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November 2011 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Breaking News: Senate Rejects Amendment to Cut Funding for Trails, Biking and Walking

    Bipartisan support of funding for trails, walking and bicycling continues to grow in response to repeated legislative attacks on the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program.

    Today, by a vote of 60 to 38, the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) that would have shifted dedicated funding for walking and biking infrastructure to bridge repair, thus eliminating a hugely popular program that has been shown to improve safety, create jobs and efficient transportation choices for millions of Americans for the past 20 years.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our partners argued the amendment posed a false choice between TE and bridge safety, and we helped organize a national sign-on letter to senators encouraging them to vote against Paul’s Senate Amendment 821. (Read the original action alert and watch a video for more background on the issue.)

    “In truth, most states already have funds that they could use for bridge repair, but that instead go for new roadways,” says RTC’s Director of Policy Outreach Kartik Sribarra. “Further, last year, states sent back $530 million in unspent bridge funds. It’s shameful and disingenuous to claim to be promoting safety by pushing to cut funds for trails, walking and bicycling. 47,000 cyclists and pedestrians have died during the past decade, often because we lack the necessary infrastructure for them to be safe.”

    TE funds have substantially decreased these risks, using less than 2 percent of surface transportation funding.

    “An honest prescription for accelerating bridge repair would need to address either the overall level of investment in transportation infrastructure, or the tendency to prioritize new road capacity over maintenance of existing assets, or both,” Sribarra says.

    Thank you to everyone who contacted your senators! It seems like we face a new legislative attack on TE each week, but with your voices and backing, we’re able to defend this tremendous program, the largest source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling.

  • Just Outside Boston, Support Builds for Bay Colony Rail Trail

    In Norfolk County, Mass., momentum is growing behind plans to construct a seven-mile rail-trail linking the towns of Medfield, Dover and Needham, about 12 miles southwest of Boston.

    Organizers this week announced they were seeking interested residents to form a study committee to advance plans for the Bay Colony Rail Trail, to be developed along an inactive section of the Bay Colony Railroad.

    In a story in the Boston Globe, Christian Donner, a member of the nonprofit Bay Colony Rail Trail organization (BCRT), said the study committee would generate recommendations before a town vote next year on whether to support such a project.

    The idea of reusing the out-of-service rail line was first raised in 2008, when Tad Staley started Needham Bikes, a bike advocacy and information sharing group, and began soliciting ideas for promoting cycling in the county.

    Support for the rail-trail has grown quickly since then. In the summer of 2009, the Bay Colony Rail Trail plan was discussed at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation's Trails and Greenways meeting. A few weeks later, the inaugural BCRT meeting brought together key officials, experts and interested parties.

    In the world of rail-trail development, that timetable equates to rapid progress. Typically, such projects take anywhere from five to 25 years to bring to fruition. According to Donner, similar trail study committees have already been established in Dover and Needham-a critical point for support in Medfield as one of the keys to the project's success will be ensuring the three towns are on the same page. As one Medfield Selectman said recently, a trail built in one town that doesn't continue at the next would be "a path that goes nowhere."

    One of the remarkable aspects of the plan to create a rail-trail is the apparent support of the company that owns the line, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). While the corridor has not been officially abandoned, the Bay Colony Rail Trail group reports that MBTA has indicated it would be willing to lease the land to the towns for 85 years, at no cost.

    Staley, now BCRT president says that following the Medfield Board of Selectman's vote to form a study committee, the project is at a critical juncture. "We're expecting a big promotional push in the coming months, as the three towns along the corridor look closely at the prospect of a trail," he says, adding that his group was in the process of producing informational brochures and a promotional video on the trail.

    A town vote on the trail will likely be held in May of next year.

    If you are interested in supporting the Bay Colony Rail Trail project, visit baycolonyrailtrail.org for contact information.

    Photos courtesy of Bay Colony Rail Trail

  • Money Talks. Now It Walks and Rides, Too.

    Those of us who use trails regularly are aware of their value. It might mean a shorter commute to work, a convenient way to get exercise, or something less definable, the feeling of renewal you get after a long walk or ride.

    But these days, when money is tight and investment in trails and other infrastructure is under threat, all too often our elected officials and administrators want to know how to define the value of trails economically. How do miles of bike paths and walkways equal returns that can be measured in dollars and sense? "Give us some hard numbers," they say.

    Luckily, those numbers are proving fairly easy to find. New research released last month by the University of Cincinnati proves that homebuyers will pay more for houses that are close to trails, increasing property values and in turn boosting the amount of property tax revenue for local governments.

