

    Photo: Rep. Mica speaks at a hearing in Maitland, Fla.

  • New Extension Brings Great Allegheny Passage Closer to Pittsburgh

    The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is one of America's best known rail-trails, winding more than 135 miles through southern Pennsylvania and just into northwestern Maryland. 

    The plan for the GAP has always been to provide a continuous pathway all the way into Pittsburgh. But as popular as the trail has been with all sorts of users, a few short, crucial segments south of the city remained undeveloped.

    Now, a huge step has been made toward that goal of bringing Pittsburgh onto the GAP.

    This Friday, June 17, a new three-mile section of the trail along the Monongahela River will open to the public, connecting the trail's current northern terminus at McKeesport up to Homestead, Pa.

    This extension means that just a single mile of additional trail into Pittsburgh is needed to complete a grand 150-mile route through rural Pennsylvania.

    At its southern end, the GAP connects with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Cumberland, Md., where the canal towpath follows a 184-mile route all the way to downtown Washington,  D.C. When the final northern mile of the GAP is completed, adventurous cyclists and hikers and users of every stripe will be able to travel under their own steam all the way from Pittsburgh to the nation's capital, passing through some the region's most beautiful scenery en-route.



    This new three-mile section, which passes by the popular Sandcastle Water Park and includes two new bridges over active rail lines, cost $6 million--$1.25 million of which came from federal Transportation Enhancements funding and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The trail also received significant financial support from Allegheny County and private charitable foundations.

    Over the past few years, Allegheny County has negotiated with 18 individual property owners to make way for the trail between McKeesport and Sandcastle.

    In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story on the development of the unfinished sections last year, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato described completing the missing links as "a transformational moment for our region, both economically and recreationally."

    For more information about next Friday's opening, or the GAP trail in general, visit the Allegheny Trail Alliance or e-mail atamail@atatrail.org.

    Photo: Great Allegheny Passage, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

  • Smith College Students Chip in on Local Rail-Trails

    Across America, college campuses are often hubs of bicycling activity. Students and staff regularly depend on the local municipality having decent bike lanes and safe places to ride--indeed, the "bike-friendliness" of the college's city or town can sometimes be a selling point for prospective undergraduates.

    But rather than just rely on their local trails, the students at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., have taken a proactive interest in their maintenance and development.

    The college was recently heralded for its involvement with the Northampton rail-trail network, work that included funding new crosswalks and bike lanes, producing trail maps and studying future expansion possibilities for these crucial commuter and recreational pathways.

    Students and staff worked with local authorities on the creation of bike paths on the main roads by campus, which dovetail with the rail-trails that been opened throughout Northampton in the last few years.

    A number of students also used internships with the Office of Planning and Development to promote bikeability around campus; one student helped coordinate trail ribbon-cutting events, another studied how many people are within easy walking distance of the new trails, and a third developed an application for national trail status.

    Smith College students also run their own Bike Kitchen, pictured at right, which offers bicycle repair and maintenance workshops, and provides refurbished bikes for students who can't afford their own.

    As a result of its tremendous work, Smith College was awarded the 2011 Trail Neighbor Award by the Friends of Northampton Trails and Greenways (FNTG), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the development of local trails and greenways.

    The Bike Kitchen, and the students' support of their local rail-trails, are great examples of how colleges can encourage biking around their campuses, providing students and staff with better transportation options and promoting healthy lifestyles.

    Congratulations to Smith College, and keep up the good work!

    Photo courtesy of Judith W. Roberge/Smith College.

  • First Annual Alabama Trails Conference a Success

    by T. Jensen Lacey

    This April, nearly 200 attendees came to the first annual Alabama Trails Conference, held at the Civic Center in downtown Fairhope, Ala., April 1-3. In a city originally founded in 1894 as a Utopian colony, the conference brought together trail builders, designers and all types of users in what was deemed "an experience of discovery" by those who put it together. 

    One of the key organizers who helped shape this event was Debbie Quinn of the Fairhope City Council. "We had probably 200 in attendance, and people coming through all day long for each of the three days," says Quinn. "One of the greatest experiences of the event was the ability for all types of trail users-kayakers, bikers, hikers, horseback riders and paddlers-to get together and share their information. This will lead to great partnerships between these groups in the future. The Alabama Trails Commission, which formed last year, also met here, and our speakers were phenomenal."

    Presented by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the National Park Service, Fresh Air Family and Cheaha Trail Riders, Inc., the host sponsor was the Alabama Association of Regional Councils. Also in attendance were such groups as the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society, Baldwin County Trailblazers and a wide variety of activities and speakers.            

    To learn more about the Alabama Trails Conference, visit www.trails.alabama.gov.

    Photo: Alabama's Chief Ladiga Trail, courtesy of Rail-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Celebrate a Big Trail Opening in New Jersey

    As people who use, build and plan trails know, one of the keys to a great trail system is connectivity. And for many years, New Jersey's expansive 130-mile Liberty Water Gap Trail system has been missing one vital piece in its effort to connect two popular national landmarks across the width of New Jersey: the Statue of Liberty to the east, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to the west, which straddles the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

    Now, the vital last mile of the trail across the Delaware River--a spectacular footpath underneath the roadway--is complete! This Saturday, in honor of National Trails Day, the trail lovers of New Jersey and Pennsylvania are invited to celebrate the opening of this crucial one-mile extension of the Paulinskill Valley Trail, which comprises part of the Liberty Water Gap Trail system. The opening will take place in Columbia, N.J., at noon, at the intersection of Washington Street and Route 46. Already one of the most loved rail-trails in the region, meandering 27 miles through rural land and small towns along a tributary of the Delaware River, the Paulinskill Valley Trail will now now lead hikers, bikers and equestrians through to the Delaware Water Gap, one of the state's most popular recreation areas.

    A few minor gaps, including one mile in downtown Newark, still remain in the overall Liberty Water Gap Trail. But this Paulinskill extension brings the system one big step closer to creating a continuous 130-mile pathway across New Jersey. 

    Funding for the one-mile extension was provided by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

    For more information, contact Lisa Patton at the city of Knowlton at clerk@knowlton-nj.com, or by phone at 908.496.4816 ext.6.

    Photo: Paulinskill Valley Trail, by Boyd Loving.

  • Tornado Damages Connecticut River Walk in Springfield, Mass.

    A few weeks ago, we reported on tornado damage to the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia. Now, at the end of last week, we received news that a tornado directly hit the Connecticut River Walk and Bikeway in Springfield, Mass.

    Jeffrey McCollough of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission snapped a few photos on Thursday, June 9. He says trees were down across the stretch of trail between Memorial Bridge and LA Fitness, including Riverfront Park. Other sections of the River Walk were impassable because of electric wires down on the corridor. 

    Check with the Springfield Department of Parks & Recreation for updates on trail clean-up and conditions.  

    Photos of tornado damage on the Springfield River Walk by Jeffrey McCollough/Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

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