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RTC TrailBlog

  • The Supreme Court Decision: How Does It Affect Rail-Trails?

    On March 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case involving a rail corridor formerly on federal land that is now privately owned (Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States).

    The U.S. Supreme Court decision was undoubtedly disappointing for supporters of rail-trails. But after examining the Court’s decision, it is clear that its reach is much narrower than has been reported in the press. 

    The main questions on your mind may be: Does this decision mean that my rail-trail or trail project will go away? What effect will this decision have on the broader rail-trail movement? 

    To answer the first question, the vast majority of current and planned rail-trails will not be affected. 

    The ruling does not affect trails that have been “railbanked” (the federal process of preserving former railway corridors for potential future railway service by converting them to multi-use trails in the interim). Potentially affected corridors are predominantly west of the Mississippi and were originally acquired by railroads after 1875 through federal land to aid in westward expansion. 

    Existing rail-trails or trail projects ARE NOT affected by this decision if ANY of the following conditions are met:

    1. The rail corridor is “railbanked.” 
    2. The rail corridor was originally acquired by the railroad by a federally granted right-of-way (FGROW) through federal lands before 1875. 
    3. The railroad originally acquired the corridor from a private land owner. 
    4. The trail manager owns the land adjacent to the rail corridor.
    5. The trail manager owns full title (fee simple) to the corridor.
    6. The railroad corridor falls within the original 13 colonies. 

    If your rail-trail or trail project meets any of the conditions above, it is NOT affected by the U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

    If you have questions about a specific trail, please contact the manager of that trail, or contact us at railtrails@railstotrails.org.

    Despite the decision, the rail-trail movement remains strong. But the ruling will likely invite more litigation directed at rail-trails that consist of or include federally granted rights of way.

    As this case moves back to the lower courts, RTC is exploring opportunities to ensure the scope of the ruling is as narrow as possible. 

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    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

  • Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision for Trails in U.S.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Official Statement on March 2014 Supreme Court Ruling

    Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing news for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, rail-trail advocates and trail users around the country. The full opinion, which reverses and remands a lower court ruling, can be read at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1173_nlio.pdf

    At issue in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States was whether the federal government retains a reversionary interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor. In today’s 8-to-1 decision, the justices ruled in favor of Marvin Brandt, the Wyoming landowner whose property is crossed by one of these former rail corridors that is part of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail.  

    It is our belief that the original intent of the 1875 legislation was that these linear public spaces should remain of, and for, the people. Just like our national parks, these former rail corridors are public assets in which we all share and benefit. These federally granted rights-of-way have played a key role in the nation's rail-trail movement, which has built thousands of miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing and snowmobile pathways across America over the past 25 years.

    There are hundreds of federally granted rights-of-way corridors across the country, many of which have been converted into publicly accessible trails. This erosion of protections for these public lands in the Supreme Court not only may block the completion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail through the former rail corridor, but also threatens existing rail-trails, mainly in the West, that utilize federally granted rights-of-way and are not railbanked. 

    Our legal team is taking a closer look at the decision—and its implications for other rail-trails—to determine next steps. This decision is likely to result in more litigation over rail-trails in federally granted rights of way. Those rail-trails that have been built on railbanked corridors or fee simple land purchases will remain safe. Railbanked corridors are preserved for future rail use by being converted to a trail in the interim.

    The fight for these rail corridors is not over yet. The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States will be sent back to a lower court where we hope to have another opportunity to clarify and limit the scope of this Supreme Court ruling. More information in the coming days can be found on our website at http://www.railstotrails.org/SupremeCourt

    Please contact Amy Kapp at amy@railstotrails.org if you would like more information about the Supreme Court ruling. 

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    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

     

  • Promoting Walkability in America – From Coast to Coast

    In America’s urban centers and rural areas, walkability is becoming a hot topic. Both the public and public leaders are recognizing the way in which pedestrian-friendly policies and infrastructure can help spur economic development, improve individual and community health, and make neighborhoods more livable.  

    Here are two organizations from either side of the continent that are talking the talk and walking the walk:     

    Feet First for a Walkable Washington

    Feet First began as a group of concerned citizens in 1995 that wanted to promote walkable communities. Now, the fast-growing organization advocates for pedestrian-friendly policies and improvements throughout Washington State. 

    Their “Walkable Washington” initiative showcases exceptional projects and programs in local communities, such as the City of Longview’s Sidewalk Business License Program, whereby business owners can apply for free licenses to place features such as seating or retail signs on public sidewalks. And, the project has recently expanded beyond the core commerce area of downtown to all economic zones in Longview. Makes for a very walkable place, indeed.

    By the way, Executive Director Lisa Quinn tells us that they are holding a Walkable Washington Symposium on April 3 to highlight the great pedestrian-oriented projects across the state. More than 100 community leaders, educators and walking advocates are anticipated to gather to explore urban design as it relates to walkability, and community engagement and education.  

    Learn more about it here.

