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March 2012 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Connection to Pittsburgh Airport Opens a World of Opportunity for Regional Trails

    It may be just six miles long, but the soon-to-be-unveiled Montour Trail connection to the Pittsburgh International Airport packs a lot of punch.

    Almost 12 years in the making, the airport link, which shoots off the Montour Trail near mile-marker eight, will boost the utility of the Montour trail enormously, expanding its reach as both a recreational outlet and an efficient pathway for commuters.

    The idea for a link between the popular Montour Trail, which creates a half-loop around the southwest side of Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh International Airport was first raised in 2000. There were a multitude of reasons the airport, trails advocates and planners sought a connector, not least of which was increasing shopper access to the airport mall, giving employees, travelers and hotel guests a place to recreate, and offering employees a safe and convenient commute option.

    Meetings were held and plans were moving forward. Then 9/11 happened.

    "Everything came to a screeching halt," remembers Tim Killmeyer, board member of the all-volunteer Montour Trail Council and project manager for the airport connector. "The airport people had much greater things to worry about than getting bicyclists to the airport mall, which was now closed to the non-boarding pass public, anyway."

    But airport officials had already been sold on the importance of a non-motorized connection to the airport. The trails community, too, understood this would be a critical link. The Allegheny Trail Alliance, which promotes the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, saw Pittsburgh as a crucial hub of a trails network expanding in all directions. The Montour Trail connects to the GAP, offering users an alternate route that circumvents a number of on-road sections through Pittsburgh. With this proposed connector, it would also connect the GAP to national and international air traffic.

    "Cyclists and hikers were inquiring about a connection to air transportation, so they could fly into Pittsburgh and experience the region's incredible trails network," Killmeyer says. "It became clear that something needed to be done."

    And so something was done. On Tuesday, March 20, Killmeyer will be front and center among a large group of regional trail advocates for the ribbon cutting of the Montour Trail/Airport connector. To celebrate what has truly been a collaborative effort, all residents and local businesspeople are encouraged to join the trail opening festivities, which will take place at 11 a.m. where the new asphalt trail crosses into the airport's Extended Parking Lot (Section 16D).

    Those wanting to ride bicycles to the event can use the well-marked connector, which begins at the five-way intersection near mile eight of the Montour Trail, just upstream of the Enlow Tunnel. The Pittsburgh Major Taylor Bicycle Club will lead riders to the event from the Enlow Ballfield, leaving there around 10 a.m. Attendees wishing to drive can park for free in the Extended Lot, Section 16D, which is located right next to the site of the event.

    "This new connection to the Montour Trail is a huge step toward making Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania accessible for bicycle touring," says Mary Shaw, a long-distance cyclist and rail-trail guidebook author who contributed financially to the new section of trail. "It opens Pittsburgh as an endpoint for bicycle touring of all kinds, and complements and extends other improvements to cycling facilities in Pittsburgh that led to our designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010. It just keeps getting better and better."

    For more information on the Montour Trail, or the March 20 opening, visit: montourtrail.org

    Photo, of Roy Weil and Mary Shaw installing signage on the new trail connector, and map, courtesy of Montour Trail Council.

  • Once By River and Rail, Travel By Trail Now Thrives Along the Susquehanna

    The Susquehanna River (right) is one of Pennsylvania's most loved natural features, a broad, hearty current that winds southward through the state before emptying in Chesapeake Bay.

    It has also been one of the region's most important transportation routes, host to numerous ferry and cargo operations and the spine of two canal systems. With the emergence of the rail industry, train tracks were laid down right beside the obsolete canals, and so the Susquehanna continued to serve as a tracing point for the movement of people and goods through the Northeast.

    With many rail operations going the same way as the canals, those tracks along the Susquehanna are now the base of a remarkable landscape of rail-trails, with more than a dozen separate trails lining its winding route through the state.

