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RTC TrailBlog

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in White County, Indiana

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about Feb. 4, 2014, CSX Transportation filed for the abandonment of 9.67 miles of track between Monon and Monticello in White County, Ind. 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. 712x). 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 March 6, 2014. 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 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 website, including the complete filing for this corridor. More information on the rail corridor, including a map, can be found in this filing, or view a clearer map of the approximate route here.

    The STB has imposed a $250 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 website 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 website. 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 Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • Remain Active in the Golden Years

    Active aging is essential to healthy aging, according to the CDC. But, as this blog tells us, ensuring seniors have access to opportunities for physical activity is, and must be, a community-wide effort.

    Special thanks to guest blogger Louise McGrody of Washington Bikes for this great re-post (originally published on Jan. 27), which we're pleased to bring you in honor of both American Heart Month and our ode to Washington State this February.  Enjoy!

    On Christmas Day, my partner Steve and I assembled an adult tricycle for his 88-year-old father.

    “I’ve come full circle,” mused Steve. “Forty-five years ago, my dad would have been putting a bike together for me. Now I’m assembling one for him.”

    Steve’s dad has always been an active man, and he shared his love of outdoor pursuits with his children. He taught his kids to hike, bike and ski. He himself skied until he was 70, hiked into his early 80s and gave up his bike only a couple of years ago when he felt balancing became an issue.

    Concerned that their dad’s lifestyle was becoming too sedentary, Steve and his siblings bought him a trike to ride around his neighborhood in Yuma, Ariz., for recreation and short errands. And riding it he is! The flat, low-traffic neighborhood streets offer him a comfortable place to ride his trike.

    The National Institutes of Health tells us that seniors benefit from remaining physically active. Moderate levels of activity can improve the health of people who are frail and can prevent or delay diseases associated with aging. Exercise and physical activity can help older Americans increase their stamina and muscle strength, improve their balance and flexibility, and help maintain their independence.

    According to U.S. Census data, the number of Americans 65 and older increased by 15 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 40,267,984. In Washington State, the 2010 census shows 827,677 senior residents, or 12.3 percent of our total population. We can expect that number to grow in coming years as more baby boomers reach the golden years. As more of us live longer, an increasing number of us can expect to live beyond our ability to drive safely. Biking and walking can help older Americans remain active, mobile and independent in their communities.

    Safety on our streets is a major concern for older Americans, according to a 2009 AARP report titled “Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America”:

    In a poll conducted for this study, 40 percent of adults aged 50 and older reported inadequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods. More sobering, 50 percent reported they cannot cross main roads close to their home safely. Half of those who reported such problems said they would walk, bike or take the bus more if these problems were fixed. These concerns are borne out by statistics showing older adults are more likely to be victims in both motor-vehicle and pedestrian fatalities.

    If we make our streets safer for the most vulnerable users, children and their grandparents, then we make our streets and neighborhoods safer for everyone. Many communities, including places in Washington, have established Safe Routes to School programs, and Washington Bikes is a leader in this effort. We also worked hard to pass the Neighborhood Safe Streets bill so communities could have another tool available to them to make local streets friendlier to people.

    Some U.S. communities, like New York City, Chicago and Santa Barbara, have launched Safe Routes for Seniors programs. These initiatives work to improve pedestrian safety for older Americans and encourage them to maintain active lifestyles.

    In 2012, with guidance from the World Health Organization, AARP introduced its Network of Age-Friendly Communities. This program encourages states, local cities and towns to prepare for the needs of an aging population by focusing attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older Americans. AARP provides a toolkit that gives participating communities a framework for creating and implementing an action plan that addresses local needs and circumstances. Twenty-one communities have signed on so far, including the city of Portland. There is no Washington community on the list yet.

    The next time you are out and about on your neighborhood streets, imagine how it might feel to an elderly person to make his/her way on foot or by bike. Do crosswalk signals allow enough time for a slow-moving person to safely make it through the intersection? Are sidewalks and paths wide enough (and smooth enough) for someone using a walker or wheelchair? Are curb ramps present at intersections? Are street signs and other directional signs easy to spot and read? If the answers are no, then it’s time to ask your city officials to complete your streets for older citizens.

    This article was originally published on Jan. 27, 2014, on the Washington Bikes Blog.

    ..................................................................

    Louise McGrody is the outreach and communications manager for Washington Bikes. Her community engagement efforts have mobilized citizens to take action in support of bicycling and sparked the formation of local groups like Friends of Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle and Fish Lake Trail Action Group in Spokane. Passionate about the outdoors, McGrody is happiest when exploring the world by bike, skis or hiking boots.