    The research, by planning professor Rainer vom Hofe and economics professor Olivier Parent, studied houses along Ohio's Little Miami Scenic Trail, a78-mile rail-trail that cuts across the northeastern portion of Cincinnati. Parent and vom Hofe found that homebuyers were willing to pay a premium of $9,000 to be within 1,000 feet of access to the trail.

    "A bike trail like this has many types of returns," vom Hofe said in an interview at www.theatlanticcities.com. "Residents can use it as a way to commute, and most people use it for recreation. For local governments, you can make a strong argument that they get back some of the money invested in these public amenities in the form of higher property taxes. We see positive spillover in more densely populated urban areas as well as less densely populated, suburban areas."

    The research used street network distances between residential properties and the closest trail entrance, in addition to standard parameter estimation. The average home studied was about 40 years old and had an average 2,203 square feet of living space. The average price was $263,517.

    "This study estimates some compelling figures that should make any local government dependent on property tax revenue take a second look," says RTC's Research Manager Tracy Hadden Loh. "However, the return on investment the government receives for investing in green, active infrastructure goes far beyond just property values - we need more research measuring the health and mobility benefits of trails in order to completely quantify the total return on federal investment."

    As a planner, vom Hofe says that even amid tough economic times and tough budget decisions by local governments, the research emphasizes that investment in infrastructure and public amenities is a solid investment that will result in a positive return for communities.

    It is not the first time that independent research has quantified the positive impact that trails have on economic activity. A 2008 study by the National Association of Homebuilders found that trails were the number one amenity desired by potential new homebuyers. And trails are one local improvement project that voters consistently support. A recent survey found that 66 percent of voters would support the imposition of additional sales tax if it was used to pay for trails and greenways.

    The need to quantify the benefit of trails is a task the trails community is actively pursuing. American Trails recently hosted a webinar on "Making the Case for Trails in Tight Economic Times," during which the testimony of real estate agents, tourism promoters, planners and small businesspeople all captured the huge role trails play as drivers of economic activity. The evidence is compelling and continues to grow, highlighting the inaccuracy of political claims that trails investment represents "frivolous spending."

    Though the importance of trails to tourism is not a new concept, what is remarkable is the growing relationship of these pathways to real estate and small business development. The Pedal to Properties real estate franchise, which has grown from a handful of clients to 22 agencies in Colorado and California in just a few years, is built around a national trend that shows buyers are placing more importance on shorter commute times and finding a home near urban centers and public transportation. The buying experience even starts with a tour by bicycle.

    On the GAP, the Trail Town Program is helping communities and businesses maximize the economic potential of the trail through grant and loan assistance, business training and technical support. As a result, since 2007 there's been an overall increase of 54 new and expanded trail-serving businesses, creating 83 new jobs in eight communities.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has been at the forefront of this effort. Our groundbreaking surveys of the economic activity of trail users in the Northeast and Midwest paved the way for communities all over America to state the case for trails using data, and dollars.

    It is evidence that may be worth its weight in gold during the coming months, as legislators opposing trails and active transportation use erroneous economic arguments against what has proven to make a lot of economic sense.

    Top and bottom photos by Carl Knoch/RTC.
    Center photo courtesy of Pulte Homes, Issaquah, Wash.

     

     

  • Restoring Historical Rail Stations, Restoring Lost Service

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been very active of late, defending a number of legislative efforts to reduce or eliminate the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, the largest dedicated source of funding for trails, biking and walking infrastructure.

    One of these efforts, which RTC and our partners were successful in preventing, sought to prohibit investment in, among other things, the rehabilitation of historical transportation buildings. U.S. Senator John McCain's (Ariz.) proposed amendment to House appropriations bill 2112 sought to prohibit any spending of federal money on transportation projects considered by him to be a "low priority." 

    Among the categories Sen. McCain and other TE opponents have mislabeled as frivolous is the restoration of historic transportation buildings. Critics inaccurately say such spending on "museums" has nothing to do with transportation, but a proper examination of these projects reveals these funds have reconnected cities all across America to passenger and freight rail service, and reenergized once contracting community centers.

    In convincing senators that McCain's amendment would have wide-reaching negative impacts, RTC staff pointed out a list of more than 100 projects in 36 states where TE funds have been used to rebuild dilapidated and abandoned railway stations, in both large cities and small townships. The stories of these restoration projects capture the transformative--and by no means frivolous--potential of TE investment. 

    Built in 1912, Union Station in Tampa, Fla., was closed to the public in 1984, as federal investment in highways and air travel reduced support for rail facilities during the preceding decades. Boarded up and uninhabited, water leaked from the roof and plaster fell from the ceiling inside this once iconic building. Nearby businesses had suffered or moved away, with the loss of Amtrak service decimating what was once a busy center of community.