    Going the Distance in (of) New Jersey

    Sometimes, to bring people together, all you need is a venue and an idea. Take New Jersey-based FreeWalkers, an informal—and free—group, founded by Morristown resident Paul Kiczek, which encourages fitness, pedestrianism and friendship while pursuing personally challenging goals through organized long-distance walking events.

    This is the fourth year they’ve partnered with East Coast Greenway (ECG) for their Cross-Jersey Walking Challenge, which sets a goal of walking the 100 miles of the ECG. To kick off their spring season on April 5, they’re inviting people to join them for a 40-mile, one-day walk along the D & R Canal—once one of America’s busiest navigation canals. 

    And, you don’t have to be an iron man; people of all abilities are encouraged to participate, and can choose to walk less than the total distance and at their own pace.

    “This is not about speed but about endurance,” says Kiczek. “Walkers benefit from exercise, friendships and delight of discovering a hidden world nearby. Everyone who walks is a winner.”

    Sounds like a winning idea.

    Photos courtesy FreeWalkers

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    Amy Kapp recently joined the RTC team as a content strategist and managing editor of Rails to Trails Magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.

  • Compton Kids Get Moving Outside: RTC Promotes Urban Pathways in Los Angeles County

    Throughout the month, RTC has provided evidence and stories of how active transportation and physical activity are good for your heart. Increasing physical activity, specifically through increased trail use and trail access, is of particular importance to us—especially in underserved communities. As Dr. Ted Eytan explained in his guest blog earlier this month, not having the ability to walk around outside in one’s neighborhood, and not having safe access to the outdoors, can have a significant effect on a community’s health. And these are significant challenges in lower-income neighborhoods, where crime, litter, graffiti and lack of access to trails or walking infrastructure tend to be prevalent.

    RTC worked in Compton, Calif., for several years as part of our Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), sponsoring trail-based activities to promote increased physical activity and active transportation. As an end to RTC’s Heart Month series, here are some examples of how we helped to positively impact this passionate community. Enjoy!  

    Walk to School Day at Tibby Elementary

    In October 2013, in partnership with the Compton School District, the City of Compton and the Let’s Move! Campaign, RTC organized a Walk to School Day at Tibby Elementary School. In the photo, a Let’s Move! Representative is leading kids through stretching and exercises before the start of the school day.

    Compton Community 5K

    RTC was involved with a 5K walk held in Compton in February 2011. The route went by the Compton Creek Trail. That’s the mayor pushing his kid in a stroller. He told me he actually used to use this trail when he was growing up in the area!

    Cleaning Up Compton Creek

    Here’s another great event we held in Compton in May 2013; our primary emphasis was to clean up a section of Compton Creek. Yes, that is someone who is picking up trash along the creek while wearing a large kangaroo head! She was doing this as part of a competition to win a prize that would have sent her to Australia.

    Compton Bike Fest

    And last but not least, RTC's Compton Bike Fest was held in May 2011 in order to teach kids in the area bike safety skills. It was educational and fun

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

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    Barry Bergman is the trail development manager for RTC's Western Regional Office. He periodically writes about trail policy, trail development and community revitalization.

     

  • Complete Streets: Recently Introduced Bills Could Further Active Transportation in U.S.

    A couple weeks ago, the Partnership for Active Transportation—a national coalition of transportation, health and economic development groups organized by RTC—released our federal policy platform calling for three policy innovations: greater investment in active transportation networks, innovative financing to leverage the private value of these investments, and the integration of health impacts into transportation decision-making.

    Recently, two federal bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress, which have the potential to advance specific planks of the platform and improve active transportation infrastructure. 

    They are:

    1. The New Opportunities for Bicycling and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act

    This House bill (H.R. 3978)—cosponsored by Reps. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)—would establish a pilot program to demonstrate the effectiveness of loans that leverage the private value of public investments in walking and biking projects. 

    The bill would set aside $11 million per year, or about 1 percent of an existing loan program, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), to benefit walking and biking projects costing $2 million or more. And, at least a quarter of the funds would be targeted toward low-income communities.

    TIFIA has been a very popular and cost-effective way to accelerate investment in public transportation projects costing $50 million or more, and RTC and the Partnership both understand how critical it is to make this approach work for smaller active transportation projects across the nation.

    H.R. 3978 advances this great idea, and RTC is among 25 organizations that sent a letter this week encouraging Members of Congress to support the bill.  

    However, H.R. 3978 is a pilot project. To improve active transportation networks nationally, RTC and the Partnership aim to build support for a more ambitious approach—one that enables small projects to compete for much larger pots of funds. We also seek to ensure that a loan program is structured to remove barriers to capturing the private value of active transportation investments by addressing challenges such as prohibitive application fees.       

    2. The Safe Streets Act

    Earlier this month, the Safe Streets Act of 2014 (S. 2004) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); this complete streets bill would require routine accommodation of all users when using federal dollars to complete road improvements. 

