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October 2011 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Rail-with-Trail a Natural Fit for Busy Cities

    Though it is true that the rail-trail movement in America was born from a need to better utilize out-of-service rail corridors, much has changed since the pioneering railbanking legislation was passed more than 25 years ago.

    The first rail-trails were recreational pathways through largely wild and rural areas. But now, rail-trails have spread in both their mileage and influence, to form bustling commuter routes in big cities, and avenues to connect inner-city residents with open spaces, and each other. This evolution of rail-trails has paralleled the development of a more dynamic understanding of urban growth, and a focus among planners in recent years on density and connectivity as keys to building more sustainable human habitats.

    All of these themes came together last week in Washington, D.C., for Rail~Volution 2011, a series of workshops and symposiums on the role of transit, and transit-oriented development, in shaping urban landscapes that are socially, environmentally and economically more intuitive.

    Though at first look it might not appear that Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) would be a natural partner to these discussions, given that many of our projects rely on the abandonment of rail service, in fact a growing focus of our work these days is on trails that run parallel to, and complement, existing transit systems.

    Rail-with-trail projects combine the benefits of walking and biking pathways with convenient access to urban transit. With the number of abandonments steadily decreasing since the mid-1990s, and cities looking for creative transportation designs for booming populations, rail-with-trail is often a cost-effective and efficient solution.

    RTC's 2009 study of rails-with-trails in California found that rail-with-trail mileage has increased fivefold in the past decade, up from 11.4 miles in 2000 to 60 miles by the end of 2009.

    In the D.C. area, the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which runs for eight miles next to Metro's Red Line, MARC commuter service and active CSX freight and Amtrak lines, allows people to commute by bike or foot to the heart of the nation's capital from Silver Spring and Takoma Park, among a number of burgeoning neighborhoods.

    Kelly Pack, RTC's director of trail development, is involved with promoting use of the Met Branch Trail and led a workshop at this year's Rail~Volution. She says that rail lines were built to provide a direct route between important residential or commercial centers, and are therefore perfect avenues for trails to follow.

    "Cities these days are putting more effort into their pedestrian and bike networks. But at the same time, urban space is getting tight," Pack says. "Existing rail lines are natural corridors. More often than not the right-of-way is wide enough to accommodate a trail, they are built at grade, and they are already going where people want to go."

    Pack says that a potential sticking point in building a trail next to a rail line can be the railroad owners' liability concerns--if anyone is injured or killed on the tracks, the owner can be sued. However, the evidence of rail-with-trail projects tells us that building a dedicated biking and walking trail next to a rail line, with appropriate barrier and safety precautions, cuts the likelihood of such incidents to almost zero.

    "Reassuring rail operators that they are in fact reducing their exposure is one of the main challenges for rail-with-trail proponents," Pack says.

    Another is state legislation. Some states have updated their State Recreation Use Statutes to explicitly include railroads. This measure provides another layer of liability protection to the railroads. In states such as Virginia and Maine, innovative legislation has extended the protection inherent in recreational use statutes to the owners of railroads. In the same way that a farmer is not liable if a mountain biker breaks her leg on a section of the farm's right-of-way, so too are rail owners protected in case of accidents on a rail-with-trail. The more legislation there is like this, the more railroad companies and transit agencies will be open to trail proposals.

    In California, there are at least five more rails-with-trails in various stages of development, including major projects such as the Coastal and Inland Rail Trails in San Diego County, the Coastal Rail Trail in Santa Cruz County, and the SMART corridor in Sonoma and Marin counties.

    These urban pathways will soon join the Met Branch Trail, the Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway in Massachusetts, the Springwater Corridor in Oregon, and dozens more rails-with-trails across the country, in providing millions of Americans with convenient and safe access to an efficient active transportation network.

    Photo of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (top) by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

    Photo of the Martin Luther King Promenade in California courtesy of TrailLink.com.

  • Experience Fall Color in California on the Bizz Johnson Trail

    Fall is a great time for a rail-trail adventure. Right across the country, foliage is breaking out in the colors of the season, humid summers are giving way to air cool and fresh, and campers are making the most of the great outdoors before winter settles in.

    The Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail, a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, is particularly spectacular this time of year, as the changing aspens, oaks and cottonwoods light up the area with brilliant autumn colors. The trail towns of Susanville and Westwood, and the Lassen Land and Trails Trust, are making the most of the trail's considerable draw, setting up a bike shuttle bus to get riders to and from the various trailheads.