    Thanks to a $2.5 million TE grant, the heritage-listed Union Station was restored in 1998, not only renovating an important part of Florida's architectural history but, significantly, reconnecting Amtrak service and then adding bus, taxi and trolley service. The station now serves more than 100,000 Amtrak passengers each year, and the TE-funded restoration has spurred redevelopment in surrounding areas--and contributed richly to the transportation landscape of the region. 

    In Williamsburg, Va., a TE grant of $550,000 spurred matching investment of more than $760,000 to renovate the railway station once owned by Colonial Williamsburg, transforming it into a dynamic, bustling hub of transportation and tourism.

    The Williamsburg Transportation Center is the only full-service transportation center in the state of Virginia, servicing Amtrak, Greyhound and Trailways Bus Lines, Williamsburg Area Transport, Colonial Rent-a-Car, Yellow Cab of Williamsburg, Colonial Cabs of Williamsburg and Williamsburg Taxi Service.

    In the city of Wharton, Texas, a TE grant of just over $1 million has transformed an old depot-which had been closed to passenger service since 1948-into a transit authority administrative center. The success of the project has sparked a local effort to re-activate the passenger and freight line, saving railroad operators a several hundred-mile detour on journeys to Houston and Galveston.

    "For only $125 million over 20 years, literally hundreds of working rail stations have been rehabilitated and kept operational," wrote RTC President Keith Laughlin in a letter to senators. "Communities nationwide have relied on less than 10 percent of TE funds to recycle valuable yet unused transportation infrastructure to serve functional public transportation needs, thereby boosting local economic development and mobility."

    Want to help RTC and our partners across the country maintain funding for walking, biking and active transportation? It's easy to get involved! Just visit our Action Alert page to find out how you can support a sustainable transportation future in your community.

    Photos of Tampa Union Station before and after its TE-funded restoration, courtesy of Friends of Tampa Union Station.

  • Sale of Disused Corridor Paves the Way for New Rail-Trail in West Virginia

    The state of West Virginia continues to enhance its reputation as one of the nation's premier rail-trail destinations.

    It is surrounded by some heavy hitters--the states on every border are replete with great rail-trails, notably Pennsylvania to the north, and Virginia to the east, two of the true leaders of the movement.

    But West Virginia is ensuring it doesn't get left behind, and last month unveiled yet another exciting rail-trail project.

    Fayette and Greenbrier counties have successfully negotiated the purchase of 16.7 miles of the former Nicholas-Fayette-Greenbrier rail line and plan to convert the property into a recreational trail. It will be known as the Meadow River Rail-Trail and will pass through some of the region's loveliest countryside, nestled in between the New River Gorge, Babcock State Park, the southern reaches of the Monongahela National Forest, and the Gauley River National Recreation Area. It is a place bursting with outdoor recreation options.

    The purchase of the corridor from CSX is remarkable for involving two county jurisdictions, as well as funding and effort from local, state and federal governments.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Early Warning System alerted the counties to the rail corridor's impending abandonment back in 2008, and our staff drew on their wealth of experience with similar projects to assist the trail proponents with relevant railbanking and abandonment legislation. The Rivers and Trails Program of the National Park Service also provided technical assistance throughout the three and a half-year process.

    The purchase price for the152-acre railbanked property was $128,400, with an additional $50,000 spent on an environmental report.

    A federal stimulus grant of $264,000, a Recreational Trails Program grant of $80,000, and $86,000 of local matches covered the purchase of the corridor, and will also pay for engineering and construction of as many miles of trail as the budget will stretch. Rail-trail projects such as this one typically cost about $100,000 per mile.

    Phase one of the trail's construction is expected to begin in the fall of this year. Led by WV Division of Highways, the first stage will include the development of trail access at Russellville, and construction of at least one mile of trail, including decking one of the two long bridges over the Meadow River. 

    At a press conference to announce the corridor's purchase, West Virginia Congressmen Nick Rahall, who lobbied for financial support of the project, said rail-trails represented not just a recreational asset, but also a critical economic boost.  "You guys really know how to cook up a healthy trail mix to feed a hungry economy," said Rep. Rahall, according to the Register-Herald newspaper. "We can all be proud of this blue-ribbon recipe ... to spur growing local economies by helping existing business and helping entice new ones."

    It is hoped the Meadow River Rail-Trail will eventually stretch all the way from the Gauley River National Recreation Area to the L&R Trail, a rail-trail that will, when complete, link Lewisburg and Ronceverte in eastern Greenbrier County.