    A little history: A House counterpart to this bill was introduced last summer and currently enjoys support from both Republicans and Democrats. RTC and the Partnership platform strongly support this bill as a common sense policy to ensure that highway funds are used effectively and with sensitivity to the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and people in wheelchairs. 

    Our platforms calls for a focused investment by the government to fill in gaps in walking and biking networks—with the Safe Streets Act allowing limited, dedicated active transportation funds to be focused on trails, and sidewalk and street improvements in places not slated for road improvements that would trigger the complete streets policy.

    We will continue to monitor and advocate for these policies, and work to build support for other policy innovations put forth in the platform.  As the debate over these bills and others ripen, RTC will be sure to keep you informed of developments. 

    We’ll be posting on the RTC TrailBlog when updates arise, but in the meantime, be sure to check out the Partnership website to learn more about the platform.  

    Photo courtesy MyWheelsareTurning

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    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

     

  • Top 10 Trails in the Evergreen State

    Hey Washington, you spoke—we listened.  

    As we round out the month of February, RTC is pleased to present this list of top 10 trails that are making the Evergreen State first rate for walking, biking, skiing, hiking and the myriad outdoor activities the state is well-known for.

    We want to thank our readers and members for the overwhelming response we got when we asked for trail votes.  Here are the ones that rose to the top!


    1. John Wayne Pioneer Trail

    Crushed stone, gravel – Adams, Grant, King, Kittitas, Spokane and Whitman counties

    The John Wayne Pioneer Trail spans more than 250 miles from Rattlesnake Lake to the Washington-Idaho border north of Tekoa. Named after the group who named themselves after the famous cowboy actor—the crushed stone and gravel trail is well-known for its absolutely spectacular views, tunnels and trestles. 

     

    2. Spokane River Centennial Trail/Centennial Trail State Park

    Asphalt – Spokane County

    Running more than 37 miles from the Washington-Idaho state line to Nine Mile Falls, the Spokane River Centennial Trail boasts both metropolitan offerings (downtown Spokane's Riverfront Park) and more rural settings as it follows the Spokane River. “Centennial” refers to the trail’s initial construction period. 

     

    3. Olympic Discovery Trail

    Asphalt, crushed stone, gravel – Clallam County 

    The full route of the Olympic Discovery Trail traverses 130 miles across the Olympic Peninsula; the trail is bordered on the south by the Olympic Mountain Range and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. One of the natural wonders is a sand spit, created by tidal currents, extending six miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

     

    4. Chehalis Western Trail

    Asphalt – Thurston County

    The Chehalis Western Trail was borne from the Chehalis Western Railroad, which operated from 1926 to the mid 1980s.  The trail passes through many beautiful ecosystems, and urban and rural environments, and provides access to many amenities, including 170-plus acres of park land and Puget Sound. It is also a major link in a larger, 48-mile planned trail system.

     

    5. Foothills Trail

    Asphalt, Ballast, Dirt – King and Pierce counties

    The Foothills Trail, a 12-foot-wide, non-motorized, asphalt trail and linear park, was first started in 1982 by “Dr. Tate,” a Buckley physician and visionary.  When complete, the trail will be more than 28 miles in length, forming the backbone of a 50-mile trail from Mt. Rainier to Tacoma. Efforts by the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition have seen some 18-plus miles completed thus far!

     

    6. Burke-Gilman Trail

    Asphalt – King County

    The Burke-Gilman Trail was one of the earliest rail-trails built in the nation (1970s), helping to inspire dozens of similar projects around the country. It was named after the two original founders of the 1885 railway, Daniel Hunt-Gilman and Thomas Burke. It’s proximity to the University of Washington helps make it one of the busiest commuter trails in the country.

     

    7. Snohomish Centennial Trail

    Asphalt – Snohomish County

    The popular Snohomish Centennial Trail was started in 1989 during the state centennial. The trail is open to cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians (it's flanked by an equestrian trail) and is accessible for people of all abilities. At the Machias trail head sits a replica of the old railroad depot built in the 1890s, and the trail is well known for its public art installations.  

     

    8. Interurban Trail

    North: Asphalt – King and Snohomish counties

    South: Asphalt – King and Pierce counties

    The Interurban Trail (North) follows the old route of the Seattle-Everett Interurban railway, which connected the two cities in the early 20th century. The Interurban Trail (South) follows the historic route of the Puget Sound Electric Railway, which shuttled between Tacoma and Everett until 1928.  

     

    9. Green River Trail

    Asphalt – King County

    The Green River Trail is an entirely paved trail spanning 19.6 miles from Cecil Moses Park near Seattle’s southern boundary to North Green River Park in south Kent, near Auburn. Riders will pass through industrial lands, parks, communities and beautiful landscapes along the Green River and associated river valley. The trail also offers some great views of Mt. Rainier!

     

    10. Cedar River Trail

    Asphalt, Gravel – King County

    The 17-plus-mile Cedar River Trail follows an historic railroad route between the river and State Route 169, offering views and access to Cedar River, Lake Washington, a variety of parks, woods, downtown Renton, Maplewood Golf Course and Maple Valley. The trail is a good spot to view birds, such as Blue Herons and Bald Eagles, year-round.

    Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 courtesy TrailLink.com

    Photo 2 by Nick Bramhall

    Photo 6 by Gene Bisbee

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    Amy Kapp recently joined the RTC team as a content strategist and managing editor of Rails to Trails Magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.

  • Keep Going Strong: The Importance of Staying Active as an Older Adult

    RTC thanks Dr. Jacqueline Kerr of the University of California, San Diego's Stein Institute for Research on Aging for this great post—in honor of American Heart Month—on why older adults should stay physically active!

    The biggest principle for fitness is “Use it or lose it,” but research has shown that older adults tend to focus on positivity more than younger adults…so perhaps for this age group, it’s best to say, “Use it and keep going strong!”

    Why do older adults need to stay physically active?

    With age comes a decrease in cardiac output and lung performance, a reduction in insulin sensitivity and issues with hormone-/immune-system regulation. The good news is that physical activity can improve all these things; meaning, it is a great anecdote to aging. The greatest benefits come to those who are most frail and inactive; and, the more you do, the better. Physical activity helps (1) reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, as well as peripheral arterial circulation disturbances, and (2) lower incidence of hypertension. Furthermore, physical activity and the independence associated with being able to move around freely outdoors can improve life expectancy, sleep quality and overall quality of life.  

    How does physical activity help?

    If you are moving, you are burning calories; this means mean you will have less body fat (which benefits many of the functions in your body). Physical activity also works your cardiovascular system; the heart is a muscle that, like all other muscles, works better when it is exercised. Pumping more blood around your body means more blood to vital organs and the brain, which also helps the body function better. Physical activity can help take you away from daily worries and also provide a means to be social with others.

    The negative effects of sitting:

    Only an estimated three percent of adults in the older age groups meet the federally recommended daily physical activity guidelines; in fact, nearly 70 percent of their daily time is spent sitting.  

    Additionally, the benefits gained from physical activity can be lost due to extensive sitting; if you spend more than four hours a day sitting, you have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, are more likely to be overweight and have a higher risk of diabetes.

    Therefore, it’s important to break up prolonged periods of sitting with movement. Every half hour, try to stand up for at least two minutes.

    What can you do to be more physically active?

    1. Start slowly, and check in with a doctor.  

    2. Get the right shoes, a hat, a water bottle, etc.  

    3. Build gradually to build up strength and stamina: 5 minutes a day, to 10 minutes a day, to 20 minutes, to 30 minutes, etc.

    4. If you build physical activity into your day, it will eventually be easier to incorporate and become routine. Try to make it part of your daily life (e.g., errands). 

    5. Tell family members and friends to make you more accountable. Walk on family visits instead of sitting together.  

    6. Take the long way around when possible…no shortcuts!

    For more specific guidelines and recommendations, check out these resources: National Institute on Aging, AARP, Silver Sneakers and the America Heart Association's Walking Clubs.

    Or, if you’re looking for inspiration to get up and get moving, take a page out of their book…http://over90film.com.

    Header photo courtesy of Jon Lowenstein

    Headshot courtesy of UC San Diego

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    Dr. Kerr, Ph.D., MSc, is an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and a researcher for the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at the Qualcomm Institute. Kerr’s research focuses on measurement, intervention and environmental correlates of physical activity and sedentary behavior in older adults.

  • Three Great Winter Hikes on Washington's Former Railroads

    Hey, rail-trail fans!  As our month-long focus on all-things walking-biking-trail-related in Washington comes to a close, RTC pleased to bring you this great post by guest blogger Loren Drummond of the Washington Trails Association.  Learn about three great rail-trails where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery, history, diverse vegetation and (snowy) weather of the Evergreen State.  Happy hiking!

    The sun may be climbing higher in the sky, but Washington's high country will be buried under ice and snow for months to come. To get outside and watch for the first signs of spring, try one of the many gorgeous rail-trails running across the state; there are many perfect, low-elevation options for hikers.

    Trails Ideal for Conditioning, Family Rambles and Hiking Through History

    Rail-trails have some features that make them special. They tend to be wide and long and have a gentle grade. Many of them also retain some historical markers of their origins, which make them a great choice for history buffs. 

    Those qualities also make them perfect for hikers or trail runners who want to build the distance portion of their spring conditioning without committing to thousands of feet in elevation gain. They're just as good for casual family outings, where off-road strollers and elders' creaky knees can ramble side by side. And while these trails also make popular biking trails, there is usually plenty of room for everyone. 

    Below are three railroads-turned-trails worth checking out, along with tips for exploring rail-trails in Washington year-round. 

    Klickitat Rail Trail: Spot the First Spring Flowers

    The Klickitat Trail is a 31-mile rails-to-trails conversion in southern Washington running from Lyle to Warwick (on the Lyle-Centerville Highway) with several access points along the way. It takes you through some of Washington's drier, sunnier scenery, and portions of it parallel the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River, a favorite among kayakers. Try the section along Swale Canyon in spring, and keep your eyes peeled for stunning Ponderosa Pines and the first wildflowers of the season in early March. 

