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July 2012 - RTC TrailBlog

  • Beat That Bucket List - 300 Miles Down the California Coast

    It seems like the term "Bucket List" is all the rage these days--describing those once-in-a-lifetime adventures we dream about but often push to the side, caught up in the current of a busy day-to-day life.

    But what better time to start ticking things off your bucket list than right now? How about a 300-mile, fully supported ride with a group of friends and strangers down the stunning California coast?

    Registration is still open for Climate Ride California, September 9-13. Beginning in California's historic Redwood Empire near Eureka, Climate Riders travels along the scenic coast and venture into the famed Russian River Valley before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Climate Ride California is more than a bike trip. It's an inspiring journey with like-minded people who are united by their passion for sustainability, renewable energy and bicycles--the ultimate carbon-free form of transportation.

    Better yet, Climate Ride helps raise money for your favorite nonprofits, like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). You can designate the money you raise to take part in the ride goes to support groups like RTC that promote better transportation options and an active and healthy America.

    For more information, check out the registration page. And if you opt to dedicate some, or all, of your ride proceeds to RTC, be sure to let us know! We would love to share your story with our members to help meet your fundraising goal.

    If you'd like a personal account of what you can expect on the California Route, email RTC's own Milo Bateman at milo@railstotrails.org. He led Team RTC in 2010 and is happy to talk you through the highlights and challenges of this remarkable journey.

    Photo courtesy of climateride.org.

  • Strong Friends Group the Driving Force Behind Northern Rail Trail in New Hampshire

    Are you tired of hearing that resources are limited for your trail project? That it will take decades and cost millions of dollars to complete, or that you'll never be able to maintain the corridor when it's opened? Take heart, trail champions--around the country, stories abound of trails getting developed, extended and cared for with minimal resources.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office last month released a terrific report that gathers all these stories--of local groups and volunteers across America using their community strength to create incredible trails. It's called Community Built - Stories of Volunteers Creating and Caring For Their Trails, and you can download and read it now at www.railstotrails.org. If you are an advocate or volunteer for a trail in your area, this report will be a powerful resource on how it can be done, and an inspiration to keep you going when times are tough!

    One of the great stories in Community Built features Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in rural New Hampshire. Now the longest rail-trail in the state, the corridor follows the right-of-way of the former Northern Railroad, which discontinued service in 1970. It is currently 49 miles long and will eventually cover 57.5 miles when completed.

    After the right-of-way was abandoned, the trail was only usable in the winter, when a layer of snow allowed snowmobile users to ride on it. It was maintained as a one-season trail for many years until the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail was founded in 2004 to convert it into a year-round pathway.

    New Hampshire is rather unique in that the state government espouses a "no taxes/no services" philosophy, and county governments often lack the financing or authority to take on large projects without a clear funding source. So the state lacked capacity to further develop the Northern Rail Trail. Aside from the department of transportation engineer who administers Transportation Enhancements (TE) grants, everything else is done by the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail.

    The friends group has a good relationship with the three snowmobile clubs that use the Northern Rail Trail as a "corridor trail." The Andover Snowmobile Club, Lakes Region Snowmobile Club, and Town Line Trail Dusters originally removed the railroad ties when the right-of-way was acquired. The snowmobile clubs help maintain the trail in the winter by grooming the snow. The snowmobilers perform regular maintenance on the bridges, since snowmobile use causes significant wear to the decking.

    The board of directors has been instrumental to the success of the Friends of Northern Rail Trail. A group of 10 members with diverse skills was assembled by Alex Bernhard. Bernhard himself has a legal background, the president of the board has good connections to the state government, and Charles Martin, another board member, is the author of New Hampshire Rail Trails. The board meetings, conducted inside a fire station, are businesslike, and there is an annual potluck dinner for the members to get to know each other in a more relaxed atmosphere. In addition to the dedicated long-term volunteers and board members, occasional volunteers are highly valuable for the success of the trail. They are willing to do substantial work, but they do not have to attend meetings or commit to long-term tasks.