    Photos courtesy of Carl Thompson/Fayette County Commission.

  • New Trail Project the Key to Toledo's Transportation Future

    The city of Toledo in northern Ohio is on the verge of greatly expanding its transportation capacity, with the recent purchase of an abandoned rail corridor through the city for conversion to rail-trail.

    In a series of deals completed late last month, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) arranged the purchase of an 11.6-mile rail corridor from CSX Transportation, Inc. The majority of the funding for the $6.5 million purchase came from federal transportation funds allocated with the support of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-9) in the last highway reauthorization bill (SAFETEA-LU), which passed Congress in 2005. Congresswoman Kaptur was recognized by many involved with the project as being critical to its progress.

    Connecting three University of Toledo campuses and numerous parks and trail systems, the Westside Rail-to-Trail will provide significant commuting and recreational opportunities for both residents and students.

    "Trails enhance recreation and advance the cause of wellness-both are important attributes to quality of life in a vibrant community," Congresswoman Kaptur said in announcing the sale. "I'm thrilled to know that generations from now, families will look back and thank the Trust for Public Land and all our local partners for building our community forward."

    Partnerships were certainly a key to the sale going forward. Ownership of the corridor is shared by Metroparks of the Toledo Area, the Wood County Port Authority, the city of Toledo, the University of Toledo and the Wood County Park District. TPL also facilitated the sale of the Maumee River bridge, along the southern section of the trail, directly from CSX to Wood County Port Authority.

    The Westside Rail-to-Trail is at the core of Toledo transportation plan. When developed, it will connect college campuses, community parks, other local trail systems and numerous schools and neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of people within the city of Toledo and Lucas and Wood Counties will have access to the trail.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Eric Oberg, manager of trail development for the Midwest Regional Office, says what makes the Westside Rail to Trail corridor particularly interesting is that it runs north and south in an area of the country where most rail-trails run east to west.

    "The pattern of development, particularly in the Midwest, was typically to cluster industry around the river, which usually meant north-south corridors were very densely developed," he says. "This corridor is a great illustration of how, even among dense industrial development, it is still possible to make room for open space and active transportation networks."

    The Westside Rail-to-Trail will one day complement existing east-west connectors through the city, including the Anthony Wayne Trail, University Parks Trail and the River Road Bike Route.

    During the coming weeks, a coordinating committee comprised of the five ownership partners and Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments staff will begin to design a development plan. Like all major transportation improvements, these projects do not happen overnight. It is hoped that construction of some portion of the Westside Rail-to-Trail will begin within the next five years, with full development scheduled in the next 20 years.

     

  • Rob Stuart - Citizen Activist, Friend of the Community

    Everyone at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Rob Stuart, a terrific friend of this organization and of many in the Pennsylvania trails community.

    A passionate and respected citizen activist involved in many causes, including keeping communities safe from gun violence and opposing drilling in the Marcellus Shale, Stuart was well known for his role in opening up the Schuylkill River Park for public use, creating a remarkable gathering place for the people of Philadelphia.

    In convincing CSX, the owners of the railroad corridor along the Schuylkill River, to allow public crossings into the park, Stuart was one of the key figures in the development of the Schuylkill River Trail, which is now one of the most popular and successful trails projects in the nation.

    Stuart's considerable impact on his community was evident in the tributes paid to him by city of Philadelphia elected officials and community leaders. "Rob cared deeply about the city. He was a friend and a supporter," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

    Stuart's passing is felt keenly here at RTC, especially by those staff members who worked closely with him during the past decade, and considered Stuart a friend as well as a colleague.

    RTC's Kevin Mills' first worked with Rob, and his wife Sarah, 20 years ago. "Rob and Sarah's multi-faceted campaign to convince CSX to enable people to safely cross the tracks to get to the trail showcased Rob's creativity and communications savvy," says Mills. "Throughout his career, he brought strikingly new perspectives to bear to improve communities.  We have lost a very special friend."

    "Rob was a citizen activist who had a talent for seeing a problem in his community and coming up with a creative solution," says RTC President Keith Laughlin. "There is no better example than his successful Schuylkill River Park campaign. At first, the railroad just said 'no.' Rob found a way to get them to change their mind and say 'yes.' "

    A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, November 12, at Trinity Memorial Church, 22nd and Spruce streets, Philadelphia.

    In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to benefit a community garden that Stuart helped found: Logan Square Garden Fund at Evolve Foundation, 1 S. Broad St., Suite 1840, Philadelphia 19107.

  • New York Trails Inspire Big Move, Lifestyle Change

    A letter we received recently from a reader of Rails to Trails magazine provided a tremendous insight into the many benefits of trails to residents, businesses and communities.