    Thanks to the people of Manor Township, and a generous donation from railroad company Norfolk Southern, that landscape is set to expand, with news last week that the Manor Township Planning Commission has voted to recommend the approval of a plan to develop a rail-trail along the river.

    According to The Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster County, Pa., the trail will run from north of Turkey Hill to the southern Manor Township municipal line and into Conestoga Township.

    The cost of developing the six-mile trail is being almost entirely offset by a generous $1.25 million donation from Norfolk Southern, and $1 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

    For the staff of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office, which is based in Camp Hill, Pa., the news out of Manor was especially pleasing, as this section along the Susquehanna would perfectly complement a hoped-for connection from the Enola Low-Grade Trail, to the east.

    "Though still a work in progress, the Enola Low-Grade has had a tremendous benefit for the townships it passes through," says Pat Tomes, RTC's program manager in the Northeast. "For the past few years we've been working with the communities along the corridor, providing technical assistance as they seek a way to extend the rail-trail west to the river. This connection would then meet up with Manor Township's proposed trail into Conestoga. What a terrific system that would be."

    Photo of the Susquehanna River courtesy of the State of Pennsylvania.
    Photo of trail users on the Enola Low-Grade courtesy of TrailLink.com.

     

  • Athens, Ga., Lauches New Rail-Trail Project

    Looking wistfully at the famous and much-loved Silver Comet Trail about 70 miles to the west, local organizers near Athens, Ga., are hoping to build a similar rail-trail attraction in their region.

    According to the Athens Banner-Herald, the proposed 39-mile Firefly Trail will follow the former Athens Railroad from Winterville to Union Point.

    "It's scenic, historic and level," says John Stephens, mayor of the town of Maxeys. "It links schools, businesses and town centers, and it's within easy driving distance of more than five million Georgians. It has the potential to bring much-needed opportunities for safe, off-road exercise and economic development to our area, just as similar rail-trails have done in other parts of the country."

    To build community energy behind the project, supporters have organized a bicycle ride along the route this Saturday. For more information on Saturday's ride, email shermankathens@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/fireflytrail.

     

  • Subterranean Dreams: Exploring a New Frontier in Rail-Trails

    What does the typical rail-trail look like? Well, really, there's no such thing.

    We've seen them long and straight through farmland, steep and winding through mountain ranges, hugging a handsome coastline and cutting across a wintery plain. They're in cities, in national parks, in country towns and in the untamed wilderness. They're long, short, smooth, rough, high above cities, underground...

    Wait. Underground?

    That's right. In a number of big cities across America, several underground transit stations--the long-dormant enclaves of intrepid urban explorers--are being reimagined as creative gathering places, retail hubs, galleries and performance venues. These projects represent some of the most innovative rail-trail plans we have seen in many years.

    Just up the street from our Washington, D.C., headquarters, a nonprofit group called the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) has taken on the ambitious task of making a viable development opportunity out of 75,000 square feet of abandoned space beneath Dupont Circle (above). This coalition of artists, designers, businesspeople and community leaders sees enormous potential in reclaiming this ideally sited piece of subterranean infrastructure, which served as a station during D.C.'s trolley network heyday following the Second World War.

    In the decades since the last trolley passed under Dupont Circle in the 1960s, the underground space was padlocked and largely forgotten. While an attempt to turn the space into a thriving food court fizzled in the 1990s, the effort did ensure the unique space was part of the consciousness of the D.C. urban design community.

    In July 2010, ACDU was charged by D.C.'s office of planning and economic development with coming up with an innovative, and commercially sustainable, use for the historical location. In the past year or so, they have opened the Dupont Underground up for regular public tours and are building relationships with developers, entrepreneurs, event planners and community groups, including Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, in an attempt to come up with a proposal that satisfies the commercial requirements of operating the space while also retaining free and accessible community uses.

    In an interview with Salon last year, ACDU Managing Director Braulio Agnese said there was a feeling that circumstances for urban development were very different now compared with those of the failed venture in the 1990s. He pointed to downtown D.C.'s improved crime and safety environment, but also a "renewed interest in reclaiming underused urban spaces."