    The majority of the friends groups' funding comes from the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and TE grants. The Friends of Northern Rail Trail received an RTP grant of $25,000 to $35,000 every year until 2012, when the Federal Highway Administration canceled New Hampshire's funding for the program. The TE funding consisted of a one-time grant of $270,000, plus a $60,000 local match. Annual mailings to their membership list generate between $6,000 and $10,000 a year.

    With little paid labor, the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Merrimack County was able to keep the construction costs down to $15,000 per RTP-funded mile.

    Most of the budget is allocated for the costs of purchasing and trucking stone dust to the trail. A grader and roller are generously loaned to the friends group by a local lumber business, Durgan & Crowell. This donation was originally initiated by Peter Crowell, an active bicyclist who was excited about the possibility of a long-distance trail separated from traffic. Since Crowell's passing, the equipment loans have been continued by his sons. In addition, Durgan & Crowell haul the grader and roller to and from the site, and a qualified driver is employed for the operation of the grader during trail construction, which generally lasts for one week a year. All other work is performed by volunteers, who take care of the paperwork, clear out brush before construction, and even operate some heavy equipment such as the vibratory roller.

    No paid staff are employed, so the group's budget is spent almost entirely on materials. The group's 990 tax form shows that about 97 percent of their funding is allocated to the construction of the trail, and only about 3 percent goes to various overhead expenses such as mailings.

    The Friends of the Northern Rail Trail created the first rail-trail maintenance plan in New Hampshire, which was agreed upon in cooperation with the state government. This plan enumerates the kinds of tasks volunteers will be performing. Prior to the creation of this document, the friends group had to ask the state government for permission every time a new task was to be performed by volunteers.

    The Friends of the Northern Rail Trail are poised for continued success with a membership program, events on the trail, and committed volunteers who maintain and use the trail.

    To read more about VC Pathways, and similar groups doing very cool things across the country, read and download Community Built using our new flipbook application.

    Photos courtesy of Friends of the Northern Rail Trail


  • With New Trail Addition, San Jose Continues to Grow Smart

    A bird's-eye view of San Jose, Calif., through our trail-finder website, TrailLink.com, reveals a busy network of trails and bike paths, lines snaking through the city like healthy arteries. During the past decade or so, the managers of this growing metropolis have understood that as the population grows, so too must the transportation system, particularly options for walking and biking.

    The latest addition to that growing network is a new section of San Jose's five-mile Highway 237 Bikeway, which was opened to the public on June 28.

    Although not as scenic as most of the 54 miles of trails in San Jose, the nation's 10th-largest city, the trail is a key commuter route for workers at important Silicon Valley employers like Cisco Systems, Cadence and Tivo.

    The newly paved section of about .8-mile improves what for years was an "unofficial" connection. The public had long perceived that a former construction access road along the north side of State Route 237, built 15 years earlier, was also part of the system. Even in is deteriorated state, commuters appreciated its location and linkage to the Coyote Creek Trail, and its alignment permitted bicyclists to avoid a busy highway off-ramp intersection nearby.

    "For years, city staff received periodic calls seeking an improved facility," says city of San Jose Trail Manager Yves Zsutty. But there was technically no agency responsible for the maintenance road, and property ownership questions and funding prevented any work being done.

    But during the past five years, city trail staff worked to resolve the property issues, sought financial contributions from the contractors that had further damaged the pavement, entered into a management agreement with the state of California for the overall bikeway, and secured the financial resources for design and construction of the proper paved 0.8-mile addition.

    Zsutty says the Highway 237 Bikeway project was an opportunity for the city to investigate a number of innovative construction techniques.

    "The project represents the first use in the South San Francisco Bay Area of warm mix asphalt," he says. "This pavement uses a more viscous oil to bind stone, which in turn requires less energy to mix and produces fewer hydrocarbons."

    Existing asphalt pavement was recycled on site and poured into the new surface, and compostable blankets and other materials were used to meet stringent stormwater measures. A light-weight bollard was developed to reduce the danger of heavy lifting injuries, and the centerline striping used highly reflective and low-profile thermoplastic markings to permit winter commutes. A new, smaller informational sign includes a QR code to direct interested users to construction updates on the city's website. 

    The new bikeway section now becomes part of the region's San Francisco Bay Trail and the multi-state Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. 