    After reading our destination piece on New York's Walkway Over the Hudson and Hudson Valley Rail Trail in the Fall 2011 issue, Jeff Anzevino wrote to tell us about how the opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson did more than spark the urge to visit the trail--it inspired him to move there!

    "I never thought I'd own my own house and wasn't particularly interested in home ownership," writes Anzevino. "But in September of 2009, just as the Walkway Over the Hudson was about to open, I saw a 'For Sale' sign on an old, rundown house, and fell in love."

    So he bought the house, which had been built at the turn of 20th century, near where the now-defunct Maybrook Line connects to the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. 

    "I knew that, living there, I could walk across the street to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, and in 15 minutes soar across the Hudson River by bicycle to my office 2.5 miles away-mostly on rail-trails," he writes. "Assisted by a first-time homeowners' tax credit, I invested in a new roof, electrical service and a high-efficiency boiler. Now, freshly painted and with peeling stucco redone, it looks like a million bucks."

    Anzevino’s professional life, too, partners closely with the ethos of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. He is the director of Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore parkland and green space along the Hudson River, and helps communities make the most of these wonderful natural assets.

    Anzevino's story is not only a great example of how trails can spark economic and commercial investment, but also how they can be personally transformative.

    "The move was also an investment in my health," he writes. "I bike to work, banking, the farmers' market, yoga at the gym, and to town for a restaurant meal. My car spends more time in the garage than on the road, which saves gas, aggravation and helps mitigate climate change. And I love waking up on a Sunday morning, looking out my window, and seeing happy people walking, jogging and biking down the trail. At 57 years old, I am in better shape than ever and loving life on the rail trail!"

    Photos courtesy of Jeff Anzevino.

  • Michigan Mourns the Passing of Fred Meijer

    Few people have done more to advance the cause of trails and outdoor recreation in the state of Michigan than Fred Meijer. With Meijer's passing last week at the age of 91, the state has lost one of its great leaders, and one its most generous friends.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy offers its sincere condolences to his wife, Lena, the Meijer family, and everyone in the Michigan trails community.

    Meijer's name will forever be synonymous with trails and parkland philanthropy. Born in 1919 to Dutch immigrant parents, at the age of 14 Meijer helped his family launch the first-ever Meijer operation: a grocery store in the small city of Greenville. Meijer went on to build one of the most successful retail compa­nies in America, and one of the nation's largest family-owned businesses.

    Meijer had two philanthropic passions--the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and rail-trails. In the early 1990s, he funded the purchase of the first rail-trail right-of-way in Michigan. That purchase became the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, a 43-mile rail-trail that unlocks some of Michigan's finest agricultural lands, woods, meadows, wet­lands and small historical towns.

    Meijer's generous philanthropy joined with a dedicated and active citizens group to form a strong and ambitious trail community. The original Heartland Trail is now the centerpiece of the Fred Meijer trails network, which connects a number of rural and urban areas in the Lower Peninsula.

    In October of this year, Meijer was honored by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as a Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion, one of 25 people recognized to have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement over the past quarter century.

    As evident as his generosity was Meijer's pride in his native state and love for its open spaces. His belief in outdoor recreation as a key to satisfaction and happiness was at the core of his support of trails. "Ninety-five percent of folks live in the city," he said, "and never get to experience the rural areas surrounding them."

    Thanks to the philanthropy and vision of Fred and Lena, millions of Americans now have the opportunity to enjoy the respite that Michigan's trails system offers. He also created the first endow­ment fund in Michigan for the maintenance of trails, to ensure the trail system he created continues to be a valuable asset for generations of Americans to come.

    Photo of Fred Meijer, with fellow Michigan trails advocate Carolyn Kane, courtesy of Carolyn Kane.

  • 'Keep On Riding' a Grand Message From Gordon Thorpe

    The people of North Carolina have a strong affinity with the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). Not only does the 19-mile rail-trail, connecting Chatham, Durham and Wake counties, represent a rich vein of the area's farming and commercial history, now it is a well-used and much-loved connector for the region's neighborhoods, schools, businesses and parks.

    But few people could possibly appreciate the joy of the ATT more than Gordon Thorpe. Even at the age of 90, Thorpe gets out for a ride on the trail almost every week. The ATT is a key part of Thorpe's active lifestyle, which also includes a mile swim every morning. By his rough calculations, he has swum about 3,800 miles since the pool opened in his retirement home complex in 1995.

    For Thorpe, the experience of cycling on the trail has taken on a different hue of late. His wife, a regular companion on his long rides, passed away in September.