     

  • Tomorrow Is National Wear Red Day

    According to the American Heart Association, "Heart disease has been called the Silent Killer because it often has no noticeable symptoms. It's more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. And it’s not just 'an old man’s disease.'" In fact, heart disease is the no. 1 killer of women.  

    As American Heart Month continues this February, RTC wanted to let you know about National Wear Red Day®, which takes place tomorrow, Feb. 7, 2014. On this special day (always the first Friday each February), both the American Heart Association and President Barack Obama are encouraging everyone to wear red to raise awareness of the fight against female heart disease. 

    "Michelle and I encourage Americans to wear red in solidarity with those struggling with heart disease and in acknowledgement of the hardworking health care professionals who provide life-saving treatment, research, and advice. As we honor their contributions, let us take ownership of our heart health and commit to positive lifestyles, this month and throughout the year," said the President. Read the full proclamation here.

    In solidarity, RTC urges you to get on a trail tomorrow and get your red on to show your support.  

    And, don't stop there.  Here is a list of 10 ways you can "Go Red" this February and year-round!

    Happy Heart Month!

    ..................................................................

    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.

  • Vintage Washington: Historical Map Gives Glimpse of Modern-Day Trails

    Here’s one for all you rail-trail nuts.

    RTC was extremely intrigued by this Jan. 30 article by Gene Bisbee, avid cyclist and author of the prolific bike-touring-advocacy-racing-recreation-focused Biking Bis blog. If you’re curious, Bisbee’s wife nicknamed him “Biking Bis” years ago because, as Bisbee maintains, he always seems “to be itching for a bike ride.” 

    In his recent posting, “Vintage Washington map shows today’s rails-to-trails network,” Bisbee talks about the circa 1928 resource (first created by the Washington Department of Public Works and recently republished online by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust), which foreshadows the state’s extensive rail-trail network.

    Bisbee writes:

    "Consider that the first white settlers arrived in the Seattle area only 76 years before this map was created. Washington state was just admitted to the Union in 1889. The main way to ship goods in those days was by railroad or boat. Heck, in 1928 the first motorcar route over the Cascades had only been open for about a dozen years.

    "The railroads become clear, as does the fact that many survive today as rail-to-trail conversions. Essentially, the person who made this map in 1928 also made a blueprint for a bike-trail network launched 50 years later."

    Click here to read the full story and view the map in its entirety.

    ..................................................................

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

  • The Effects of Disparities and Walkability on Health: A Closer Look at Washington, D.C.

    In the past decade, much research has been published about the affects of socioeconomic imbalances on health and wellness. In observance of American Heart Month, RTC is pleased to present this post by Dr. Ted Eytan, which discusses a factor that health professionals attribute as being particularly relevant to the short- and long-term health of communities: walkability.

    By using the rigorous methodology laid out in this 2007 survey study, Washington, D.C., is the most walkable city in the U.S.  

    According to the report: 

    Washington, D.C., could be the “National Model of Walkable Urban Growth.” The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has the most regional-serving walkable urban places per capita in the country, having 1 for every 264,000 people, and 1 of each of the 5 types of walkable urban places.

    However, the researcher, Christopher B. Leinberger, also produced this report in May 2012, which looks at deeper attributes of walkability, including the use of a 162-item audit tool, to assess “objective data on built environment characteristics hypothesized to be related to physical activity.” 

    They stratified walkability into five levels (5 = highest) and then looked at economic characteristics of these areas. The results confirm what was emphasized in the “Weight of the Nation” series, which is that lack of money is not the only problem that poor people have when it comes to their health. It’s the lack of walkability that results in poorer health outcomes. This report found that—

    • Walkable neighborhoods are more expensive to live in, which makes it harder for people with less money to move into them.
    • Walkable neighborhoods have much better access to jobs and recreational opportunities, and lower transportation costs (15 to 21 percent more jobs within 90 minutes and 340 to 360 percent more parks).
    • Walkable neighborhoods perform better economically, have higher housing values and have higher retail sales.
    • Walkable neighborhoods are not as capital intensive to improve as non-walkable ones.

    The study authors didn’t look at health outcomes, but I can tell pretty quickly from this map that the non-walkable areas of Washington, D.C., are the ones with an obesity rate of 42 percent—higher than that of Mississippi, the state with the highest rate in the U.S.—and the walkable areas shown have the lowest obesity rates, in the 13 percent range.

    It appears that we’ve arrived at a place where not having the ability to walk has far reaching associations with economic and physical health. 