    "An annual count and survey indicates that over 50 percent of north San Jose trail users are commuting to and from work," Zsutty says. And that pattern is behind the city's drive to develop a 100-mile trail network by 2022.

    For more information about San Jose Trails, visit www.sjparks.org/trails/

    Before and after photos of the Highway 237 Bikeway courtesy of City of San Jose.


  • Bipartisan Support for Massachusetts Rail-Trail

    The communities of Southbridge and Dudley in southern Massachusetts are showing great determination and ingenuity in pursing their rail-trail ambitions.

    The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported last week that local officials have been able to save tens of thousands of dollars in the construction of trail bridges crossing the Quinebaug River by doing the design and engineering work themselves, and reusing existing girders at the build sites. The towns are also stockpiling the train tracks, which they will sell for scrap metal--a future source of funding for the rail-trail.

    All this creative energy comes from the community's strong belief in the great value of a trail, which they hope will one day connect Southbridge, Dudley and Thompson, then loop back into Dudley and Webster.

    "State Rep. Peter J. Durant, R-Spencer, said rail-trails are powerful economic drivers," the Gazette writes. "Mr. Durant said he and his wife, on a weekly basis, look for trails throughout New England to ride their bikes or hike on."

    It's great to see lawmakers with such vision. State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, is another of the project's supporters, making this a truly bipartisan effort. Way to go Massachusetts.



  • Hosted on the High Line, Public Talk to Focus on Trail and Park Innovations in Detroit

    This summer and fall, Friends of the High Line in New York is presenting "Beyond the High Line," a series of free public talks to educate and inspire conversation about the transformation of out-of-use industrial infrastructure across the United States into vibrant public space.

    Presented by Friends of the High Line in partnership with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and Trust for Public Land, the talk series will feature Friends of the High Line Co-Founder Robert Hammond speaking with the leaders and thinkers behind several innovative trail projects

    The next talk in the series is set for this Monday, July 23, and will highlight new and revived public spaces in Detroit, including the International Riverfront and Riverwalk, the Dequindre Cut, Roosevelt Park (pictured above) and Ponyride. 

    Faye Alexander Nelson of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and Phillip Cooley of the Roosevelt Park Conservancy, will share their experiences on public space in Detroit and the role it has had in the city's evolution. Stick around after the talk for a reception featuring Detroit-style Coney hot dogs and music by DJ Aaron Luis Levinson of Philadelphia.

    The talk will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the 14th Street Passage, outside on the High Line at West 14th Street. The program is free and open to visitors of all ages. No RSVP required.

    To learn more about the "Beyond the High Line" series, visit www.thehighline.org.

    Photo of Detroit's Roosevelt Park © David Schalliol. 

  • Make Adventure Happen with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy!

    This summer, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has teamed up with Pacifico for a fun promotion called "Make Adventure Happen." From today until October 2, your votes for RTC can help us win more than $30,000 for our trail-blazing work around the country!

    Here's how it works. Pacifico has generously offered $100,000 to split among four worthy organizations: RTC, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Surfrider Foundation and Best Friends Animal Society. Pacifico wants to make it easier than ever to rally behind causes you care about, so they're letting your votes determine how the money gets divided.

    Each participating nonprofit will automatically receive $10,000, which is tremendous. Then there's a pot of $40,000, which will be split based on the percentage of votes each organization receives; the more votes we get, the bigger our share. On top of that, the leading vote-getter will receive an additional $20,000!

    Voting runs today, July 20, through October 2, 2012, and you can vote once a day during that time. (You do have to be 21 years or older to participate.)

    To get started, all you'll need to enter the voting site is your date of birth and ZIP code. On the next page, you'll be prompted to enter a code. The best way to find these codes is to pick up specially marked multi-packs of Pacifico Clara beer. If you don't have a code from one of these packs, you can still enter your email address to have a code delivered to you. Copy that code, enter it into the top field, then click to vote for RTC. Right below, you'll be able to see how your vote impacts the total count. It sounds complicated, but don't worry--the steps are fast and easy, and it only takes about 30 seconds from start to finish, even when you're generating a code via email.

    We know you get bombarded with promotions and advertisements, particularly during the summer. But any vote you're able to cast, whether it's only once or several times in the next two months, will help boost our percentage of the $40,000 pot--and you might help push us to the top for the final $20,000 reward!