    Hike the Swale Canyon section of the Klickitat Rail Trail.

    Cedar River Trail: A Bus-Accessible Trail in Seattle’s Backyard

    No amount of drizzle can spoil a winter or spring stroll along this bus-accessible trail just outside of Seattle, which has multiple access points along its 12.3-mile length. This former railroad is great for kids, dogs on a leash or a long run. Easily accessible, it's a great trail to return to throughout the year to watch the seasons change. The start of the salmon run makes the trail extra special in October. 

    Hike the Cedar River Trail.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail: Crossing the Cascades

    The 110-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail crosses a variety of Washington's diverse ecosystems as it winds from its western trail head outside of North Bend, up through lush, green forests to Snoqualmie Pass, and then back down into the dry, open shrub steppe east of Ellensburg. In summer, hikers can trek and camp along the entire length of the trail (with a few detours around unsafe tunnels), but in winter, the best approach is tackling a few of the lower elevations on either end or snowshoeing the higher sections. 

    Start at Cedar Falls outside North Bend, and head east.

    Snowshoe a section at Keechelus Lake.

    Seek out sunshine with an Ellensburg section.

    Learn more about Iron Horse State Park.

    More resources

    Check out and hike more Washington rail-trails at wta.org

    Top photo: Klickitat Trail by Kim Brown

    Right photo: John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Iron Horse State Park by Loren Drummond

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    Loren Drummond is the digital content manager for Washington Trails Association (WTA), a nonprofit organization protecting and maintaining Washington's hiking trails and wild lands. At wta.org, she works to inspire and connect an incredible online community of volunteers, hikers and would-be hikers with Washington's wild places.

  • Washington’s Iron Horse: Under and Over the Cascades

    This tribute-to-Washington blog takes us to the Cascade Mountains and the Iron Horse State Park rail-trail.  A special thank you to Amy Brockhaus, coalition director for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, for sharing how they're fighting to preserve this Evergreen treasure.

    The John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park winds its way through the Mountains to Sound Greenway as it travels more than 100 miles, from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend, and heads east across Washington State. 

    This rail-trail follows the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific rail line. Known as the Milwaukee Road, and completed in 1909, the railway through the Cascade Range was once billed as the longest electrified railroad in the country. 

    Today, visitors can walk, bicycle, cross-country ski or ride a horse in this linear state park, enjoying the broad farmlands and ranches, rugged mountain views, unique tunnel passages and aerial views from historic railway trestles.

    Historic Route Through the Cascades

    During the construction of the railroad, builders had to contend with steep slopes, rock outcroppings and severe winter weather when designing a route over Snoqualmie Pass—the largest of the east-west mountain routes across the state—leaving a legacy of tunnels, trestles and snow sheds. While these historic structures create a wonderfully unique trail experience, their maintenance presents a challenge.

    Tunnels in Disrepair, Leaving Critical Missing Link

    In 2009, Washington State Parks conducted a safety review of falling-debris hazards in five tunnels along the Iron Horse. As a result, all five tunnels between Snoqualmie Pass and the city of Ellensburg were closed to the public. In 2011, after significant repair work, the popular 2.3-mile Snoqualmie Tunnel—one of the longest rail-trail tunnels in the nation—reopened at Snoqualmie Pass to public celebration. This created a resurgence of bicyclists in the area, who again can use the trail for recreation and travel through the Cascades. And then in 2013, State Parks repaired tunnels #48 and #49 near Easton.

    However, tunnels #46 and #47 just west of Thorp still require significant repair, with the threat of long-term closure of a 15-mile stretch of trail between Thorp and South Cle Elum. This section of trail runs through the spectacular Yakima River Canyon and sweeping desert grasslands of Central Washington. 

    A gap in the trail is a significant loss for people seeking recreation in Upper Kittitas County, and has a negative impact on the nearby communities and businesses that rely on tourism. State Parks has planned additional campsites east of Cle Elum to accommodate heavy recreation use, signifying the importance of improving the trail and solidifying its role as a major recreation asset in the area.

    To preserve the cross-state trail in Iron Horse State Park, Mountains to Sound Greenway is advocating for a Washington State investment to repair and reopen the two historic tunnels—thereby preserving a magnificent recreation legacy for the future. 

    Learn more about the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

    Photos courtesy of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

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    Amy Brockhaus is the coalition director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the nonprofit organization that brings together a broad coalition of interest groups to preserve and enhance the landscape connecting Seattle and central Washington State. The Greenway conserves a shared heritage of natural lands, watersheds and thriving communities, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature.  

