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December 2012 - RTC TrailBlog

  • The CYCLE Continues - William Penn Supports RTC's Work in Camden

    The ongoing transformation of Camden, New Jersey, is a terrific case study of what Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is about. From our core mission of recycling disused rail corridors into public pathways, in recent years RTC has expanded that work to building broader, more connected urban trail networks and encouraging new generations of Americans to walk and bike for daily transportation.

    In Camden, there is an urgent need for this kind of transformation. Disconnected from the vibrant economic and social activity occurring just across the Delaware River in Philadelphia, for the last few decades Camden has suffered a lack of shops and businesses and insufficient investment in its public spaces. As a result, incomes and property levels are low, obesity and poor nutrition are problems, especially among young people. These experiences are common to underserved and at-risk populations across the country.

    Enter RTC. Since 2006, our Northeast Regional Office has been working with local partners in Camden, notably the Campbell Soup Foundation, to create an improved bicycle and pedestrian network throughout Camden and beyond, and attracting the funding and support necessary for its construction. In a community where 40 percent of residents don't own a car, RTC knew that cheaper, easier options for getting from A to B had the potential to make real and significant improvements to the lives of Camden's citizens, every day.

    And thanks to the William Penn Foundation, we can continue with this excellent work. The Philadelphia-based organization today announced it would provide $110,000 to continue our CYCLE program -- which enables young Camden residents to be bike-mobile and helps them explore their city. It's work we have been doing with the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, and which over the past few years has grown from a few summer classes of about 20 students, to more than 300 kids, bike-repair workshops, destination rides and a growing awareness of how the people of Camden can get around on two wheels. This funding is complemented by funding from the Campbell Soup Foundation as well.

    Spearheading the CYCLE program is RTC's own Akram Abed, who grew up in Camden and knows firsthand what a bike and a safe pathway can mean to residents whose job and study options, as well as access to stores and opportunities for recreation, are often limited.

    "Affordable and convenient transportation is something we sometimes take for granted," Abed says. "It has been amazing to ride with these kids and see them exploring parts of their city they have never seen before. It is literally expanding their worlds -- what an awesome thing to be a part of."

    William Penn Foundation also provided $165,000 to support the development of The Circuit -- another local project RTC is involved in. The Circuit, otherwise known as Greater Philadelphia's Regional Trail Network, aims to build on RTC's bike and pedestrian improvements in Camden and connect people, businesses, neighborhoods and employers on both sides of the Delaware River.

    For more about CYCLE, check out their facebook page at www.facebook.com/CYCLECamden

    Photos of the CYCLE kids cruising around Camden by RTC



  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Mercer County, New Jersey


    On or about December 14, 2012, CSX Transportation Inc. filed for the abandonment of 1.67 miles of track in Ewing Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. We are providing this information because it presents an opportunity to develop a real regional asset: a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    NEXT STEPS: If this corridor is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge local trail advocates, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. A "boiler plate" letter (found here) can be filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using STB docket number AB-55 (sub-no. 724x). Filing this letter does not commit its authors to acquire the corridor; it merely gives time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad. According to the information we have received, the deadline for filing this letter is January 13, 2013. Even if this deadline is missed, there is probably still time to contact the relevant parties, since the railroad may have experienced a delay in filing all of the paperwork, or the STB may still have jurisdiction over the corridor. However, it is important to take prompt action. The STB posts all abandonment decisions and filings on its Web site, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing.

    The STB has imposed a $200 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project's progress. We also recommend contacting your state trails coordinator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

    Both of these individuals are knowledgeable about state laws and resources and may be able to assist your community with this rail-trail project. Also, you may want to contact the abandoning railroad to add your name to their service list.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC's Web site may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, the Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals. These resources can be found within the "Trail-Building" section of our Web site. If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly, you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community.

    For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact Carl Knoch at carl@railstotrails.org.