    So let's toast to a summer spent outdoors on rail-trails, and help us raise money to develop more trails and make adventure possible in new communities across the country.

  • Remembering the Cookie Lady of Afton, Virginia

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy member Nick Smith called us yesterday to pass on this sad but heartwarming story from the community of Afton in Nelson County, Va.

    June Curry was known and loved by cyclists across the world as the "Cookie Lady." From her home atop Afton Mountain, a particularly taxing stretch of the Trans-America Trail from Virginia to Oregon, she handed out cookies and refreshment to weary riders. Her hospitality and eagerness for a chat endeared her to a huge community of cyclists, and she soon became as much of a feature of the ride as the trail itself.

    June passed away on Monday at the age of 91, sparking an outpouring of remembrances and tributes from both locals and people across the world.

    "Just a wonderful lady doing what everybody should do for visitors or strangers," says Gary Burnette of Rockfish Gap Outfitters. Here's a lovely video by NBC Charlottesville about June Curry and her enduring legacy as the "Cookie Lady of Afton."

    Image courtesy of NBC29.



  • RTC Gathers Expert Panel for Exploration of MAP-21

    As a national leader of the active transportation movement, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is well-placed to help trails, walking and bicycling advocates across the country understand what the new Transportation Bill means for projects and plans in their communities.

    To that end, yesterday we hosted the first of two webinars exploring the nuts and bolts of this legislation, MAP-21, and offering advice for local practitioners on how to encourage their state to make good use of the limited pot of funds available for trails, biking and walking.

    Your response made it obvious that there is a huge amount of interest in the MAP-21 repercussions for active transportation. More than 200 people took part in the interactive webinar, which featured Beth Osborne, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), RTC's own policy and trail development VP, Kevin Mills, and David Tyahla, the senior manager of government affairs for the National Recreation and Park Association.

    We promised to stay on the line until all your questions were answered, and almost two hours later there were still more than 140 people tuned in to hear the experts' take on issues such as whether state agencies will still manage most Recreational Trails projects, who can apply for funding under the new Transportation Alternatives (TA) category, and the fate of USDOT's very popular TIGER program.

    If you missed out on the webinar, never fear. A recording of the event will be posted at www.railstotrails.org very shortly.

    We will also be hosting a second webinar on what MAP-21 means for trails, biking and walking, this one geared toward implementers--state and local officials who will be responsible for apportioning TA funds and managing projects. This webinar will be held Tuesday, July 31, at 1 p.m., and will feature Tracy Hadden Loh, research manager for RTC and director of the National Transportation Enhancement Clearinghouse, and Christopher Douwes, Trails and Enhancements Program Manager for the Federal Highway Administration.

    Register for that webinar at www.railstotrails.org/map21webinar



  • Community Throws a Party for the W&OD Trail in Virginia

    For people who live in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail is a part of everyday life.

    A commuter trail and popular place for recreation, this 45-mile rail-trail runs through densely populated urban and suburban communities as well as through rural areas, serving the populations of Purcellville, Leesburg, Ashburn, Herndon, Reston, Vienna, Falls Church, Shirlington and Arlington.

    And the people of these communities are always keen to show they appreciate this valuable public resource. Later this year, the W&OD will be the guest of honor at the second annual Dominion Trail Mix, a great community party hosted by the good folks at the Greater Washington Sports Alliance.

    To be held Saturday, October 20, the centerpiece of Dominion Trail Mix is "Hail the Trail," one of the largest volunteer clean-up events in the region.

    For those looking to raise a sweat, The Great Skedaddle, a non-competitive event that combines biking, running and walking along the W&OD Trail, begins at 10:30 a.m. It is a 5K race for runners, joggers and walkers, or a 5/10 mile race for bikers.

    New this year, the Living Well Expo will feature numerous exhibitors and activities encouraging people to lead healthy and active lifestyles. The day concludes with Trailfest, a family themed festival with food, fun and music from national performing artists.

    Proceeds from this event will benefit the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority Foundation and the Nature Nuts Program, which aims to give thousands of children a meaningful outdoor experience. The 2011 event successfully raised $20,000 for the Nature Nuts Program.