    A special Fall Color Ride bike ride will be held this Saturday, October 29. Though the morning outbound shuttle at 8:30 a.m. from Susanville to Westwood is fully booked for this event--70 riders on the two outbound buses--a return bus shuttle at the end of the day will transport people from Susanville RR Depot back to Westwood to retrieve their vehicles.

    Riders can drive to Westwood, bike from Westwood north up Lassen County Road A-21 five miles to the Mason Station Trailhead (western end of the Bizz Johnson Trail) and then ride the trail back to Susanville.  At the end of their ride, cyclists can load their bikes on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service trucks and trailers that are supporting the popular Fall Color Ride, and then ride the bus back to Westwood to retrieve their vehicles. 

    Lassen Rural Bus (530.252.7433) now runs regular bus service between Susanville, Westwood and Chester on Saturdays, with the bus departing from the historical Susanville Railroad Depot Trailhead/Visitor Center at 8:30 am. Buses provide access to a number of trailheads for 7-, 18- and 30-mile rides back to Susanville. Bus users should arrive by 8 a.m. to make sure they're ready to load their bikes when the bus arrives at 8:30.

    For more information on riding the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail, visit the Lassen Land and Trails Trust or phone 530.257.3252.

    Photo courtesy of Stan Bales/Bureau of Land Management.

  • RTC Provides Strong Voice for Transportation Funding

    Two weeks ago, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) received notice that U.S. Senator John McCain (Ariz.) was planning to introduce an amendment to an appropriations bill that would strike at the enormously successful Transportation Enhancements (TE) program. In addition to being our nation's primary funding source for trails, walking and bicycling, TE is also a critical funding source for historic preservation and environmental mitigation related to transportation.

    Working with a diverse coalition of partners, RTC helped defeat Sen. McCain's proposed amendment and protect TE. But his attack was neither the first nor last to the TE program.

    In September, Senator Tom Coburn (Okla.) sought to remove the federal set-aside for TE projects. A late compromise helped preserve TE intact for another six months, but new congressional threats are looming. 

    Anticipating a year of stern challenges, RTC continues to work at the forefront of efforts to protect funding for active transportation. Our policy and outreach staff are aggressively responding to these threats to TE, stressing the remarkable economic, social and environmental value of non-motorized infrastructure, and speaking up for a transportation future that allows people to get around through a variety of means--whether on foot, bicycle, car or public transit.  

    Part of this work involves correcting misinformation and spreading the word about the countless benefits that TE brings to communities across the country. On Monday, October 24, the Washington Post ran a feature on the fight over TE on Capitol Hill, and RTC's Vice President of Program Kevin Mills spoke in defense of TE. "They think the only federal role is interstate highways, but virtually every community out there wants a balanced transportation program," said Mills. (Read the full story in the Post)

    Want to get involved and stay on top of urgent advocacy news surrounding TE and other trail-related issues? Then sign up to receive action alerts and help promote and protect trails, walking and bicycling! Your voice in support of these programs can have a powerful impact on the way our communities look and move in the coming decades.

    Image from the Washington Post, October 24, 2011.

  • Florida Rail-Trails a Model for America's Great Outdoors

    Launched in 2010, America's Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative represents a unique effort by the federal government to reconnect an increasingly urban and sedentary American population with the nation's parks, trails and open spaces.

    In the past 12 months, AGO leaders have been visiting sites all over the country to learn about how various municipalities and recreation groups are promoting outdoor recreation and learning in their regions--a listening tour that took in a range of landscapes, from urban high schools to protected wilderness. The result was one of the largest conservation-related public dialogues in our nation's history.

    A few weeks ago, about 18 months since AGO was launched, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released a progress report heralding some of the most successful efforts to promote healthy recreation and outdoor tourism across America. AGO findings will come as no surprise to supporters of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: trails are one of the most critical pieces to encouraging more Americans to be active and to explore their natural surroundings.

    The developing 50-mile East Central Regional Rail-Trail (ECRRT) in central Florida was one of the projects singled out in Sec. Salazar's report. RTC's Florida field office was instrumental in the early stages of the ECRRT, which was purchased by the state of Florida Office of Greenways and Trails in 2007 and is the longest out-of-service rail line ever purchased in Florida.

    RTC's involvement with the ECRRT goes back almost 20 years, during which time we worked closely with the railroad that owned the line, as well as the local agencies applying for funding to purchase the corridor.