  • Cycling the Miles Away from My Heart: A Man’s Journey to Better Health

    “My senses overdose on a bike ride on a trail draped in yellows, golds and reds with the sounds and aroma of leaves crunching under my tires.” – Tom Bilcze

    For some, trails truly are lifesavers. Just ask Akron resident Tom Bilcze, whose health, habits and life outlook have changed three-fold since discovering Ohio's trail system. Special shout out to Bilcze for sharing his story with us in honor of American Heart Month.

    Eight years ago, I found myself in a dire situation—heading home from 17 days of hospitalization after suffering a heart attack and undergoing triple coronary bypass surgery. My cardiologist and primary care physician sounded alarms that I would find myself back in the emergency room if I continued my sedentary habits and did not address my almost 300-pound weight. 

    In the following years, my health modestly improved. I underwent weight-loss surgery, and exercise became an important part of my daily routine. I also found myself on a bike trail for the first time in my life. That ride was life changing. 

    I returned numerous times in the following weeks and months. Fellow cyclists told me about other local rail-trails and about TrailLink.com. My free time was eventually consumed cycling these trails. By late 2009, I was exploring rail-trails throughout Ohio with fellow weight-loss surgery patients. We formed a casual trail-cycling bike club, Spin-off Cyclists, to encourage others to live a fun, healthy, active life. Today, the club numbers nearly 500 members.

    Cycling has been good to my heart and body. My cardiologist tells me that I have reduced the chance of a cardiac episode reoccurrence from 60 percent to 2 percent. My primary care physician praises me during office visits for my much-improved health. I am a much happier person; I have surrounded myself with active, happy people who love the outdoors.

    My bike and rail-trails are key players in my journey to a healthier life. I marvel at the educational, social and health benefits created by multi-use trails, and I advocate for cycling and the development of recreational trails in my community. I have become an avid hiker, runner and snowshoer, and I hope to finish my first half marathon this fall!

    American Heart Month is a special time for me. I celebrate being alive and being able to share my story. Today’s story is much more uplifting than the story I would have told in the autumn of 2005. My happiness is the result of maintaining a healthy diet, living an active life, monitoring my health and caring for my overall wellness. You can read more about my personal journey and my thoughts on how to live a healthier life on my blog, Beariatric.com

    Be kind to your heart. Explore your local rail trails. Take a hike. Ride a bike. And better yet, share your time in the outdoors with your friends and family!

    Photos courtesy of Tom Bilcze

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    Tom Bilcze is the lead database designer for Westfield Group, a financial services company, and the organizer of the Spin-off Cyclists Bicycle Club in Akron, Ohio. He advocates for cycling as a means to achieve better health and wellness.

  • Question of the Month :: Which trails are the Top 10 Trails in Washington State?

    The Evergreen State has some amazing trails, and we want to hear which beautiful pathways you think should be on our list of the Top 10 Trails in Washington State.

    Chime in below and let us know your favorites. Feel free to name more than one or two! You can reply to the below facebook or twitter posts, reply in the comments at the bottom of this page, or send your input to amy@railstotrails.org

    Don't be shy, give us your best — and happy trails!

     

  • In Washington: How Nostalgia—and Lots of Passion—Made a Town More Bikeable

    In this post, as RTC continues our month-long focus on Washington State, we are pleased to explore a local community's transformation into a more walkable and bikeable place, and the nostalgic passion of one local champion who put the gears in motion.

    Ask Maureen Hoffmann what ultimately inspired her to start WABI Burien (Walk/Bike Burien)—a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting walking and biking in the Puget Sound community—and she’ll reply with an answer that is somewhat unexpected, but perfect in its simplicity: Italy.

    “I had just moved back from living in Italy and had loved getting around by foot, bike and train while there,” says Hoffmann. “I didn’t have a car.”

    Unfortunately, upon Hoffmann’s return to the States, she noticed how less walk-bike-friendly her own beloved hometown of Burien was. It inspired her to take action. 

    In 2011, she launched monthly Walk-n-Talks to encourage active living, initiate conversation and nurture an idea of the Town Square as the “living room” of Burien. “I just printed some cards and dropped them off at local restaurants, and sent a notice to a local blog. And people just showed up,” states Hoffmann.

    And, it was also around this time that Hoffmann and others began to take note of a particular challenge for bicyclists: the lack of available places for individuals to lock up their bikes, both in public rights-of-way and commercial centers.

    “We started gathering together and having conversations,” says Hoffmann. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make it happen? How do we get more bike racks in town?’”

    And thus, what began as a simple idea became a formal call to action.

    They organized. They picked board members and registered as a 501(c)(3) with Washington State and the federal government. They reached out to others. And then—by way of Michael Lafreniere, director of Burien Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services—they got wind of grant monies available from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board. Due in a week.

    “We found out on a Friday, and the grant proposal was due the following Thursday,” Hoffmann adds, with a good-natured laugh. She and WABI Burien Vice President Brooks Stanfield “hunkered down,” and low-and-behold, they hit pay dirt in September 2012 in the form of a $10,000 grant to install bike racks—41 in total—around town. The money was awarded to the City of Burien, with the project to be managed by WABI Burien in partnership with the parks and recreation department.