    For more information about the event, or to register for The Great Skedaddle, visit www.dominiontrailmix.com.

  • Americans Driving Less, Looking for Better Options

    Central to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) mission is the idea that when it comes to getting from A to B, it is important to give people more options than a motor vehicle, and that powering ourselves, by foot or by wheel, has better outcomes for our health, our environment and our economy.

    We have long known that Americans are eager to get out of their cars and travel other ways whenever they can, and now the data supporting that continues to pile up.

    A new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) and the Frontier Group demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade. The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy, shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.

    While federal and state governments have historically made massive investments in new highway capacity on the assumption that driving will continue to increase at a rapid and steady pace, the changing transportation preferences of young people--and Americans overall--throw those assumptions into doubt.

    The report reveals that for the first time since World War II, Americans are driving less. In 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004. This trend away from driving is even more pronounced among people aged 16 - 34. This group drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than the average young person in 2001. The report also notes that a growing number of young Americans do not have driver's licenses; from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.

    "America's transportation preferences appear to be changing. Our elected officials need to make transportation decisions based on the real needs of Americans in the 21st century... especially when transportation dollars are so scarce," says USPIRG's Phineas Baxandall, a co-author of the report.

    The trend away from steady growth in driving is likely to be long-lasting, even after the economy recovers. Young people are driving less for a host of reasons--higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support public transit and biking and walking, and changes in Generation Y's values and preferences--all factors that are likely to have an impact for years to come.

    Photo of commuters in New York by RTC
    Graph courtesy of USPIRG and the Frontier Group


  • How to Generate Media and Improve Your Outreach

    By Jake Lynch

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is putting together a "How-To" series of Web pages--instructional pieces designed to support the many volunteers and advocates who build, maintain, promote and make the case for trail systems in communities large and small.

    This week we posted the second in that series: How To: Generate Media and Improve Your Outreach. As RTC's manager of communications, I work a lot with trail groups trying to promote themselves and spread word about events like trail clean-ups or fundraising deadlines. Some of these groups are obviously media-savvy and experienced, while others are just getting off the ground and looking for assistance. Drawing on my previous work as a newspaper editor and journalist, I hope these tidbits of wisdom provide some real and concrete advice your trails group can use.

    Some of them are simple and easy to implement (make sure there are people and faces in your photos), while others will require some technical skills (if you can, design an online trail map). The end goal is always to make it easy for the media to learn about your trail project, and encourage local newspapers and news outlets to talk about what you are doing.

    Best of luck, and keep up the great work.




  • People Power - RTC Report Gathers Inspiring Volunteer Stories from Across America

    Are you tired of hearing that resources are limited for your trail project? That it will take decades and cost millions of dollars to complete, or that you'll never be able to maintain the corridor when it's opened? Take heart, trail champions--around the country, stories abound of trails getting developed, extended and cared for with minimal resources.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office last month released a terrific report that gathers all these stories--of local groups and volunteers across America using their community strength to create incredible trails. It's called Community Built - Stories of Volunteers Creating and Caring For Their Trails, and you can download and read it now at www.railstotrails.org/resources. If you are an advocate or volunteer for a trail in your area, this report will be a powerful resource on how it can be done, and an inspiration to keep you going when times are tough!

    One of the great stories in Community Built features the residents of Idaho's rural Valley County, which is surrounded by mountain bike, hiking and cross-country ski trails that attract tourists and provide popular recreation opportunities. In 2003, a citizens' group banded together and formed Valley County (VC) Pathways, a response to the evident need for additional trail infrastructure and driven by a sense of urgency due to a new wave of development that threatened to cover possible trail corridors.

    VC Pathways created a master plan to develop 100 miles of pedestrian pathways between Cascade and McCall, which was later adopted by the Valley County Commission. Among the trail-supportive requirements of the plan is the direction that "individuals and developers who propose new developments and subdivisions must blend their proposals into the vision for a valley-wide pathways system." This language ensures that no developments are approved that would allow construction over the top of key pathway corridors. Since the plan's adoption, several new developments have provided an easement to VC Pathways in order for their development plans to proceed.