    "I get up and go out by myself now," he says. "I don't have my 'go-fer ' anymore."

    During this difficult time, Thorpe has found deep satisfaction in his regular outings along the ATT. Not only does it provide a tremendous physical outlet, Thorpe says he also appreciates the myriad of people he sees on the trail.

    "I like to see people using the trail, all the different kinds of people," he says. "Sometimes I'll go out there and won't know anybody on the trail, and sometimes I'll see a few regulars. Sometimes we'll stop and have a talk about things."

    A veteran of World War II, Thorpe has lived in many states across America and has ridden more than 25 rail-trails, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast.

    "I would say the New River Trail [in Virginia] is my favorite of those I have ridden," says Thorpe. "It's not too long, and it's very scenic out there. You'll always see some deer and other animals." He also speaks highly of the Virginia Creeper Trail and Great Allegheny Passage.

    Thorpe's idea of "not too long" might be different from most others; since he first picked up a bike as a newspaper boy in Grand Rapids, Mich., almost 80 years ago, he has ridden many thousands of miles. These days his daughter, Judy, drives up from her home in Virginia to keep him company on the trail. They meet at the trailhead in Durham and ride the ATT together. And each September they take part in the Great Peanut Bike Tour, a four-day ride through southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

    His family has been very supportive of Thorpe's pedal passion; his Trek 4700 hybrid bike was an 80th birthday present. And in celebration of his 90th birthday earlier this month, Thorpe's family donated a bench along the ATT in his honor.

    "I had no idea," Gordon says. "We were out on the trail together, and I say, 'Look, they've put a new bench in.' So my son says, 'Why don't we stop?' I started reading the little bronze plaque, and that's when I realized."

    Reading the inscription aloud, Thorpe seems genuinely touched by the gesture to build the seat, which took months of careful planning between the family and county workers.

    In celebration of Gordon A. Thorpe, on his 90th birthday. An avid and dedicated cyclist on the American Tobacco Trail. Keep on riding.

    "That's the part I like best--'keep on riding,'" Thorpe says.

    Though he has a deep appreciation for the ATT, Thorpe hopes to see a key improvement made in the near future. "At the moment, the trail just ends at the border between Chatham and Durham counties. It would be great for them to build a bridge over Interstate 40 there, so people could continue on."

    A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) member for 10 years, Thorpe says he enjoys reading about trails all over the country in Rails to Trails magazine.

    "There are a few things I can't do now, so I like to read about them," he says. "I find it interesting when the magazine introduces me to trails and places I may not have been to. And knowing that there are people out there who take advantage of all these different trails--that's what I like."

    Gordon Thorpe’s son, Jim Thorpe, kindly sent us this terrific photo of his dad seeing his bench for the first time.

  • City Wins Diverse Funding Support for "Tracks at Brea" Rail-Trail

    The city of Brea on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Calif., is the latest municipality to tap a rail-trail project as a solution to some of the pressing transportation issues in the region.

    A project of the city of Brea Redevelopment Agency, the "Tracks at Brea" will one day run through the city center, linking recreational spots, schools, businesses and neighborhoods. The four-mile rail-trail will create a new route perpendicular to creek and river trails in Orange County, eventually connecting to the city of La Habra and the Whittier Greenway, adding a significant link in the expanding regional trail network.

    Construction of Tracks at Brea has already begun, and the city unveiled a trailhead section at Arovista Park earlier this year.

    "It is a small start for the Tracks at Brea, but this rail-trail has the potential to be a wonderful connector for residents and businesses in the area," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "It is great to see the city moving forward with the necessary acquisitions and remediation. The Tracks at Brea project is a good example of how complex rail-trail projects can be. But the city is being proactive and creative in overcoming the various funding and planning issues."

    The city has tapped into a number of diverse funding sources to take concrete steps forward. Funding from the Orange County Transportation Authority allowed the completion of Phase 1 in Arovista Park.

    The city also secured California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) funding dedicated to encouraging young students to walk and bike to school through the Safe Routes to School program. Crossing through the heart of the city, the Tracks at Brea has the potential to provide a safe and convenient corridor for children to walk and bike. The Safe Routes to School funding will be used to install pedestrian- and bicyclist-activated traffic control devices at two intersections along the trail.

    In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded two grants for soil assessment and to complete remediation of contaminated soil along the route. Arsenic was used by railroad companies in the past to kill weeds in certain areas of the right-of-way. In all, the project has been supported by 11 separate grants.