    The authors make a good case for the consideration of “walkable placemaking” in the creation of policy and urban planning. 

    The scoring methodology provides a basis for understanding gaps that can be measured and closed for people who are disproportionately affected by an environment that conspires to reduce their individual effectiveness in being healthy and productive. 

    The health system is very much affected too; I can imagine that the hard work of doctors, nurses and health care organizations becomes less effective because of unsupportive community conditions.

    Data like this should hopefully stimulate all community stakeholders to understand the problem and work to reduce its unequal impact across the population. 

    ..................................................................

    Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH, is director of Kaiser Permanente's Permanente Federation, LLC, and is a member of the Partnership for Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Dr. Eytan's specialty includes working with large medical groups and technologists to leverage health information technology that ensures families can play an active role in their own healthcare.

  • Notice: Upcoming Railroad Abandonment in Racine County, Wisconsin

    RECEIVE RAILROAD ABANDONMENT NOTICES FOR YOUR STATE VIA E-MAIL

    On or about Jan. 28, 2014, Soo Line Railroad Company filed for the abandonment of 10.63 miles of track between Sturtevant and Kansasville in Racine County, Wis. The corridor represents a significant gap between the existing White River State Trail and Racine-Sturtevant Trail. 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-57 (sub-no. 61x). 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 Feb. 27, 2014. 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 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 website, 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 $250 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 website 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 Eric Oberg at eric@railstotrails.org.

  • Healthy Young Hearts: the Beating Pulse of RTC's Mission

    Everyone that works at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is passionate about our mission, which includes the statement "Building Healthier Places for Healthier People."

    This, of course, has special relevance to our children.

    We are inspired by the challenge of helping future generations reverse the trend toward inactivity and obesity that health experts say is the most pressing public health crisis since the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    It's why we work on Safe Routes to School (SRTS) projects and help local groups provide trails and safe pathways that allow students to ride or walk to and from school. It's why we've put a lot of time and resources into developing "Earn-a-Bike" programs, particularly in low-income and under-served neighborhoods. These programs allow children the chance to learn life-long skills in bike maintenance and safe riding, as well as equip them with their own bike and helmet to get them moving toward a healthier lifestyle.

    RTC staff work tirelessly around the country on projects that open up opportunities for children and their families to get outside, get active and ultimately be together. We believe that trails are one of those special places where families can not only spend quality time together, which is so important, but also allow for that special time to be spent making every family member healthier through movement.

    What better gift can we leave our children than an appreciation for being together, being healthy and being active? As an RTC staff member, I am proud to be a part of the movement to create places that make this possible.

    ..................................................................

    Trail Development Manager Eric Oberg works out of RTC's Midwest office. He periodically blogs on topics related to trail building, economic development and community trail events in the Midwest. 

     

  • Ten Great Things Happening in Washington State

    It’s impossible to hit even 1 percent of the things that make Washington a mecca for self-propelled transport and trail development. The state is a long-recognized national leader in these areas, harnessing federal funds, and promoting and enacting policies that have led to some of the most walkable and bikeable communities in the country. In 2013, Washington was named the most bicycle-friendly state in the U.S. for the sixth year in a row by the League of American Bicyclists. And, Washington continues its commitment to smart growth, demonstrated in part by its 20-year plan to enact strategies addressing $1.6-billion-worth of bicycling and pedestrian improvements.

    There’s no denying that Washington is a place where nature, development and active transport are one with each other (for real; see bike-in-tree story by Discover Washington State)—but we’ll let the evidence “speak” for itself.

    Kicking off our month, here’s a list of 10 great things making the Evergreen State evergreener.

     

    1. Bridging the Gaps from Mountains to Sound

    For more than 30 years, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has served as a place for outdoor experience, recreation, education, agriculture, development and opportunity in the 1.5-million-acre area spanning from Seattle and across the Cascade Mountains into Central Washington. Such an iconic place deserves attention, and so it was music to our ears to hear that the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust is leading the creation of a 3.6-mile trail connection near the I-90/I-405 interchange from Factoria Boulevard to the eastern end of Bellevue. This will be a vital regional trail link providing a safe, active transportation option for families in this very urbanized area. Photo courtesy Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust Facebook page


    2. Get On the “Schoolbike”

    Here’s what fifth-grader Clara had to say to Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle: “We all live in a community, and it is up to us to take care of it. Biking to school makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the earth. If you bike to school one time, it makes you want to do it again and again.” It’s kids like Clara, a year-round bike commuter, that have inspired the club in partnership with Washington Bikes to promote the creation of more bike-to-school programs in the state. On Feb. 8, the partners are holding a workshop for educators, community leaders and the like who wish to start their own programs and promote a bike-friendly culture in schools. And the best part: it’s free!