  • When Snow Hits the Rail-Trail, Swap Your Wheels for Skis

    By Laura Stark

    Last week, a snow storm pounded the Midwest, making a winter wonderland of eastern South Dakota, southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

    But among all the worries of traffic snares, school and work closings, and all that shoveling and plowing, perhaps there is some happy news we can hold on to with both mittens. The snow brings with it the opportunity to cross-country ski, snowshoe, or just take a good old fashioned trek in snow boots through a pristine and sparking new landscape.

    Those willing to brave the cold can swap their wheels for skis on a few of the longer rail-trails in the region that are groomed for these winter activities.

    To check current snow and trail conditions, please contact the trail's managing entity; links to these organizations (such as the state departments of natural resources) are included on each trail's page on TrailLink.com.


    Cannon Valley Trail

    19.7 miles from Cannon Falls to Red Wing

    Gateway State Trail (Willard Munger State Trail)

    18.3 miles from St. Paul to Stillwater

    Harmony-Preston Valley Trail

    18 miles from Fountain to Harmony

    Luce Line State Trail

    76.7 miles from Minneapolis to Cosmos

    Root River State Trail

    42 miles from Fountain to Houston

    Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail

    39 miles from Faribault to Mankato 



    Red Cedar State Trail

    14.5 miles from Menomonie to the Dunnville Wildlife Area

    Stower Seven Lakes State Trail

    13.5 miles from Amery to Dresser

    If you're really feeling adventurous, a "Candlelight Ski and Snowshoe" event is being held on the Red Cedar State Trail, January 25, and a "Candlelight Ski" event will be held in Sakatah Lake State Park, which the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail runs through, on January 26.

    Photo of Red Cedar State Trail, top, courtesy philipschwarzphotography.wordpress.com 
    Photo of the Luce Line State Trail, middle, courtesy Winstead Herald Journal
    Photo of Candlelight Ski on Red Cedar State Trail, bottom, courtesy escapetowisconsin.com



  • Rhode Island Taps RTC for Help with Rail-With-Trail Project

    By Jake Lynch

    With the people of Aquidneck Island, R.I., keen to improve their amenities for walking and biking, they've called on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) to examine the feasibility of a rail-with-trail along a line currently used for tourist service.

    RTC's Manager of Trail Development in the Northeast, Carl Knoch, led a public presentation for the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and Bike Newport last week on the viability of rail-with-trail projects, and opportunities to ensure the best return on investments in bike/ped infrastructure.

    The community is looking at developing a trail, referred to in these early stages as the Shoreline Bikeway, alongside the line currently used by the Old Colony Railway and the Newport Dinner Train (right). Though other instances around the country have shown that tourist train operators sometimes oppose trail development, the train operators in Aquidneck Island can see the benefits it would bring to the island and the generation of more visitor activity. According to an article in the Newport Patch, the owner of the Newport Dinner Train, Bob Andrews, attended the forum and said he supported the bikeway and looked forward to being involved in the project.

    The Shoreline Bikeway would improve access to Aquidneck Island's natural areas, provide a healthy transportation alternative, and connect residents and visitors to other recreation and transportation routes. Leaders of all three of the islands municipalities have stated that active transportation is a priority in the region, in order to increase physical activity and reduce motor vehicle congestion.

    "The trails aren't a cost, they're an investment," Knoch said at the forum.

    With widespread support from all areas of the community, proponents are now exploring funding and design options for the project.

    Photo courtesy Newport Patch



  • Shooting Star Rail Trail a Lifeline in Southern Minnesota

    By Laura Stark

    The Shooting Star State Trail in southern Minnesota could be coined the "Superstar Trail" for the beneficial impact it has had on the small communities along its route.

    "We're a combined effort of four small towns: Le Roy, Adams, Rose Creek, and Taopi," says Becky Hartwig, president of Prairie Visions, a community group that supports the rail-trail. "These towns are all under 1,000 people. We started in 1992 looking for ways to get economic development in our towns and came up with a bike trail as the most possible and probable idea."

    This summer, the trail added five miles on its western end, an extension that made "the people in Adams and Rose Creek extremely happy," says Joel Wagar, an area parks and trails supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which manages the rail-trail. There is now strong interest in developing a connection to Iowa's Wapsi Trail to join the two states.