    Volusia County is currently constructing the first of what will be a number of segments, as that county, under the leadership of County Chair Frank Bruno and Vice Chair Pat Northey, continues to build a strong and connected trails landscape. When completed, the ECRRT will link a number of urban centers with rural areas, providing a pathway for both commuters and recreational users.

    A press release issued by Sec. Salazar's office last week stated that "while Interior cannot commit to federal financial support for the projects identified in the report due to budgetary constraints, Secretary Salazar is committed to doing everything possible to advance each project in the coming year through whatever means available."

    RTC's long history of involvement with trail-blazing efforts in Florida was also evident in Salazar's heralding of another trails project: the Shingle Creek Trail. RTC is part of a multi-jurisdictional design team working on the Shingle Creek Trail, which, when completed, will stretch 32 miles through one of Florida's most urban regions, from the Wekiva River in Seminole County to Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. It will also link to the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile network of multi-use trails and greenways along the Atlantic Coast from Canada to Key West, Fla.

    Completing the Shingle Creek Trail will increase access to the river and provide recreational opportunities in urban Central Florida, a perfect example of why trails are a lynchpin of the AGO's effort, which connects recreational and transportation goals with key public health challenges.

    "With children spending half as much time outside as their parents did, and with many Americans living in urban areas without safe access to green space, connecting to the outdoors is more important than ever for the economic and physical health of our communities," says Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in an introduction to this month's report.

    Other trails projects noted in the AGO progress report include the Jordan River Parkway, a paved trail that crosses three counties and runs more than 50 miles from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake, the Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park and Trails, and the Three Rivers Greenway around Columbia, S.C.

    For more information on the AGO initiative, visit americasgreatoutdoors.gov.

    Photo by Boyd Loving/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • 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. 

  • May Theilgaard Watts, a Rail-Trail Visionary from Illinois

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration earlier this month, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we tell the inspiring story of a true pioneer, May Theilgaard Watts, who was honored posthumously for her role in the formation of the Illinois Prairie Path in the 1960s. 

    May Theilgaard Watts was a writer, illustrator, naturalist, scientist and teacher. Her determination that Americans stay connected to their natural landscape in a time of increasing urbanization was the catalyst that led to the formation of the Illinois Prairie Path.

    Watts' vision of recycling out-of-service rail lines for recreational use was remarkable for being far ahead of its time. Heralded as one of the first successful rail-trail conversions in the United States, the Prairie Path laid the blueprint for thousands of rail-trails that would follow.

    Inspired by the public footpaths of Britain, and the Appalachian Trail here in America, Watts believed Midwestern residents needed similar recreational corridors. Her 1963 letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune implored, "if we have courage and foresight... we can create from this strip a proud resource."

    "We are human beings," she wrote. "We are able to walk upright on two feet. We need a foot­path. Right now there is a chance for Chicago and its suburbs to have a footpath, a long one."

    After eight years of contentious meetings between Watts and the towns of Wheaton and Glen Ellyn (which sought the right-of-way as valu­able parking space), U.S. Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton designated the Illinois Prairie Path as the second of 27 new National Recreation Trails. In the designation, Watts was honored "for her outstanding efforts toward establishment of the Illinois Prairie Path."

    The daughter of Danish immigrants, Watts grew up in Chicago. She would find her life's calling in protecting and promoting nature. In addition to her work at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., Watts authored several books and scientific studies that helped nonscientists interpret the landscape. Her 1957 Reading the Landscape was widely read and used by educators for decades. Watts described places ranging from backyard gardens to the Indiana Dunes and the Rocky Mountains. Her writing and her legacy remain loved and revered today, 36 years after her death.

    The $1,000 pass-through grant awarded in Watts' honor was dedicated to the trail she helped inspire and build: the Illinois Prairie Path. The funds will assist the nonprofit Illinois Prairie Path corporation and its volunteers in working to maintain, protect, enhance and promote the trail, which spans approximately 61 miles in Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties in northeastern Illinois.

    Stay tuned to the RTC TrailBlog to read more inspiring stories of the men and women who helped shape our trails landscape.

    Photo courtesy of Isabel Wasson/Wikipedia Commons.

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

    By Herb Hiller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Effort to Build Community Landscapes That Work for America

    This year, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was invited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to contribute to its Be Active Your Way Blog, a discussion between public health groups on healthy lifestyles as a key element of combating non-communicable diseases. Here is our most recent post, which focuses on the political challenges of enabling walking and biking.