    The objectives of the project: to promote more bike use and sustainable transportation and to encourage support of local businesses.

    Hoffmann, who is a graphic designer by profession, created a custom-design for the bike racks (photographed above) meant to visually enhance local space while offering utility for cyclists. Additionally, WABI Burien launched a bike-rack sponsorship program (with visibility in the form of a five-year custom logo plaque) that, in three days, saw all 41 bike racks claimed, raising $7,800 for additional bike and pedestrian projects and activities.

    By June 2013, the project partners had successfully installed 23 bike racks in strategically chosen public areas. And while Hoffmann notes some challenges in communicating with owners of local shopping centers in order to install the last 18 bike racks—“Some of the owners are out-of-state, and installing a bike rack in Burien is the last thing on their minds!” states Hoffmann—assistance from Burien’s Economic Development Director, Dan Trimble, in connecting with the owners is proving fruitful.  

    “They’re calling him back!” she affirms, triumphantly.

    Of course, the local community response to the bike racks has been extremely positive. Hoffmann cites an example—again, with perfect simplicity.

    “I was taking a picture of one of our bike racks in use at a coffee shop, and I went inside and noticed there were three people watching me with interest—one of them the cyclist. I stopped to talk to him, and he [later] sent me the most wonderful e-mail. He and his wife recently moved to a block of condos in Burien's Town Square. He told me they now feel comfortable to ride their bikes around town to do shopping because they have a safe place to lock their bikes up. It’s exactly what our objectives were!”

    Top photo: WABI Burien Board Members - (left to right) Brooks Stanfield, Janet Shull, Tim Kniffin, Sue Blazak, Jimmy Schulz and Maureen Hoffmann

    Photos courtesy of WABI Burien and Patti Means Project Solutions

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    Amy Kapp recently joined the RTC team as a content strategist and managing editor of Rails to Trails Magazine. Kapp frequently publishes articles and blog posts about topics related to parks and trails, the outdoors and community development.

  • D.C. Fitness Expert Gets Kids Fit Through Fun

    Chickaro Martin is pretty great. The certified physical trainer and founder of Project Fitness has taken a special interest in helping younger Americans improve their fitness through unique initiatives like Martin’s Instant Recess. 

    Chickaro and RTC recently teamed up to work with students at D.C. Prep School on ways they can incorporate the Metropolitan Branch Trail—which runs right by their playground—into their play time and daily routines.

    As part of RTC’s month-long focus on American Heart Month this February, we caught up with Martin to talk more about kids, exercise and the importance of trails. 

    Describe your work involving kids and physical activity.

    Working with young people through fitness is inspiring and humbling at the same time. Most kids pick up concepts, love to change things up and have fun. And since fitness is intended to be fun, kids are naturals when it comes to that…so I find that we both learn from the physical activity. It’s awesome to provide some structure to their natural fun, adding in workouts and progressive activities that improve their motor skills and coordination. 

    What response do you see from kids when they’re doing exercises and games with you?

    I see their enjoyment in accomplishing small tasks that lead to more advance movements and exercises they didn’t think they could do. With each step, I see their confidence grow, and they show it by asking more questions and being less reluctant to speak. 

    What sort of groups are looking for someone like you to help young people be active?

    Schools and after-school programs are often looking for new and innovative ways to engage and inspire young people to become more active—in ways that are sustainable and practical.

    Do you think that most kids get enough physical activity in their day?

    Some organizations are working hard toward making sure kids are participating in physical activity. While steps have been made, long-term, sustainable programs or outcomes have not been established. 

    What are some simple and easy everyday tips you could offer for parents and kids to help them be more active, fitter and healthier?

    I would focus on the three core activities for total fitness—Cardio, Flexibility and Strength—each day. I would then identify two to three exercises that best embody each activity, and make them an everyday habit. I would practice at least 1 a day for 5 to 10 minutes, or combine them into a circuit as required.   

    What role do trails have in encouraging physical activity in young students?

    Trails are both an outlet and a cost effective piece of infrastructure for youth to play and move about. Trails provide free space to play or engage in creative fun time. Additionally, they represent an alternative method to engage in otherwise traditional physical activity.   

    Learn more about Chickaro’s work and Project Fitness at www.p-fit.com.

    Photos courtesy of Chickaro Martin

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    Elissa Southward is RTC's healthy communities manager. Southward recently earned a Ph.D. in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol in England.

  • Cross-Sector Coalition Calls for Investment in America’s Active Transportation Networks

    Burgeoning demand for trails and other safe places to walk and roll—driven by a generational shift in preferences and broad desire to make communities more vital and healthy—is providing fuel for innovative partnerships and a new look at transportation policy priorities. 

    On Feb. 11, 2014, during a morning presentation on Capitol Hill, the Partnership for Active Transportation launched Safe Routes to Everywhere, a federal policy platform calling for cost-effective investments in active transportation networks to meet the changing mobility patterns and needs of today’s America. The Partnership is a dynamic cross-sector coalition convened by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that unites leading groups addressing transportation, public health and community development.