    At 19 miles long, the paved trail offers a beautiful array of countryside views as it follows the Upper Iowa River, enters Lake Louise State Park, and continues through open prairie, wetlands and small patches of woodland. For much of the way, the trail parallels Minnesota State Highway 56, a scenic byway lined with wildflowers, including the attractive pink and purple blossoms for which the trail is named.

    "It's a great benefit that allows people to get to our state park system without a car," Wagar says. "And, because it's on a historical railroad, you get a little bit of the flavor of the railroad towns."

    These natural and cultural attractions have made the trail popular with locals, and Prairie Visions plans many community events around it.

    "We have a bike ride every year," says Hartwig. "We had one in July with 166 participants. Every year it goes up. The rides are for everybody; we even had a 79-year-old couple up from Ohio for the ride."

    Plans to grow the trail even farther along the rail corridor are already in the works. The route follows the former Milwaukee Road (also known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad), which first began in Wisconsin in 1850 and eventually stretched from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains.

    "The trail needs another eight miles to reach Austin," says Wagar. "We also want it to connect to Lyle, which is south of Austin, just north of the Minnesota/Iowa border. Within the next two years, we'll see a lot of things happening."

    Hartwig looks forward to connecting the much larger Austin with the smaller communities that line the trail. "It will draw people out and will be a good eye-opening to get people out in the country."

    Says Wagar, "From a tourism and economic development standpoint, we are looking forward to the day when we can connect the trail to the city. It will be a vital link in the system."

    Photos courtesy Prairie Visions

  • RTC's Work in Camden Catches On In Boston

    By Jake Lynch

    In February of this year Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) hosted a gathering of urban planners and transportation experts in Camden, N.J., to look at the bike/ped improvements that have been made in that city and the exciting work being done to better connect Camden with Philadelphia and the region. It was work we had been doing for a number of years, supported by visionary local organizations such the Campbell's Soup Foundation and the Coopers Ferry Partnership.

    Sitting in the audience that day were a few key planners from a city to the north, Boston. And they liked what they saw. The coordinated effort of businesses, bike advocates, educators, health professionals, officials and transportation planners in Camden and Philadelphia to create what is being called "The Circuit" raised their hopes for a similar initiative in Boston.

    Less than a year later and that work is already underway. Led by the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Livable Streets Alliance, RTC's northeast staff has been called in to help replicate the unique collaborative success of The Circuit.

    That effort in Boston continues next week with the Metro Boston Regional Trails and Greenway Summit, Dec. 11 and 12, during which RTC staff will provide an update of the future of federal trail policy and funding, and share what other cities are doing across America to advance their trail ambitions.

    It's one of RTC's great strengths and what makes us unique in the world of trail building - few other organizations can combine both the on-the-ground technical trail development nous with state and federal planning and funding connections, and long relationships with elected officials and major foundations.

    Keep an eye on Boston. We'll keep you updated on the good news coming out of Beantown.

    Photo of RTC Northeast Regional Director Tom Sexton riding the streets of Camden by RTC



  • New York Exec Puts Rail-Trail at Center of Ambitious Health Goal

    By Jake Lynch

    The community leaders of Ulster County in New York have set some of the nation's most ambitious rail-trail planning goals. And they are determined to make them a reality.

    Ulster County Executive Mike Hein left nothing to the imagination in unveiling his 2013 executive budget for the county, stating that continued regional rail-trail development was a key part of his vision "of creating the healthiest county in New York State." And he knows exactly where that rail-trail will go.

    Ulster County owns a portion of the Ulster and Delaware Line, also known as the Catskill Mountain Branch, which includes more than 32 miles of disused corridor between the city of Kingston and the county line. In the 2013 budget announcement, Hein said he plans on turning this rail line into a premier rail-trail, leaving intact the existing tourism railroad attraction operated by the Catskill Mountain Railroad that utilizes an active portion of the corridor.