    To health professionals, planners and transportation experts, active transportation (i.e. walking and biking as an alternative to car travel) is a no-brainer. Communities that facilitate non-motorized modes as safe and convenient options for getting from A to B simply function better. They have less pollution, their population is healthier, downtown business areas are more vibrant, and real estate values are stronger as their neighborhoods reflect what more Americans are demanding of their environments these days: diversity of transportation choices.

    Not only that, but these alternative options make economic sense, too. A mile of paved trail can cost the same as just a few yards of urban four-lane road, not to mention the associated savings of non-motorized transportation stemming from reduced oil consumption and spending on reactive health care. That's why building environments that encourage walking and bicycling is a key part of the National Physical Activity Plan, and a major component of its strategies.

    Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming support of the public health community, local planners and officials, businesspeople and residents, there are still some political and financial barriers to building these kinds of environments.

    For example, the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program was recently an agenda item during government budget planning. TE is the nation's largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling. Working with numerous partners, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) led an effort to ensure our elected leaders knew how important walking and biking options were to their constituents. In the end, vital active transportation programs like TE were preserved intact.

    RTC knows it is important to secure adequate funding for active transportation into the future. So, what we know to be a public health issue--the effort to increase physical activity in our everyday lives--is also an effort of political will. In an era of fiscal constraint, presenting economic benefits could have the most weight when discussing this issue with policymakers. With walking and biking, that's an easy argument to make.

    Biking and walking infrastructure account for less than two percent of the entire federal surface transportation budget, yet they represent 12 percent of all trips taken in America. And trail construction projects have been shown to create more jobs, and more local jobs, for every $1 spent than road construction--a smart financial investment and good health policy.

    The voice of the health community, which understands so clearly that investing in walking and biking could translate into a significant reduction in our health care expenditure, adds yet another dimension to a case that is already hard to dismiss.

    The great work being done through the National Physical Activity Plan will only be realized as health gains if we are able to maintain funding and support for facilities that encourage biking, walking, and active ways of getting around.

    How will you encourage the funding of facilities that promote active transportation?

    Want to know more about how RTC is working to build a better landscape for walking and biking? Contact Kartik Sribarra at kartik@railstotrails.org

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 

  • Sec. LaHood Says Rail-Trails Are Key to Public Health

    RTC was very pleased to have U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood attend our 25th anniversary reception in downtown Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Sec. LaHood has long been a vocal supporter of rail-trails and active transportation, and we were proud to honor him as one of the 25 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions, along with a diverse group of community leaders, volunteers, elected officials and municipal staff from 17 states across America.

    Sec. LaHood was also the evenings' keynote speaker, and his comments about the importance of trails to the future of America gave us all great reason for optimism.

    Continuing a growing shift in public health strategy toward active transportation as a crucial aspect of preventative health care, Sec. LaHood said that encouraging more biking and walking is one of the most important things we can do in the nation's battle against obesity and related illness. He said the rail-trail program "has done more for health care than anything we've ever done in America. Rail-trails have contributed so much to people's good health over the last 25 years--also preventing heart disease, and providing the kinds of opportunities people have looked for, for a long, long time."

    As a member of Congress from his home state of Illinois, Sec. LaHood was instrumental in the creation of the Rock Island Trail State Park in Peoria. And as Secretary of Transportation, he has helped inaugurate bike share programs in Washington, D.C., and Denver, Co., as well as offer high-profile and influential national leadership in support of trails. 

    Sec. LaHood is perhaps best remembered by active transportation advocates for his impassioned speech on the floor of Congress in 2003, when he defended the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program--the largest source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling facilities--which continues to face legislative threats in the current Congress.

    RTC President Keith Laughlin describes Sec. LaHood as "a strong and consistent voice on behalf of trails funding. He has been the best rail-trail champion we have ever had within the executive branch of government. His commitment to our cause is unwavering."

    Paying homage to his fellow Rail-Trail Champions, and other community volunteers across the nation, Sec. LaHood said their work was having a significant, and measurable, impact on the landscape that would long be appreciated. He said his experiences walking and riding along the Rock Island, Illinois Prairie Path and C&O Canal towpath convinced him that trails were the key to building a healthier, happier America.

    "All along the way, you know what I see?" he asked those assembled. "Families, kids, people having fun, and also getting good exercise."

    The 2011 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions represented 25 communities in 17 states across America. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks, so stay tuned to the RTC TrailBlog to read these inspiring stories of the men and women who have helped shape our trails landscape.