    This renewed interest is also building behind a similar underground trolley station renewal project in New York. Nicknamed "The Low Line," a nod to the popular High Line which proponents list as a direct inspiration, the Delancey Underground project (above) aims to convert an unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street into a subterranean public park.

    The former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal closed in 1948 when streetcar service was discontinued and has not been used ever since. But despite six decades of neglect, the space retains the remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings that highlight the space's tremendous potential, aesthetically and architecturally, but also as an innovative means of forging public spaces in an area straining under private development pressures.

    A feature of the Delancy Underground blueprint is its use of solar technology. Innovative fiber optics would reflect light underground, saving electricity and reducing carbon emissions, and generating the capacity for plants, trees and grasses to thrive indoors.

    In Philadelphia, the VIADUCTgreene project is seeking to restore activity to both above- and below-ground sections of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The disused and neglected corridor runs high above Callowhill Street befor dropping below ground at Broad Street. This remarkable urban space passes into the ground floor of the landmark Inquirer Building, emerging beneath 16th Street in an open subway just north of the Barnes Museum site and adjoining the Rodin Museum.

    Like their colleagues in New York, the team behind VIADUCTgreene is, in a very positive sense, letting their imaginations run away with them, conscious that this new generation of rail-trail projects represents a unique opportunity to blaze fresh territory.

    Photo of Dupont Underground trolley tunnel courtesy of Mika Altskan.
    Concept drawing of Delancy Underground courtesy of Delancy Underground

     

     

  • Grassroots Go-Ahead: Massachusetts Communities Take On Their Rail-Trail Ambitions

    Undeterred by all the debate about trail funding at the federal level, local communities continue to let their trail-building actions do the talking.

    Flicking through local newspapers out of Massachusetts during the past week, it is great to see local agencies and community groups rolling the sleeves up to advance their rail-trail ambitions. This grassroots energy speaks volumes about the demand across America for trail networks and bike and pedestrian infrastructure that better serve residents and local businesses.

    In the state's northeast, the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee has launched a mile-marker sponsorship program to fund the maintenance and improvement of the Danvers Rail Trail. The advisory committee is a town-appointed group that has directed development of the 4.3-mile rail-trail since the town of Danvers leased the corridor from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in 2008.

    Aware of the trail's tremendous recreational importance to the town, the citizens of Danvers have responded enthusiastically. A wide variety of locally owned businesses--everything from a hardware store and a beer company to a fish market, a photography business, even a dental-care practice--have paid $150 for a 4-inch by 4-inch marker along the trail, or $500 for a 4-inch by 8-inch marker in prime locations. Each blue-and-white decal (above) bears the sponsor's name, logo and dedication message. Local families have made generous contributions, too.

    The homegrown energy behind the trail extends even further; the markers were prepared and installed by volunteers, and the initial cost of the posts and mileage decals was paid for by a local advocacy group, the Danvers Bi-Peds. 

    The new fundraising effort has so far generated about $4,100 to help realize the town's immediate plans for the trail, which include improving the trail surface in some sections with a compacted top coat of crushed-stone dust, and improving a boggy section north of Wenham Street.

    About 30 miles to the west, in the town of Concord, town officials are discussing how to bring the growing Bruce Freeman Rail Trail into their community.

    Following the 25-mile route of the former New Haven Railroad's Framingham and Lowell line, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail currently encompasses Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford. Having observed the popularity of the trail in those communities, the residents of Concord, and nearby Acton, voted to approve plans to extend the trail. Sudbury and Framingham, farther to the southwest, are also eager to develop the rail corridor into a connecting trail in their townships.

    And today, the city of Newburyport is celebrating the beginning of a much sought-after project to connect the Old Eastern Marsh Trail and the Clipper City Rail Trail (above).

    For proof that this project that will greatly please local residents and businesses, look no further than the list of guests of honor at the launch-- Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Richard A. Davey, state Rep. Michael Costello, and state Sen. Steven Baddour.