    In addition to providing a vital non-motorized connection, the Tracks at Brea will also highlight the railroad history of the area, with artwork and fencing made with recycled tracks and other material. According to a story in the Orange County Register, future plans include adding outdoor fitness and playground equipment, educational signs along the pathways, and connections to future and existing trails all across the region.

    "We kind of see it as something that will keep evolving," says project manager Kathie De Robbio. "The railroad rights-of-way are pretty wide."

    Updates on the Track at Brea are available at the city of Brea's Economic Development website.

    Photo of Phase I of the Tracks at Brea courtesy of City of Brea.

  • David Brickley a Trails Leader at Many Levels

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, 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 pay tribute to the leadership and dedication of David Brickley, who as an elected official and private citizen has made blazing new trails a focus of his life.

    David Brickley is president of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, which is promoting the development of a 1,130-mile trail and greenway connecting the three memorial sites of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States: the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., the Pentagon Memorial and New York City’s National September 11 Memorial.

    His pursuit of such an ambitious and remarkable goal comes after many years as a leader in promoting trails and outdoor recreation.

    Under Brickley’s leadership as the director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Rec­reation from 1998 to 2002, Virginia was awarded the national gold medal award for the “Best Managed State Park System in America.”

    Brickley previously was an elected member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1976 through 1998, and he was the legislative sponsor, co-founder and chairman of the Virginia Railway Express, Virginia’s commuter rail system. He has also served as an officer and trustee of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and as the Virginia State Committee Chair.

    Additionally, Brickley personally purchased a 16-mile out-of-service railroad corridor in King George County, Va., to protect it from being lost to development. As president of the Dahlgren Rail­road Heritage Trail Alliance, his goal is to work with other volunteers to make this rail-trail project a part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

    Brickley was born in Albany, N.Y., and graduated from Pennsylvania State University and the George Mason University School of Law. He previously served in the United States Air Force with a tour of duty in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. He and his wife, Lori, reside in Woodbridge, Va., and have three children and four grandchildren.

    Photo of David Brickley and his wife, Lori, by Scott Stark/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • Garmin Releases New Version of RTC's Digital Trails Maps

    Hands up if your old trail guide book or topographic trail map is looking a little worse for wear? The landscape changed a bit since you bought the now dog-eared copy back in 1981?

    Though getting out and enjoying a trail is a timeless joy for all ages, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our good friends at Garmin are using 2011 technology to make it even easier to do so.

    Last month Garmin released version 3.00 of our Geographic Information System (GIS) maps, which you can download to a Garmin portable device and take with you on your trails adventure. They include all the latest information about access points, topography and trail features, using RTC's own GIS data in six regions covering the United States.

    Each region is just $9.99 to download. For those of you who have been using our popular trails-finder website, TrailLink.com, our downloadable trail maps and data allow you access to all the same information, and more, without requiring an internet connection. Very cool.

    For more information about RTC's GIS maps, visit TrailLink.com and click on the Garmin banner at the top of the page.

     

  • Barbara Burwell Inspires Son, David, and a National Rail-Trail Movement

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, 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 pay tribute to David Burwell, RTC's co-founder, and his mother, Barbara, who inspired her son's passion for trails.

    The history of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) be­gins with David Burwell. When he and Peter Harnik founded RTC in 1986, there were just a few dozen rail-trails in the country. But during the 15 years he led the nonprofit he helped create, rail-trails became a much-loved part of the American landscape, and an integral part of our recreation and transportation vernacular.

    As a young man, Burwell was fortunate to have an excellent role model in trails advocacy. His mother, Barbara Burwell, championed the creation of the Shining Sea Bikeway in Massachusetts and worked for many years to see it to completion. Today, the 10.8-mile rail-trail runs from the ferry docks in Woods Hole to North Falmouth, Mass.

    In many ways, Barbara Burwell's remarkable commitment in transforming a disused rail line on the Cape Cod peninsula into a much-loved community asset was a precise blueprint for what RTC would one day become.

    With friend Joan Kanwisher, Barbara Burwell rallied community support, worked with local officials, planners and landowners, and found funding sources. Their success is all the more remarkable for the fact that they were doing all this in 1965; decades before any kind of rail-trail movement in America, Barbara and Joan did not have the resources and support many of us can rely on today.

    Barbara's legacy is not limited to the Shining Sea Bikeway. For just as she was working to build that rail-trail, she was inspiring a young man who would grow up to be instrumental in building thousands of miles of rail-trail across America. The extraordinary success of the Shining Sea Bikeway, and the transformative effect it had on his community, convinced David to form RTC with Peter Harnik in 1986. When his mother asked what his vision was for RTC, he replied that he wanted to "start at the Shining Sea Bikeway and go all the way to San Francisco."