    Fun fact: The Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation runs bike-to-school programs that impact 3,500 kids annually.

     

    3. Speaking of Washington Bikes…

    This statewide bicycle advocacy organization—which aims to “cultivate the growth of bicycling”—has helped ensure the passage of a majority of bike legislation adopted in Washington for the past 25 years. This past year, their impressive wins included the signing of the Neighborhood Safe Streets Bill into law by Governor Jay Inslee and the restoration of the Safe Routes to School Grant Program to its pre-2012 level, resulting in $18.45 million in investments between 2013 and 2015. (This is the highest rate of investment in Washington State history.)

    And one win that’s really cool: In Senate Bill (SB) 5263, Concerning motorcycles overtaking and passing pedestrians and bicyclists, an amendment facilitated by Washington Bikes and Cascade Bicycle Club added a three-foot passing distance requirement for motorcycles overtaking cyclists and pedestrians in the travel lane. Safe routes for all.

     

    4. Badger Mountain’s Friends – Part 1

    We were pleased to hear from Fun, Fit and Over Fifty Club President Dennis Trimble. His Richland-based group is dedicated to bringing adults aged 50 and over together for all things active + outdoors, in order to promote “physical, intellectual and social health.” They are particularly fond of the 5.5-mile trail system at the 574-acre Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve; many club excursions take place in this beautiful scenic escape, and the club is also serving as a sponsor for the Badger Mountain Challenge ultramarathon 15K this spring. It’s news like this that proves active lifestyles and active transportation are truly lifelong pursuits. Photo courtesy Fun, Fit and Over Fifty Club Website

    A shout out to Trimble for bringing this next set of business to our attention…


    5. Badger Mountain’s Friends – Part 2

    There are some exciting developments taking place with regard to the aforementioned trail system. According to Friends of Badger Trailmaster Jim Langdon, “There are plans in play to connect a trail from Claybill Park in Richland to the Yakama River near Benton City—a length of around 20 miles.” Major, right? Especially when he adds that the end result will be a trail system that connects Badger Mountain with the ridges of Candy and Red mountains.

    Congratulations to Langdon, who was recently honored with a 2013 Conservationist of the Year award by the Benton Conservation District for his work related to creating and maintaining the Badger Mountain trail system. 

     

    6. Bike Swapping in Spokane and the Centennial Trail

    Now in its third year, the two-day Spokane Bike Swap and Expo (April 12-13, 2014) brings together a couple thousand people, 40-some vendors and hundreds of used bikes registered for sale. What’s even more inspiring: The funds raised are donated to Friends of the Centennial Trail, a group dedicated to maintaining and developing the 20-year old and as yet, unfinished, 37.5-mile Spokane River Centennial Trail, and its adjacent parkland. 

    And they're really churning it out; the friends group has just completed gap closures at the Washington-Idaho border, Veteran’s Park and Kendall Yards (providing a vital connection to downtown Spokane), and the group is actively working on eight more connections along the trail. Photo courtesy TrailLink.com


    7. Washington Trails Association Gets Top Honors x 3

    Just a few months ago, the Washington Trails Association—which mobilizes more than 3,000 volunteers annually to repair and maintain trails—was recognized by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Funding Board for three projects as part of the Recreational Trails Program. This means $150,000 green ones to help support volunteer trail teams who maintain more than 600 miles of trails in the Evergreen State. Recognition like this is imperative, we think, in a state where outdoor recreation contributes more than $11.7 billion annually to the local economy. 

    “Our state’s mountains and forests are important recreation areas. Without these grants, many trails would not reopen after winter storms and summer fires,” says Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. “The work done by the trails association and its volunteers keeps trails open for countless numbers of hikers, mountain bikers and others.”


    8. WABI-ists of Burien

    What’s in a name?  Sometimes everything.  WABI Burien is short for Walk/Bike Burien, an organization dedicated to nurturing a walk-bike culture in their 100-year-old waterfront community along the Puget Sound. We were pleased to hear about their recent bike-rack effort, which according to WABI Burien President Maureen Hoffmann was an original raison d’etre when she and other local walking/biking advocates set up as a nonprofit a few years ago. And in 2013, in partnership with the city’s parks and recreation department and with support from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board, they saw this goal fulfilled, installing 23 custom bike racks in the downtown area (with plans to install 18 more in the coming future).