    VC Pathways is constantly engaged with new projects, such as the development of the McCall-to-Cascade rail-trail, fundraisers and developing a similar pathways master plan for the city of Cascade. Most of the work is done by volunteers. Their most recent accomplishment is the quarter-mile Boulder Creek Trail in Donnelly, which was completed by a group of 16 volunteers building a 255-foot-long boardwalk across a wetland (above, right). This project was completed in just one weekend using loaned generators, power tools and hand tools. A local construction company directed the project for free; students at Donnelly Elementary assisted with bank stabilization and the installation of interpretive signs; and Idaho Fish and Game volunteers planted some 500 shrubs next to the creek. The right-of-way was granted by Hugh L. and Georgia Ann Fulton of Donnelly and Melba, who donated a pathways easement to VC Pathways and seven acres of wetlands to the city of Donnelly.

    To read more about VC Pathways, and similar groups doing very cool things across the country, read and download Community Built using our new flipbook application.

    Photo courtesy of Valley County Pathways



  • Smithsonian Exhibit the Perfect Reason to Plan Your Own Trail Journey

    Do you live in the Washington, D.C., metro area, and are you looking for a reason to take an overnight trail trip this fall?

    The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park, better known as the C&O Canal towpath, is one of the most popular trails in the region, with hikers and riders drawn to its flat gradient, the history of the corridor, and the small, welcoming communities along the trail between D.C. and Cumberland, Md.

    One of these towns is Brunswick. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) visited Brunswick in June during the 2012 Greenway Sojourn. What we found was a very cool city with an old-school feel. There are diners, cafes, ice-cream shops and a new bike store, a terrific campground right on the trail and a number of lodging options nearby. One of the features is definitely Beans in the Belfry, a café and restaurant housed in a restored 100-year-old church on the main street.

    Need an excuse? Well, in late August, the world-renown Smithsonian Institution is bringing an exhibit to Brunswick, expected to attract thousands of visitors from across America. Part of the Smithsonian's Museums on Main Street series, "Journey Stories" examines how we and our ancestors came to America. This exhibition is a great reason to build a journey story of your own-- along the C&O Canal to the historical community of Brunswick.

    From the exhibition website: "Journey stories are a central element of our personal heritage. From Native Americans to new American citizens and regardless of our ethnic or racial background, everyone has a story to tell. Our history is filled with stories of people leaving behind everything - families and possessions - to reach a new life in another state, across the continent, or even across an ocean. The reasons behind those decisions are myriad. Many chose to move, searching for something better in a new land. Others had no choice, like enslaved Africans captured and relocated to a strange land and bravely asserting their own cultures, or like Native Americans already here, who were often pushed aside by newcomers. Our transportation history is more than trains, boats, buses, cars, wagons, and trucks. The development of transportation technology was largely inspired by the human drive for freedom."

    To plan your trip to Brunswick, visit www.brunswickmainstreet.org.

    For maps and more information on the C&O Canal, use RTC's free trail-finder website, www.traillink.com

    Photos courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.
    Top - Pioneers in Loup Valley, Custer County, NE.
    Bottom - Great Migration, FL to NJ, 1940.


  • Once Considered Wasteful, New Rail-Trail Proves Very Useful to Lewisburg, Pa.

    For local transportation planners and rail-trail builders, it is a familiar story: County announces trail project, sections of the community oppose project as wasteful use of money, rail-trail opens to wild acclaim, rail-trail is incredibly popular and well-used, opposition vanishes.

    It is a pattern now repeating itself in Union County, Pa.  When the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority (LARA) began building the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail back in 2009, some residents described the use of state and federal grants to purchase the corridor and construct the trail as "state-sponsored robbery."

    Still, officials in Union County, Lewisburg and East Buffalo knew that such a transportation option and recreational amenity for this growing area, home to Bucknell University, was a key piece of infrastructure the region needed if it was to continue to grow sustainably and attract new residents and businesses. And from the moment the trail opened in November of last year, connecting Lewisburg, Vicksburg and Mifflinburg, it became clear they had done a terrific thing for the county.