    With Newburyport's and Salisbury's rail-trails booming in popularity, a safety issue emerged for those wanting to cross Route 1 at the northern end of the Gillis Bridge, to pass from one rail-trail to the other. Work on the connection, which will unlock a great expansion in the region's trail network, is expected to start in mid-March.

    Photo of the Danvers Rail Trail sponsored mile-marker courtesy of the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee.
    Photo of the Clipper City Rail Trail courtesy of Geordie Vining/TrailLink.com.

     

     

  • A Party in Massachusetts to Celebrate Rail-Trail Milestone

    Earlier this month, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy wrote on TrailBlog about the great success of local volunteers in selling sponsorships to fund the installation of mile-markers along the Danvers Rail Trail in northeast Massachusetts.

    In just a few months, the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee (right) has raised more than $4,000, which will also help fund the continued improvement of the popular trail.

    And the good news keeps coming. This summer, the people of Danvers will hold a celebration to mark the fact that the entire 4.3-mile right-of-way the city leased from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is now passable. While the rail-trail is not yet finished, the public party on June 2 is a significant milestone for a project that has moved quickly of late, driven by tremendous local support.

    According to this article in the Boston Globe, the idea to convert the old Boston and Maine Railroad corridor into a recreational trail has been knocking around since the late 1970s, though the majority of actual progress on the trail has come in the past few years.

    Photo courtesy of the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee.

     

  • Local Businessman Pursues Rail-Trail Potential in Rural Virginia

    There is exciting news coming out of southwest Virginia, with energy building for a rail-trail to capture some of that region’s growing outdoor recreation market.

    In the town of Marion in the largely rural Smyth County, local businessman Tom Graham is gathering support for utilizing an out-of-service section of the Marion and Rye Valley Railway, creating a multi-use pathway linking Marion to the slopes below Mount Rogers to the southwest.

    The Marion and Rye Valley Railway was a logging railroad that once ran from Marion south to Sugar Grove, where it connected with the Virginia Southern Railroad across Iron Mountain, through Troutdale, then west to the small community of Fairwood inside Jefferson National Forest.

    “It’s a gem hidden in our backyard here in Smyth County,” Graham was quoted as saying in a story published last week in the Wytheville Enterprise.

    Graham is asking the county’s board of supervisors to pass a resolution of support for the project, which would aim to replicate some of the success of the nearby Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail (below), which attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. The nearby New River Rail Trail State Park (above) has also proven itself to be a considerable draw for both visitors and residents. The potential of such a destination rail-trail out of Marion has already drawn the enthusiastic backing of Smyth County Tourism.

    According to the Wytheville Enterprise, Smyth County Tourism Director Ron Thomason said “I really believe this is a home run. I believe it will bring people here,” adding that a rail-trail connecting Marion with the myriad state parks and recreation areas in the region would complement the new trail system in nearby Hungry Mother State Park, which the county is set to unveil this spring.

    Graham says the Virginia Creeper Trail is a good model for a prospective Rye Valley Railway rail-trail, pointing to the economic injection its many visitors bring to nearby communities.

    “A fraction of that would change Teas and perhaps Smyth County,” Graham told the board of supervisors. “I think it’s something that could bring smiles to faces and work off some of the pounds we need to.”

    Photos courtesy of TrailLink.com.

  • Chicago Mayor Announces Funding in Place to Begin Building the Bloomingdale Trail

    Though often prefixed by the words "long-awaited," and "delayed," the Bloomingdale Trail project to convert an elevated rail line in Chicago into a multi-use recreational space is moving ahead pretty quickly these days.

    The development of a 3-mile rail-trail along Bloomingdale Avenue to the northwest of the city has been seriously discussed since about 2004. And though eight years is certainly not a long time in the world of rail-trail development, the tremendous potential of the disused elevated structure, coupled with the great success of New York's High Line, has made many Chicagoans impatient for progress.