    "Through the Downtown Burien Bike Rack Project, we want to encourage people to be active and healthy, to shop local and to consider alternate ways of getting around town,” Hoffmann recently told RTC. Photo courtesy WABI Burien


    9. Eastside Rail Corridor Trail Emerging in Kirkland

    We like writing about game changers, and it’s looking like the Eastside Rail Corridor trail has the potential for such a moniker. 

    Thanks to some great updates via Tom Fucoloro’s Seattle Bike Blog, we’ve learned that a group called the Eastside Trail Advocates is leading the charge for a high-quality paved trail along the corridor that could rival some of the best trails in the Seattle area.

    And we were especially pleased to find out that earlier this year, the City of Kirkland was given the go-ahead to create an interim crushed gravel trail on the portion of the corridor running through their jurisdiction. They are also in the process of developing a master plan for the trail corridor, which will likely include a paved hiking and biking trail. Check out the latest update by Fucoloro, or learn all about the project on Kirkland's website. Photo courtesy Marie Stake and Jim Eagan via Kirklandwa.gov


    10. Northgate Link Light Rail to Be “Feet Friendly”

    In 2012, the Sound Transit Board voted to allot up to $10 million for pedestrian infrastructure at the future Northgate Link Light Rail station, scheduled to open in 2021 to connect the Northgate, Roosevelt and U District neighborhoods to downtown Seattle and the airport, thanks to some serious local advocacy. We want to shout out Feet First—a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting walking, and the rights and interests of pedestrians—for leading the charge. It’s estimated that by 2032, 92 percent of 15,000 daily riders will access the station by walking, biking or bus. We can’t think of a better reason for the pedestrian-friendly design.

    But if you’re still not sold, check out this Youtube video by Feet First and the Rainier Beach Touchstones project.

     

    We know there's a lot to highlight in Washington this month, and we've just scratched the surface. So we want to hear from you! Do you know of a trail, project, local organization or citizen that deserves recognition? Tell us! Email amy@railstotrails.org, or share through our facebook, twitter or instagram feeds - #RTCWAState

  • Florida Has Spoken! – Top 10 Trails in the Sunshine State

    When we asked Floridians to name their favorite trails in the state, two things became clear:  they know their favorites, and they’re passionate about them. And who wouldn’t be, with the beautiful, flat terrain, and diverse plant life and fauna that can be seen and enjoyed every month of the year? 

    To culminate our tribute to Florida this month, we are pleased to present this list of 10 top trails in Florida, chosen straight from the users who know them best. 

    And may we add:  While some stars really “shone” through in sheer numbers of votes, we couldn’t help but notice the zeal and loyalty people had for others, making these picks no less relevant as far as we’re concerned. 


    1. Withlacoochee State Trail

    “The 46-mile Withlachoochee State Trail is so beautiful. I’ve seen gopher turtles, brown rabbits and even deer. It has a lot of shade from the hot Florida sun…[and] the mostly flat trail provides wonderful scenery. I ride every chance I get and never get disappointed.”

    46 miles – Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties

    One of the longest rail-trails in the state at 46 miles, the Withlacoochee boasts 10 trailheads, information kiosks, artwork, parks and plenty of local eating and drinking establishments as it winds through six localities.

    For history nuts, there are remnants of the trail’s early railroad days, including cement mileage and whistle markers, the Lake Henderson Trestle and a restored 1925 caboose (at the Inverness trailhead).  And for those of you curious about the name (we certainly were), “Withlacoochee” is an American Indian word meaning “crooked river”—a designation given to the body of water, now a state paddling trail, that parallels the pathway.

     

    2. Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail

    “We love the Pinellas Trail. It is long enough for a variety of rides, helps you escape the noise of Route 19 and goes through a variety of towns.”

    47 miles – Pinellas County

    The first stretch of this trail opened in 1990, and today, the Pinellas Trail is one of the busiest trails in Florida, averaging 977,241 users per year. Its first 15 miles from St. Petersburg cross dozens of pedestrian bridges, the most scenic being the 0.25-mile Cross Bayou Bridge spanning Boca Ciega Bay.

    The trail also passes through the historic downtowns of Dunedin (the Gulf of Mexico is just two blocks away), Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor, and connecting trails lead to a variety of parks as well as Honeymoon Island State Park—dubbed so in 1939 when bungalows were constructed to—yep, attract honeymooners! 

    The entire trail is accessible to wheelchair users and persons with disabilities.

     

    3. West Orange Trail

    “I bought a home on the West Orange Trail in Winter Garden specifically so I could cycle most days... There are several trails close by, [offering] a choice of semi urban or completely rural. [I] always see plenty of wildlife, which is such a bonus.”