    Twenty-five years later, David Burwell's organization has helped build enough rail-trail miles to do that distance many times over.

    In addition to his mother's example, David had discovered other practical recommendations for trails built along former rail lines.  In "The Shining Sea Bikeway - A Triumph of Citizen Action," a history of the trail written by W. Redmond Wright, David said, "It was the Woods Hole Red Sox that sold me on rail-trails. During the three years I played on the team (1957-1960) the bike ride to the ball field was even more daunting than facing Johnnie Hough of the Hornets... Despite my parents' stern warning to "stay off the railroad tracks!" I often bounced my fat-tired Schwinn along the track that ran in a straight line from the end of our driveway to the ferry docks - no hills!"

    A lawyer by training, David's thorough knowl­edge of railbanking legislation and understanding of the role of the courts in advancing the develop­ment of rail-trails was a key to the continued success of RTC. In 1990, he was the founding co-chair of the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), a national transportation policy reform coalition. After his time at RTC, David became STPP's presi­dent. He also served as the director of the National Wildlife Federation's Transportation and Infrastruc­ture Program, and the first chair of the National Research Council's Transportation and Sustainability Committee, among many other roles.

    David is currently the director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where his work focuses on the intersection between energy, transportation and climate issues.

    In dedicating his Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant to the Falmouth Bikeways Committee, which directs maintenance of the Shining Sea Bikeway, David said he was paying tribute to his mother, and to all rail-trail champions who face great obstacles in creating new trails in communities across America.

    Photo of David Burwell with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
    Photo of Barbara and David Burwell on the Shining Sea Bikeway in 1998 by Robbie McClaran/courtesy of Woods Hole Historical Collection 

     

  • New RTC Director Reflects Expanding Role of Trails in Public Health

    From its beginning as an organization dedicated largely to building and promoting recreational trails, in recent years Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) work has expanded to recognize the growing role of trails as urban commuter pathways, transportation networks for car-free families and low-income communities, and much-needed avenues for regular exercise and physical activity.

    To that last point, the health community recognizes that trails, sidewalks and bike paths are critical pieces of their effort to tackle a crisis of obesity and related illness, which costs many millions of dollars annually to treat, and kills thousands of Americans each year. An increase in sedentary lifestyles - a lack of regular activity, like walking and biking - is one of the root causes of obesity. The products of it are diabetes, respiratory illness, hypertension and heart disease.

    Strengthening our growing role in public health policy and strategy, RTC this month announced the appointment of Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood (right) as our senior director of program. Welker-Hood, an environmental health scientist and nurse, was most recently the director of environmental health programs and policy for Physicians for Social Responsibility, and has spent much of the past decade exploring how the built environment - the physical landscape of our cities and towns - impacts our wellness and lifestyle.

    "What drew me to RTC was its involvement in making safe and convenient trails available to a broad population, because that is critical to enabling people to pursue healthier lifestyles," Welker-Hood says. "Regardless of how much we want to be active, unless the infrastructure is there - the trails, the bike paths - we don't have the ability to commute by bike, or take walks around our neighborhoods."

    Welker-Hood says topics that what were once thought of as being infrastructure, planning or transportation issues, are now at the heart of the nation's most pressing public health crisis.

    "Transportation is the vehicle for everything to do with health," she says. "It has to do with how you get to your local grocery store, visits to the doctor, your ability to exercise, how your children play, how much spare time you have. As you look closely at the way our communities are built, often you see they have been designed in such a way that makes it difficult to be healthy."

    The justification for improving the health of all Americans is not just social, or moral. It's economic.

    "In just a few years we will no longer be able to afford the expense of our chronic disease management," Welker-Hood says. "By 2019, it is expected to be close 20 percent of our GDP - about 3 times that of our peer industrial nations, like Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Building healthier, more sustainable environments would allow us to reduce the enormous amount of money we pour into continued disease management and critical care, in favor of more proactive measures that stop people getting sick in the first place."

    RTC President Keith Laughlin is excited about the extra dimension that Welker-Hood's appointment adds to the organization's capacity.

    "As Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has matured over the last 25 years, we have continually sought to expand the skills and expertise available on our staff. Bringing Kristen aboard is a perfect example," he says. "She brings a knowledge and experience that will permit us to more effectively make the connection between building trail systems and improving the health of Americans."

    The remarkable convergence of fields - public health, urban planning and transportation - sparked by the unprecedented threats of the obesity epidemic, makes an exciting time for those looking for creative, sustainable solutions. Combining our trail development and planning expertise with the health science experience of Welker-Hood and her peers, RTC is well placed to contribute to those solutions.

    Photo of Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

     

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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