    Today, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce the city has raised the final $9 million needed to begin construction of phase 1 of the project, which will involve creating the basic trail system along the elevated tracks and establishing access points so it can be opened to the public. Construction is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2014.

    The remaining $37 million has already been secured, courtesy of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, a federal funding program which facilitates transportation projects aimed at reducing vehicle congestion. 

    Emanuel and the city were able to gain the support of a number of large companies. Exelon will donate $5 million, while Boeing Co. and CNA are contributing $1 million apiece. The remaining $2 million will come from Chicago Park District funds.

    The Mayor's announcement follows last week's release of the official framework plan for the rail-trail. At an open house-style meeting at Yates Elementary School, one of four schools along the corridor, a large group of locals got the first look at the product of months of community input and design suggestions.

    And the immediate reaction to what is being called the Framework Plan is positive, with most residents and proponents agreeing the preliminary plan accurately reflects the hopes and concerns of the community.

    The major takeaways from new plan include the eight proposed access points from ground level to the trail, about 15 feet above the street. The access points would be at parks next to the trail as well as existing gathering points.

    The designers have been conscious of the mixed-use nature of the Bloomingdale Trail, as both nonmotorized transportation pathway and park space. The trail's multiuse path would be used designed primarily for bikes, but with an emphasis on controlling speed and reducing conflict with pedestrians and people using the space next to the trail.

    The path would be at least 10 feet wide, with two feet of clearance on each side for a total of 14 feet. About one and a half miles of the trial would have a separate pedestrian path that would run parallel to the multiuse path.

    Ben Helphand, President of Friends of Bloomingdale Trail, says the framework plan represents "an incredible balancing act," referencing the corridor's role as both trail and park, and the need to be conscious of the privacy of nearby landowners in what will be a very public space.

    "They've been able to do this with some very smart landscaping, and path alignment," Helphand says, adding that "although privacy concerns were brought up, they weren't overwhelming."

    Helphand stresses this is not the final plan, and there will be continual feedback and response between designers and the community in coming months.

    "This has been very much a conversation," he says. "There's been genuine back and forth, and thanks to that we are approaching a good solution. Right from the start this has been a very fun, and civil, process. That has a lot to do with how the city and the nonprofit partners, the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, have approached it."

    The Trust for Public Land will continue to seek private and corporate donations toward the $36 million needed to construct trailside amenities and gathering spaces.

    Keep updated on the Bloomingdale Trail at: www.bloomingdaletrail.org

    Photo of the disused Bloomingdale Line courtesy of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail
    Framework Plan designs courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

     

  • Breaking News: Reid's Draft of Transportation Bill a Better Picture for Bike/Ped

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (right) yesterday filed a new version of the federal transportation reauthorization bill that is expected to secure enough votes to proceed to a floor debate.

    This new Senate bill includes a number of changes that are significant to supporters of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our many partner organizations working to secure continued funding for walking and biking infrastructure.

    Most notably, the Reid draft includes the addition of a modified version of the bipartisan amendment cosponsored by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to provide greater local access to Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School funds.

    This marks an interim victory for proponents of trails, bicycling and walking, as one of two amendments we have been seeking is now largely reflected in the bill advanced by Senate leaders of both parties.

    The amendment would make the following changes to Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School:

    • Decisions about how to allocate funds would be made by competitive grants focused on applications from local governments and other local entities responsible for eligible projects;
    • Metropolitan areas with more than 200,000 residents would select their own projects;
    • Transfer of funds out of the pot that supports these programs would be limited to about 10 percent of those funds. The committee bill passed in November would have allowed the entire pot to be transferred to other uses; and
    • Increase likelihood that dollars will be spent on eligible activities.

    "We are pleased that Senate leaders have decided to improve the process for awarding Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School funds," says Kevin Mills, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's vice president of policy and trail development. "By giving locals more control over funds and limiting transfers of dollars out of the 'additional activities' pot, there will be more opportunities to continue to build trail systems and other facilities that are needed to make it safe and convenient to walk and bicycle." 