    22 miles – Orange County

    The proximity to Orlando makes this urban + rural rail-trail very popular.  Just 15 minutes northwest of downtown, the route passes through 1950s communities that formed around the once-thriving Orange Belt Railway.  

    Killarney Station, a modernized version of an old-time train depot, anchors the southern trailhead (you’ll find bike rentals, restrooms and water there). From there, you’ll go through the quiet, wooded community of Oakland and the lively downtown of Winter Garden, before passing through miles of thin woods and occasional orange groves.  Beyond is Apopka, a fast-growing Florida community.

     

    4. Gainesville-Hawthorne State Park Trail

    “Gainesville-Hawthorne, [my] most frequented, is a little heaven on earth.”

    16.5 miles – Alachua County

    Stretching from Boulware Springs Park in Gainesville to Hawthorne, this great day-trip pathway stretches through woods, natural areas and prairie vistas to the town of Hawthorne. The trail traverses the Paynes Prairie State Preserve, a Natural National Landmark claiming 20 biological communities and 270 species of birds. Noted 18th-century artist-naturalist William Bartram dubbed it the great “Alachua Savannah.”

    Additionally, the trail connects with the Waldo Road Greenway – Depot Avenue Rail-Trail – Kermit Sigmon Bike Trail

     

    5. Legacy Trail

    “The local community is very proud of this trail and justifiably so. Highly recommended if you're looking for an active pursuit in Southwest Florida.”

    10.6 miles – Sarasota County

    This trail covers 10.6 miles of mostly undeveloped land along the former Seaboard Air Line rail corridor, which is known for having helped transport Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to its winter destination in Venice for more than 30 years. Users of this trail can enjoy a diverse collection of wildlife, parks, historical markers and scenic waterways. 

    A bypass over U.S. Route 41 allows for a direct connection with the Venetian Waterway Park Trail at the historic Venice Train Depot, forming a continuous 20-mile route between Sarasota, Osprey, Laurel, Nokomis, Venice and South Venice, and ending at Shamrock Park and Caspersen Beach Park. Passionate locals are currently leading efforts to extend the trail north to downtown Sarasota from its current end point at Culverhouse Community Garden.

     

    6. Seminole Wekiva Trail

    “I really like the laidback feel of this suburban, surprisingly scenic trail.”

    14 miles – Seminole County

    Running along the former line of the Orange Belt Railway, the Seminole Wekiva Trail offers those starting off at Altamonte Springs a rural environment, with wildlife and plenty of trees for shade in its first seven and last four miles. North of mile marker 7, the mood shifts to a suburban atmosphere with neighborhoods, shopping centers and ample places to eat, water up and relax. Just past mile marker 9, a spur trail on the right leads east to a pedestrian bridge over I-4, before joining the Cross-Seminole Trail

    The trail’s showcase attraction can be found in the middle of the route; it’s here that users can view an outdoor wall of eye-popping color portraits—including celebrities, sports figures and historical personalities—painted by local artist and carpenter Jeff Sonsken

     

    7. General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

    “The north half of the Van Fleet is about the most beautiful [trail] I've ridden in Florida…”

    29 miles – Lake, Polk and Sumter counties

    This flat, extremely straight and very picturesque pathway runs through some of Florida’s most-scenic rural landscapes. Stretching from Polk County north to the town of Mabel on SR 50, at least one-third of the trail crosses through one of the state’s most protected areas, the 322,690-acre Green Swamp, which offers an array of popular hunting (wear orange during hunting season!) and paddling destinations along the Withlacoochee (South), Hillsborough and Peace Rivers. Users might also get a glimpse of its diverse wildlife in the form of feral pigs, armadillos, buzzards, tortoises and alligators.

    The Polk City trailhead offers parking, picnic and restroom facilities, and expansive fields of clipped grass for recreation and relaxation. From Polk City, users might also head south to Auburndale along the Auburndale TECO Trail

     

    8. Cross Seminole Trail

    “[The top trail in Florida]…it’s got to be the Cross Seminole trail for me! It runs through the neighborhood here in Tuskawilla…easy access and immaculately maintained…”

    22.8 miles – Seminole County

    This trail is an important non-motorized resource in an automobile-dominated region, stretching from Orlando’s densely populated outskirts to the communities of Oviedo, Winter Springs and Lake Mary. Along the way, users might take in some fun and sun at Central Winds Park, the county’s premier public park in Winter Springs. The trail also runs through Spring Hammock Preserve, home to some of Florida’s ancient cypresses as well as a variety of community parks.