    Received before a packed room by Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, and the committee’s ranking member, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the platform seeks to fill gaps in trail and active transportation systems so all people can safely and conveniently connect to transit, jobs, schools, services, shops and other key destinations.

    Three policy innovations are emphasized in the platform: 1) increased federal investment dedicated to safe active transportation networks; 2) innovative financing to leverage the private value of infrastructure to stretch limited public dollars and accelerate projects, and 3) the integration of health concerns into transportation decisions, and active transportation opportunities into health policies.

    A very simple yet key message of the Feb. 11 event was: Americans both want and need to walk and bike more. “People are going everywhere…in far more diverse ways than ever before,” said Norton. “Transportation means to get there any way you can, and biking and walking are simply the way Americans are doing it.” 

    In his comments, Petri touched on the bang for buck that comes with investing in active transportation assets as well as their importance to American wellness. 

    Christopher Coes of LOCUS is a partner who represents real estate developers who see profit in smart growth, such as making neighborhoods more walkable. Coes says that a few key policy changes would leverage the private value of walking and biking projects to significantly improve America’s outdated transportation system. It’s a message that is gaining traction. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx all made public statements in recent weeks calling for the federal government to foster creative financing and help communities leverage public investments with private money.

    Active transportation is extremely cost effective in that it is the cheapest form of infrastructure to provide and the most affordable to use. It spurs economic vitality—providing more jobs per dollar than the building of highways—and offers unrivaled health, safety and environmental benefits. Furthermore, active transportation helps us to get the most from our investments in transit by providing safe and practical access to buses and trains.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin put it best during his closing comments at the platform launch, stating, “Some say we can’t afford to make these small investments in walking and biking. We submit that we can’t afford to not make these investments.”

    His words resonated with attendees. But, as Norton (last photo) pointed out, now comes the part where those who want safe active transportation choices must get their message heard. “Nothing happens unless people gather and make Congress understand what’s important to them,” said Norton.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the Partnership for Active Transportation intend to do just that.

    Top photo courtesy Dr. Ted Eytan

    Photo of Rep. Norton by Eric Kruszewski © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

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    Kevin Mills is RTC’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Trail Development, and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation

  • Top 7 Reasons Happy Hearts = Healthy Hearts

    This month, in recognition of American Heart Month, we at RTC are dedicated to focusing on all things heart health. That being said, RTC encourages you to get out on the trails as much as possible! Walking and cycling are such great forms of exercise, and both are incredibly beneficial to overall health.

    In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we'd like to take the opportunity to focus on emotional heart health, which recently has been proven and recognized as having a profound impact on physical heart health in a number of different ways…for example, did you know…?

    1. Spending some quality time with loved ones lowers your blood pressure. 

    In recent research studies, people who spent time with their romantic partners experienced a greater dip in blood pressure than those who hung out with a stranger. The blood pressure drop was correlated with the sweet silence (less talking and more “perceived emotional support”), the kind you get from someone who knows you really well: a friend, a family member, or as already stated, a romantic partner.

    2. Being around your romantic partner strengthens your heart muscle.  

    When you lock eyes with the person who makes your heart race, whether it’s a new crush or the love of your life, your brain releases hormones such as dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, which make your heart beat faster and stronger.  

    3. Hugging your loved ones can lower your blood pressure.

    When you hug someone you love (spouse, friends, family), your body releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, which has the power to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Kissing has a number of good health benefits, too!

    4. Laughter really is the best medicine. 

    While stress has been shown to narrow blood vessels, restricting blood flow and leading to atherosclerosis, laughter has the opposite effect. Furthermore, the magnitude of change in blood-vessel lining after laughing was similar to the benefit seen with aerobic exercise or statin use.

    5. Expressing your feelings of love in writing can be good for your arteries.

    Writing about affection for loved ones (friends, relatives or romantic partners) has been shown to decrease total cholesterol levels.

    6. Having a positive outlook on life can protect against cardiovascular disease. 

    Whether it’s feelings of joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm or just plain contentment—all of which may stem from having people you love in your life—individuals with a higher positive outlook had lower risk for cardiovascular disease, were less likely to smoke, had lower levels of total cholesterol and had lower levels of hostility and anxiousness.

    7. Holding hands with someone you love has been shown to have a calming effect on the body, reducing stress and anxiety.

    The effect is stronger for loved ones, but research has shown that even a stranger’s touch can provided comfort. High stress and anxiety are linked to high blood pressure, increased heart rate and other factors that can contribute to heart disease, such as weight gain. 

    So…on this Valentine’s Day, get together with your loved ones (e.g., romantic partners, family, friends and pets), maybe for a nice walk or bike ride out on your local trail, and celebrate having a happy and healthy heart!

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    Elissa Southward is RTC's healthy communities manager. Southward recently earned a Ph.D. in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Bristol in England.

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