    "We have made remarkable progress in digging out of a deep hole. This development, along with the implosion of the deeply flawed House bill a week ago, puts us in a much better position going forward."

    RTC continues to work in the Senate for the Klobuchar/Burr/Shaheen/Risch amendment to reinstate the Recreational Trails Program.

    Leaders in the House of Representatives conceded late last week that there was not sufficient support to advance their version of the transportation bill. Since then, they have been considering other options to gain majority support. "It appears House leaders could secure additional support by reinstating dedicated funding for transit and Transportation Enhancements, but it is not clear that leadership is willing to make those concessions," Mills says.

  • Several Rail-Trails Featured in New Book About Preservation Successes

    We like to call rail-trails the ultimate recycling project. They preserve thousands of miles of historical rail lines and uphold the railroad legacy of transporting millions of people and goods across the country. Countless hours were invested in the construction and maintenance of those original railbeds, and rail-trails keep the corridors intact and in the public domain for future generations to use and enjoy. 

    It's no wonder, then, that several rail-trails are featured in a new book documenting preservation successes in the United States. Published by the American Planning Association, Lasting Value: Open Space Planning and Preservation Successes, by Rick Pruetz, explores 24 case histories, ranging from rural stories in New Mexico to more urban park systems and projects in Minneapolis and Long Island, N.Y.

    Among the profiled regions is trail-friendly Dane County, Wis., which includes the 45-mile Military Ridge State Park Trail, along with the Capital City Trail and Glacial Drumlin State Trail

    Another featured rail-trail is the historical Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. Originally constructed across the Mississippi River in 1883, the bridge remained a working rail line until 1978 and was transformed into a pedestrian crossing in 1994. Today, the restored structure helps connect more than 50 miles of trails around the region and offers great views of Saint Anthony Falls and the river's elaborate lock and dam system.

    It's great to see these rail-trails--and others, including the West County Trail in Sonoma County, Calif.--highlighted as successful and enduring examples of planning and preservation!

    If you'd like to read more of Lasting Value, you can order a copy through the APA

    Image: Cover of Lasting Value, courtesy of the APA. 

     

  • The Cowback Century: 100 Miles Through Georgia and Alabama

    For her 70th birthday nearly four years ago, Dr. Katherine Jeter decided to mark the occasion with an extraordinary physical and philanthropic feat: cycle 70 miles in one day on the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio, and raise $70,000 for charity. We ran a story on her challenge in Rails to Trails magazine, and Jeter ended up surpassing her fundraising goal. And even though she'd only picked up cycling in her late 60s, she'd found her pedaling stride.

    "This whole bicycling addiction really took," she says. 

    So naturally, she didn't stop there. After all, Jeter isn't exactly the idle type. She's an avid swimmer and skier, and her husband says she's known as the "Silver Tornado" for her snow-white hair, physical drive and risk-taking nature. So three years later, she decided to up the ante and complete a century for her 73rd birthday.

    This time, she gathered four companions, including two of her children and two friends, to pedal 100 miles on the combined Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails, which meet at the state line to form a continuous paved corridor connecting Atlanta, Ga., to Anniston, Ala.

    The logistics were simple enough. Jeter lives in Spartanburg, S.C., an easy trip to their starting point on the Silver Comet just outside of Atlanta. With her husband driving the SAG (support and gear) vehicle, Jeter's crew planned to pedal one way from the start of the Silver Comet to the end of the Chief Ladiga.

    They were gifted on the day of the ride--October 22, 2011--with a "cold, crisp, colorful fall day," says Jeter. "That trail, there's just nothing like it. Laundry blowing on the line, the cows, the people."

    In fact, those cow pastures ended up inspiring the name for the ride, the "Cowback Century." Every time Jeter and company would pass a herd, they'd yell, "Cow back!"