    The Cross Seminole Trail offers connections to the 14-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail and the 6-mile Cady Way Trail, and is the first in the nation to be designated as a Purple Heart Trail in honor of America’s wounded veterans.

     

    9. Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail

    “Definitely one of my favorites. The 15 miles of the trail are almost entirely under a tree canopy. Some very pretty countryside…near downtown Jacksonville.”

    14.5 miles – Duval County

    This trail—one of North Florida’s oldest—runs through a rural setting of hardwood uplands, wetlands and pine flatwoods near Jacksonville’s lively downtown area. The heavily treed pathway is a haven for flying fauna such as hawks, wood storks and belted kingfishers, among others, and a range of other wildlife.

    At the Imeson Road Trailhead, the closest trailhead to Jacksonville, users have access to restroom facilities, benches and a separate equestrian trailhead. Midway through the trail is the Camp Milton Historic Preserve rest area, once home to the largest encampment of Confederate troops during the Civil War; the site features the remains of a mile-long defensive works, a re-creation of a 19th-century homestead and bridge, an arboretum and extensive boardwalks!

     

    10. Suncoast Trail

    “Excellent long-distance workout ride. A well maintained trail with long distances between road crossings. It makes it very easy to crank away the miles with no worry about cars.”

    42 miles – Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties

    The Suncoast Trail is a popular means for fitness and nature spotting among Tampa Bay area residents, passing through a mix of suburban, agricultural and rural areas—including four public parks and a number of bodies of water—as it parallels the Suncoast Parkway.

    The trail also connects users to the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve, one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in Pasco County. This property boasts an array of pine flatwoods, cypress domes, marshes and swamps, and other wetland features. Within the preserve is the 8,000-acre Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, a popular destination for bird watching, fishing and hiking.

    All photos courtesy www.TrailLink.com

  • Get Heart Healthy This February on America's Trails

    American Heart Month—observed in February of each year—was established in 1963 to draw national attention to the ongoing fight against cardiovascular disease, one of the most serious health epidemics in our country today. Indeed, heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., responsible for one out of every four fatalities or, to illustrate it more poignantly, approximately 1,644 deaths per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    And while heart disease does not present in children, our country has long acknowledged the increasing prevalence of risk factors such as obesity and sedentary behaviors that are associated with the condition in later years. It’s scary, when you think about it.

    But, wait—there’s good news to come; I promise!

    Here at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we understand the undeniably important connection between our nation’s vast trail systems and our nation’s heart health. And it’s this connection that has inspired us to join and help lead this conversation, this February and year-round, to fight for healthier communities across America. 

    There are, in fact, very simple steps all of us can take to protect our hearts and make healthy, active living a priority. And one of the most recommended ways to improve our heart health is through—you got it—physical activity. Studies show that children who participate in 60 minutes of physical activity per day are shown to be at lower risk for cardiovascular disease as adults. And, adults who regularly engage in physical activity, particularly high-intensity activities like cycling and running, are shown to greatly reduce their risk of heart disease. 

    Our public pathways are the perfect places to get outdoors and get our heart rates going through walking, biking, running and many other convenient, self-propelled activities that get us where we need to go…and simply just get us to go. And we at RTC are dedicated to spreading this message and supporting others as they promote cardiovascular disease prevention in the U.S. 

    All through February, through our blogs and social media, RTC will focus on the unique issues and challenges faced by our fellow citizens, including women, children, the elderly and those living in underserved communities. It is our goal to increase awareness of the obstacles Americans endure with regard to their cardiovascular wellness and draw attention to the strides being made to fight and prevent heart disease across the country.

    Additionally, we want to hear from you.  Do you have a unique anecdote to share about how you are claiming a healthy heart or a healthier life?  Or, are you inspired by the incredible work your community is doing to draw awareness to this important issue?  Please tell us!

    As RTC’s new Healthy Communities Manager, it’s my pleasure to share these stories with you. May these February voices inspire you to join the conservation…and may they inspire all Americans to adopt heart-healthy lifestyles for a lifetime. 

    Happy Heart Month! 

     

    In solidarity with National Heart Month, RTC encourages you to get out on your favorite local trail. While it may be a bit chilly in some parts of the U.S. (bundle up!), just think how great you and your heart will feel afterwards.

     

  • A Bike Ride with Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis

    Last month, I had the pleasure of joining trail advocate and Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis for a Saturday bike ride along San Francisco’s historic Embarcadero port area. As we road along the waterfront, Sen. Ellis and I shared ideas as well as success stories from our respective regions in hopes that we might help each other to spur innovations in active transportation, health and community revitalization.