    The Daily Item news site out of nearby Sunbury is reporting that an automated counting device set up by Bucknell University students tallied an average of 400 people using the nine-mile rail-trail each day, numbers that indicate that locals are using the trail for practical trips as well as for recreation.

    That user-popularity is also building a large volunteer community around the trail. For the first trail clean-up event in April, 82 people volunteered to help out--about nine people per mile. Local 'ownership' of the rail-trail is a strong sign of its value to residents.

    When the rail-trail was still on the drawing board, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office provided LARA with trail-user projections and qualitative analysis of how it would benefit the community, ensuring local officials maintained their support of the project.

    "Our studies indicate the average economic impact of a rail-trail in Pennsylvania, just to the local community, ranges from a low of $1 million per year to a high of more than $4 million," says Pat Tomes, RTC's program manager in the Northeast. "These are compelling figures. This economic impact is generated by new and existing businesses that serve the needs of trail users, not to mention the proven impact local trails have on home prices and an area's appeal to potential new residents. Having studied what happens to communities that build trail networks, the evidence is clear that they represent a measureable investment in the economic vitality of a community."

    Congratulations, Union County, on your new rail-trail. As we have seen with new rail-trail projects across the country, no doubt the number of daily trail-users will continue to grow, year after year.

    Photo and map of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail courtesy of LARA.

  • The Most Amazing Rail-Trail on Earth?

    By Kartik Sribarra

    It seems I never learn.

    Last year around this time, I wrote about a gorgeous ride I was lucky enough to take on the George S. Mickelson Trail, running through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    In that piece, I recalled how each rail-trail we had ridden over the years was more glorious than any previous one we'd explored. A group of friends and rail-trail supporters has been taking this annual ride for a few years, and we've made some good choices. First, the Great Allegheny Passage. The next year, the Paul Bunyan Trail in Minnesota. Then came the twin wonders, the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho. The Mickelson, it seemed, trumped them all and became, as I put it then, "without a doubt the most amazing rail-trail anywhere on earth."

    And now, we can add the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail in central British Columbia, Canada, to this little game of one-upmanship.

    This rail-trail--part of the evolving Trans Canada Trail--is unlike anything I've experienced here in the United States. The first day, through Myra Canyon outside of Kelowna, B.C., felt similar to our route two years ago, winding our way down the Route of the Hiawatha, feeling like we were in a land untouched by humanity, but for the trestles. These sheer wonders of engineering ingenuity were actually replicas reconstructed by the Canadian government following the terrible Okanagan Mountain Park Fire that ravaged the region in 2003.

    During the next several days we rode through on-again, off-again rain showers as we made our way past the various unique views along the trail. We rode through Rock Oven Park, where we saw numerous rock ovens that were built and used by the railroad workers a century ago for fresh bread as they constructed the rail line deep in the Okanagan Valley. We came across views of Christina Lake that almost seemed to physically slow our tires as we ground to a halt in awe. We rode through vineyards, past strongly aromatic groves of sage, along corridors with the rails still in the ground, and over trestle after trestle, through tunnel after tunnel. The connection to the region's rail history was not to be forgotten.

    At one point along the ride, as we gazed out at yet another phenomenal view of mountains, lakes and conifers as far as the eye could see, I commented to my riding companions that it reminded me of New Zealand. "When were you there?" asked another rider. I confessed that I'd never been, but that the Lord of the Rings trilogy made me feel as if I understood the similarity in the landscapes. Moments later, another rider commented that the views here exceeded anything she had seen in her years of international riding, including such destinations as Nepal and Switzerland.

    As is often the case on such a ride, we could not help but compare the various trails we've ridden over the years. As such, our mantra for this year's trip, coined by one rider referencing a comment from my post from last year, was, "How big can you write the word 'WOW?!'" Thereafter, each new view, each trestle more formidable than the last, each mile pedaled seemed to elicit the same jaw-dropping "wow" reaction.

    So, despite previous claims of having ridden what must be the most gorgeous rail-trail anywhere, the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail proves that I need to keep biting my tongue and just take in the views. After all, somewhere, somehow, yet another rail-trail might possibly rival even this one!

    And I'm determined to find it and make its acquaintance.

    Photos of the Kettle Valley Rail-Trail by RTC.



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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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