    After the ride, Jeter's daughter, Sally Jeter Hammond, put together a slideshow of the experience, titled "Rolling Inspiration." Sally, at age 52, had only picked up cycling a few months before the ride. Like her mother, she'd always been an athlete but had never spent much time on two wheels. Yet with only 12 weeks of training, Sally ended up dusting everyone else (it took her seven hours and 18 minutes).

    "She was at the end in Anniston about 45 minutes before the four of us arrived," says Jeter. "That was great, great fun."

    In her slideshow, Sally also talks about her motivation for training and getting back in shape for the ride. "Six years ago," she wrote, "my focus on fitness changed when I became a single parent and I put all of my energy into taking care of [my kids]. While they were and still are worth every bit of my attention, I inadvertently stopped taking care of me."

    Her mother's example also helped light a fire under her. "The dictionary defines inspiration in many ways," Sally wrote, "but this is my favorite descriptor: an influence that stimulates creative thought or action. It doesn't take much to stimulate my creativity, but it took my gray-haired mother's amazing influence to ignite action on my part. If you know my mother, you know she can ignite and excite most anybody! It's amazing where a little inspiration can take you."

    So what's next for Jeter? With the "Cowback" behind her, she's already scoping out her next challenge: looking for another big rail-trail to ride!

    Photos courtesy of Katherine Jeter.  

  • A Pocket-Sized Piece of History From the Katy Trail

    For the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Rails to Trails magazine, we had asked our readers, "What is your favorite part about rail-trail history?" One of the most memorable responses came from Gloria Ballard of Nashville, Tenn., who wrote about making a surprising connection between family history and rail history while researching a rail-trail excursion in Missouri. We thought we'd share her story! 

    From Gloria: 
    For our 30th anniversary, my husband and I took a 200-mile bike trip along Missouri's Katy Trail State Park. This experience was new for us. We have been casual riders for years, but the idea of a long trip on bicycles, with nothing but the bare necessities for a five-day ride, was daunting.

    We started training in February for the trip in May. We planned, we mapped and we rode hard to get in shape. We also began reading up on the history of the MKT and its St. Louis-to-Galveston train, the Katy Flyer. In the process, we discovered a point where rail history and family history intersect.

    My grandparents, who died in the 1960s, left a treasure trove of things for their descendents to discover. I was rambling through a box of old junk one day and found a dusty, rusted two-inch pocketknife. On one side is an illustration of a woman wearing turn-of-the-20th-century traveling clothes; her arm is raised as if she is anticipating the arrival of a train, and a red shield above her head reads "MKT." On the other side of the knife are the words, "The Katy Flyer." 

    I can only speculate about my grandparents' Katy experience. They lived for a short time in Rolla, Mo., which is to the south of the MKT line. It's likely they rode The Katy Flyer and picked up this knife as a souvenir. I suppose we'll never know, but we took it as a good omen, and the little knife was one of the few unnecessary items we packed into our panniers for the ride. We considered it our good-luck charm, and it worked! We had a great ride, fine weather, no mishaps--a perfect trip, connected to the trail's history in the most meaningful way.  

    Image of the souvenir pocketknife from "The Katy Flyer" courtesy of Gloria Ballard.

  • Turning Blue for the Environment

    If you're cycling along the Burke-Gilman Trail in Kenmore, Wash., next week and notice some new, bizarrely colored landscaping along the way, don't worry. It may not look natural, but it's all for nature.

    It's an "art action" called The Blue Trees, designed to spur awareness of deforestation, according to officials with the Seattle-area arts group 4Culture, which is organizing the event.

    "Trees are largely invisible in our daily lives, and it's not until it's too late that we realize how important they are to us both aesthetically and environmentally," the project's creator, Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, states on his website. "Each year an area at least the size of Belgium of native forests is cleared from around the planet."

    To highlight the importance of trees, Dimopoulos and a team of local volunteers will be applying a biodegradable, ultramarine-colored pigment to the bark of 40 newly planted birches along the trail near 80th Avenue Northeast in Kenmore. (Several existing locust trees in downtown Seattle's Westlake Park will also be colored as part of the project.)