    "By adding to the tourism magnet that is the Walkway Over the Hudson, an interconnected U&D corridor with the O&W corridor which runs along State Route 209, as well as the Hudson Valley Rail Trail (right) and the Walkill Valley Rail Trail (below), Ulster County will be well on our way to creating the single largest interconnected rail-trail network in the state of New York," Hein told the Daily Freeman. "This vision will result in a tremendous new, world-class tourism asset to add to our already long list of world class tourism attractions."

    This new project supports Hein's goal of creating the healthiest county in the state, and would allow the county to sell existing steel on the line, the value of which is estimated at approximately $650,000.

    Though support for utilizing the unused sections of railroad is widespread, the plan is being opposed by the operators of the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Following Hein's announcement, they responded that they have being trying to create a single scenic rail line running from Kingston to Phoenicia for the past 29 years, a plan which has not progressed in that time.

    In a recent op-ed in the Daily Freeman, members of the local Woodstock Land Conservancy said research indicated there was widespread support in the area for a Catskill Mountain Rail Trail, but that it was important for local residents and businesses to convey that support to local decision makers.

    "Hein's proposal encourages the for-profit Catskill Mountain Railroad tourist ride to continue operations where it has for years, in conjunction with a rail trail on the segments of the corridor that have been inactive for decades," the members wrote. "This will collectively attract a larger, diverse array of both trail and train enthusiasts to our region. Rail-trails have a well-documented history of providing multiple year-round benefits, including enhancing the health of individuals; connecting children safely with physical activity and the outdoors; providing enriching educational and spiritual experiences; helping to drive economic development by supporting local businesses; and protecting the environment."

    Photo courtesy www.traillink.com



  • Washington: Tunnel Reopened and Others in the Works on Iron Horse Rail-Trail

    By Jake Lynch

    Washington's Iron Horse State Park is one of America's iconic rail-trails. Following the path of the former Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad east out of Seattle, the 82-miles of the Iron Horse pass through the stunning scenery for which the Pacific Northwest is famous, from the base of Rattlesnake Mountain all the way to the Columbia River.

    However for the past few years much of the trail has been out of action, with falling debris forcing the closure of a number of the historic railroad tunnels that are a feature of the rail-trail and carry it through the topographically challenging region known as the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

    Water infiltration and many decades of freeze-thaw cycle led to "spalling" in the concrete tunnel liners, with fragments of material flaking from the walls and roof. After a safety assessment, Washington State Parks decided to close them until they could be repaired.

    Now, some great news for rail-trail fans. After two years of engineering and construction work, last summer Washington State Parks, which manages the corridor and the tunnels, was able to reopen Snoqualmie tunnel 50. And work is now underway to repair the lining inside tunnels 48 and 49, to the east.

    "If the weather holds, we believe we can finish all the structural work this year," says Nikki Fields. Washington State Parks trails coordinator. "We will still need to come back in the spring to do the final trail grading, ditch reshaping, and hydroseeding. Weather permitting, we expect them to be completely done by next summer."

    Of course, such work is not cheap. Tunnels 46 and 47, further east near the town of Thorp, remain closed for now, pending funding to work on them.

    "They may require a different solution than the other tunnels because they were constructed through loose material, instead of through solid rock," Fields says. "We need funding to design and then carry out those repairs."

    Of course, when that funding becomes available will dictate when the necessary work can be done and the tunnels reopened. Like many states, Washington is facing the challenge of fitting important improvements and services into an ever tighter budget, and is being forced to form strict priorities to decide what gets funded and what does not. 

    As not only an incredible adventure for local trail users but also a national and international tourist destination and a unique treasure of the nation's railroad history, the Iron Horse State Park has great importance to the state of Washington and the American trail community. Supporters are urged to contact the office of Governor of Washington Christine Gregoire to let her know that repairing the Iron Horse State Park tunnels should be a priority.

    For updates on the tunnel repairs visit www.parks.wa.gov/parks

    Photo of Iron Horse State Park, top, by RTC
    Photo of tunnel inspection courtesy Washington State Parks 




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