    Photo of Sec. LaHood by Scott Stark.  


  • Rail-Trail Ribbon Cuttings in Maine and Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • New Bikes Open Up a New World for Kids in El Monte, Calif.

    The residents of El Monte, on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, Calif., have a fantastic recreational resource in a developing Emerald Necklace of trails surrounding the city.

    When complete, the Emerald Necklace will be a 17-mile loop of parks and greenways connecting 10 cities and nearly 500,000 residents in a dense urban environment, providing a desperately needed facility for communities suffering from high rates of obesity, asthma and a lack of recreational opportunities.

    Already, residents of all ages have been making the most of the completed sections.

    The Kids Campus Youth Center in El Monte this year decided to make the trail a focus of their summer program, with their first ever Bike Camp. With a grant from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and the Coca-Cola Foundation, the center was able to buy 20 new Fuji Bikes to allow the kids to get out and about on the Emerald Necklace trails.

    Bike Camp opened with a bike safety clinic hosted by a certified instructor to make sure everyone knew how to stay safe on two wheels.

    "Pretty soon, the Bike Camp members were telling staff when we weren't following the rules," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for RTC's Western Regional Office. "It was great to see them setting such strong examples."

    The camp members set out for Santa Fe Dam recreation area and Whittier Narrows on most of their rides, but they were soon eager to explore farther afield. Keen for some new biking challenges, the group was able to organize some more intense mountain bike rides with rangers in the Santa Monica Mountains.

    "Now, when the youth center needs to run errands down the street, the kids are asking, 'Can we take the bikes?'" says Schweigerdt. "It is terrific to see that progression, from riding for recreation to using a bike for other daily needs."

    Like many urban areas around Los Angeles, however, the streets are often not safe for riding. So Schweigerdt and RTC will be working with the bike club to start advocating for the city of El Monte to write a bike plan, and to create safe bike routes to access nearby trails from the youth center.

    Photos courtesy of Kids Campus Youth Center.


  • Climate Ride California Wraps Up in San Francisco

    Last week, Kevin Mills led Team RTC on Climate Ride California, a five-day bicycle ride from Eureka south to San Francisco. Along the route, the riders toured redwoods, coasted through wine country, wound along the coast--often into driving rain--before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Mills relayed updates and images from the ride, which we posted on our Facebook page. Below was his final report from the road:

    "Climate Ride reached its triumphant conclusion on Thursday, October 6, as 127 riders arrived en masse at San Francisco's City Hall. The day began once again with heavy rain, but this downpour merely redoubled the commitment of the riders to finish strong to make a statement about the importance of sustaining our environment and communities.

    We see bicycling as a practical and positive way to improve our quality of life, health and environment. After 333 miles of riding and days of camping in the rain, this group never got down--and at the finish line, we paraded into the city with whelps of joy and conviction."

    Sorry you missed the adventure? Channel that disappointment into training for the next edition of Climate Ride this spring: the original route, New York City to Washington, D.C., set for May 19 to 23, 2012. You'll be signing up for a memorable challenge, and your fundraising can go directly to support our trail-building work across the country!

    Photos of Climate Ride courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

  • RTC Celebrates 25 Years of Trailblazing Champions

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), so many of the great strides we have taken over the years in building a better trails landscape are due to committed volunteers, supporters and leaders in countless communities around the country. This support network is the foundation of our success. So what better way to celebrate our 25th anniversary this year than by recognizing 25 individuals who have made invaluable contributions to advancing rail-trails across the country!

    On Saturday night, October 1, we held a special awards reception in Washington, D.C., in honor of our 25 Rail-Trail Champions. Thanks to the generous support of the Doppelt family, we were able to reflect, celebrate and congratulate, paying fitting tribute to community volunteers, elected officials, trailblazers and pioneers who have given so much to this movement.

    It was fantastic to have so many of the honorees in attendance that night, including the original founders of RTC, David Burwell and Peter Harnik. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was in attendance as both an honoree and the keynote speaker. His rousing testimony on the importance of trails and active transportation reminded us of the great supporters we have in federal, state and local governments across the country.

    Here's the full list of the 2011 Doppelt Family Rails-Trail Champions:

    Supervisor Greg Cox - San Diego, Calif.

    Supervisor Steve Kinsey - San Rafael, Calif.

    David Burwell and Barbara Burwell* - Bethesda, Md.

    Peter Harnik - Arlington, Va.