    Organizers stress that the mineral-based colorant is environmentally friendly. "It's perfectly safe to the trees, the insects and all wildlife," says the artist's wife, Adele Dimopoulos. It will gradually wash off the bark during the next several months.

    The coloring may be temporary, but the trees along the trail are permanent. The new landscaping will help separate and protect trail users from an adjacent roadway, and also help beautify this stretch of the popular 17-mile path north of Seattle.

    And hopefully The Blue Trees will leave a lasting impression. Say 4Culture officials, "In a symbolic way, the project serves to remind us how we have an impact on our surroundings and how we can all effect positive change."

    Image: © Konstantin DimopoulosThe Blue Trees: Spring, Vancouver Biennale 2011: City of Richmond, Photo by David Brown Photography.

  • Your Voices Help Sway Senate on Transportation Bill!

    Remember all those email actions you took, urging your senators and congressional representatives to retain funding for biking and walking in the transportation bill? Remember all the social media campaigns, phone-ins, letter-writing and calls-to-action many of you participated in to defend Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School?

    We sure do! You rose to the occasion when we asked you to speak up for efforts in the U.S. Senate that would restore integral functions of trails, walking and bicycling programs that would have been lost under the bill.

    And now, congratulations are in order! We are thrilled to report that the concept behind a bipartisan amendment, introduced by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to improve local access to TE and SRTS--better assuring that the most beneficial projects will get a fair shot at approval--has now been integrated into the transportation bill (S. 1813) that went to the Senate floor on Thursday, March 8. This is a huge step forward for trails and active transportation.

    In the House of Representatives, deeply flawed legislation (H.R. 7) imploded due to a lack of support, forcing leaders to rethink their approach. We do not yet know whether the House will improve its bill in an effort to win broader support, or whether they will succeed in approving a bill at all.

    Things certainly look a lot better than they did a few months ago, and this is in large part because of the willingness of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's friends and supporters to speak up for the transportation future they believe in. Thank you.

    Stay tuned--we will keep you apprised of developments in the passage of this crucial legislation, and of continuing opportunities to help. We have seen how powerful your voices can be, and we are likely to need your support again soon before the current transportation bill expires on March 31! 

    Photo of the Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts, which was made possible by a Transportation Enhancements grant, courtesy of www.enhancements.org.

     

  • Rep. Edwards Says Biking, Walking Critical for Underserved Communities

    Speaking at the 2012 National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S. Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) yesterday urged transportation planners and advocates to promote bicycling and walking as a means of improving conditions and access in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

    "I want you reaching out into communities like mine, where there are majorities of people of color, where we ride our bicycles, too, and we want clear air and water and all modes of transportation so we can go to and from work," said Edwards, who lives in Fort Washington, Md. "We have work to do as advocates so we can make sure we have the most robust movement for all us, for all communities."

    Edwards' comments provide strong testimony to the importance of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), which for the past three years has helped create trails and encouraged biking and walking programs in urban communities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Camden, N.J., Compton, Calif., New Orleans, La., Springfield, Mass., and Cleveland, Ohio.

    Supported by The Kresge Foundation, our UPI work specifically focuses on empowering under-served communities--typically low-income neighborhoods with poor transportation networks, a scarcity of public green space, and limited access to schools and employment centers.

    "Resident of these neighborhoods confront the problems of obesity, congestion and scarcity of open space on a daily basis," says Kelly Pack, RTC's director of trail development. "Having a trail nearby, or good sidewalks and bike lanes, has an enormous impact. It improves employment opportunities, gives people an inexpensive and healthy way to get around--it reenergizes sections of these cities that have, in many ways, been isolated and ignored."

    Learn more about our UPI work, including a new video about trail safety and downloadable issue summaries.  

    Photo of Rep. Edwards at the 2012 Bike Summit courtesy of Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland.

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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