    Brian Smith - Clearwater, Fla.

    Linda B. Crider - Palatka, Fla.

    Ed McBrayer - Decatur, Ga.

    Mark Ackelson - Pleasant Hill, Iowa

    May Theilgaard Watts* - Highland Park, Ill.

    The Honorable Ray LaHood - Peoria, Ill.

    George Burrier - Morton, Ill.

    David Dionne - Birmingham, Ala.

    Fred Meijer - Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Carolyn Kane - Vestaburg, Mich.

    The Honorable James Oberstar - Chisholm, Minn.

    Terry McGaughey* - Brainerd, Minn.

    Edward* and Hilda P. Jones - Williamsburg, Mo.

    Darwin Hindman - Columbia, Mo.

    Joshua David and Robert Hammond - New York, N.Y.

    Ed Honton* - Columbus, Ohio

    The Honorable Tom Murphy - Washington, D.C.

    Robert Thomas - Philadelphia, Pa.

    Linda McKenna Boxx - Latrobe, Pa.

    David Brickley - Woodbridge, Va.

    Charles Montange - Seattle, Wash.

    The Honorable Ron Sims - Seattle, Wash.

    Sally C. Jacobs - Orono, Maine

    (* indicates was honored posthumously)

    In the coming weeks, we will be posting photos and video of the event, as well as the profiles of each honoree, so stay tuned. Thank you to all of our rail-trail champions, supporters and friends. Here's to another 25 years of blazing new trails. See you at our 50th! 

    Photos by Scott Stark/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


  • Bike & Build's Summer Adventure Across America

    Jesse Cohn, RTC's Trail Development Intern, writes about her experiences during a recent cross-country biking trip with Bike & Build.

    This past summer I rode my bicycle from Providence, R.I., to Seattle, Wash., with a nonprofit called Bike & Build.

    Bike & Build leads cross-country cycling trips for young adults to raise money and awareness for affordable housing. Each summer, eight groups of about 30 riders make the epic trek from East to West Coast, bicycling about 4,000 miles. Since its inception in 2002, Bike & Build riders have donated more than $2.8 million to affordable housing organizations and worked more than 80,000 hours for local housing affiliates.

    Bike & Build trips take about 10 weeks, with about 60 days of riding. Once a week, the riders trade their helmets for hammers and work on affordable housing build sites across the country. Each segment of the route is planned beforehand, and riders carry a cue sheet with the day's directions with them as they cycle.

    As one of the summer's trip leaders, I was responsible for planning these daily routes. My co-leaders and I primarily routed our riders on county and state roads, relying heavily on Google Maps, especially Google Street View, where we checked how many lanes of traffic traveled in each direction and evaluated the size and quality of road shoulders.

    But of course we always took trails wherever we could. Trails eliminated many of our safety concerns and provided a fun change of pace, and often riders could bicycle two abreast without fear of approaching car or truck traffic. TrailLink.com was a great source of information for where we could find safe, off-road routes.

    We spent the Fourth of July riding from Columbus to Dayton, Ohio, traveling via the Prairie Grass Trail and the Little Miami Scenic Trail. We met our support van for lunch and snack stops at the refurbished train stations in South Charleston and Xenia. Both of these stations included restrooms, trail maps and water--much needed amenities for long-distance riders!

    A week or so later, while cycling across Iowa, we took the High Trestle Trail (formerly the Ankeny to Woodward Trail), experiencing the newly opened pedestrian bridge 13 stories above the Des Moines River.

    As with most touring, the most direct route is not always the most scenic. We chose to add about six miles to our already 85-mile ride from Ames to Carroll, Iowa, but after crossing that renowned bridge the group universally agreed that the additional miles were worth it.

    All told, we spent about 250 miles of our journey on rail-trails. We crossed the Hudson River on the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park out of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world.

    Nearly two months later, we rode more than 60 miles on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes between Mullan and Harrison, Idaho, and soon after crossed our last state line into Washington at the intersection of the North Idaho Centennial Trail and the Spokane River Centennial Trail.

    From rural straightaways to curving urban paths, the trails we rode between Providence and Seattle were easy to integrate into our routes, and fun to ride. We experienced some of the nation's best and longest trails, many recognized in RTC's Rail-Trail Hall-of-Fame, as well as lesser-known, shorter shared-use paths.

    For all those planning bicycle tours, no matter how long or short, I highly recommend incorporating trails into your trip whenever you can.

    Photos by Jesse Cohn.



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