    Sen. Ellis has led trail development in Texas for more than a decade. His most recent bill secured $150 million in bonds to help Houston develop 135 miles of connected trails. In addition to supporting trail legislation, he makes walking and biking a regular part of his daily life. For example, when he isn’t traveling, he leads regular community bike rides with Bike Texas, an Austin-based bicycle advocacy nonprofit. The senator believes that the health benefits of active transportation have helped him stay fit and manage stress.   

    Sen. Ellis is passionate about increasing diversity in the Texas biking community. During our conversation, we discussed RTC’s Urban Pathways Initiative and the ways in which it supports active corridors and neighborhood trails in both high-density and high-diversity areas. The senator was also interested in hearing about the diverse cycling collective founded in Oakland and also hailing in Chicago, New York and Atlanta called Red Bike & Green, which engages African American cyclists. 

    “My message is simple,” states Sen. Ellis. “If you want to build more hike and bike trails, and more infrastructure for cycling in urban areas and in South Texas, then you will need to appeal to the voters who live in those communities, and many of them happen to be Hispanic and African American.” 

    Barry Bergman is RTC’s Western Trail Development Manager

  • Best Beauty Spots Along the Florida Trail

    By Sandra Friend and John Keatley

    One of the biggest surprises that new-to-Florida hikers discover is that Florida is a very scenic place. Despite our lack of mountains, a few inches of elevation change are all it takes to surround you in a completely different habitat. With the 1,400-mile ribbon of the Florida Trail stretching from Pensacola Beach to the Big Cypress National Preserve between Miami and Naples, Florida's botanical diversity puts on quite a show. Whether you prefer backpacking or day hiking, these beauty spots along our National Scenic Trail will have you walking slowly with camera in hand to capture the essence of natural Florida.

    At the Beach

    The Florida Trail is America's only National Scenic Trail to hit the beach. The shimmering emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico await for a cool dip or a sea breeze as you walk along the bright white sands of Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Fort Pickens Unit (right) (in Pensacola Beach). For spectacular views, amble the trail through UWF Dunes Preserve to see both ocean and bay at the same time. 

    On the Bluffs

    With waterfalls, springs and dense forests along its meandering route, the Florida Trail along Econfina Creek brings surprises around every corner. Following the Suwannee River (below) for more than 60 miles, the trail scrambles across rugged terrain with sandy beaches riverside. One of Metro Orlando’s best day hikes is at Little Big Econ State Forest, where the trail provides not just river views but diverse habitats.

    In the Prairie

    In the heart of the Ocala National Forest, Juniper Prairie Wilderness is a complex landscape of pine islands, prairie lowlands and desert-like scrub. cross the grasslands. The sawgrass prairies of Big Cypress accent a haunting landscape of cypress strands amid a slow-moving river of rainfall.  Experience Florida’s big sky amid Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, with five-mile views across the grasslands. The sawgrass prairies of Big Cypress accent a haunting landscape of cypress strands amid a slow-moving river of rainfall.

    - JK & Navigator, FloridaHikes.com

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Sandra Friend and John Keatley are the hikers behind FloridaHikes.com, a comprehensive resource for exploring Florida's outdoors. Authors of numerous books on hiking in Florida, including "50 Hikes in Central Florida," "Five Star Trails Orlando" and "Five Star Trails Gainesville & Ocala," they are the go-to resource for Florida Trail information with their latest guidebook, "The Florida Trail Guide."

     

    Author photo:  Kevin Mims; all other photos courtesy of Sandra Friend

  • Trails Are Engines and Bridges for Florida Communities

    As RTC begins to wrap up our month-long feature of Florida, we wanted to highlight a few of the great ways the state’s trail systems are impacting economic growth and infrastructure development in their communities.

    Orange County Trail Study Reveals Multi-Million Dollar Impact

    We were totally floored to hear about this report recently released by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, titled “Economic Impact of Orange County Trails, Florida.” 

    The incredible takeaway here is this: It was determined that three trails—the Cady Way and West Orange trails, and the Little Econ Greenway—had an estimated economic impact of $42.6 million and created 516 jobs for Orange County and downtown Winter Garden in 2010! Incredible…but not surprising!

    Bridging Tallahassee’s Greenways

    We also wanted to mention the 74,800-pound bridge that was recently put in place across the CSX railroad tracks along the Lafayette Heritage Trail—linking this trail to the J.R. Alford Greenway. The project provides a safe and vital link in the Tallahassee Greenway and Trail System! 

    FYI: The bridge is also part of an 847-foot boardwalk that will allow trail users a path directly into the surrounding tree canopy, where they can enjoy some really great views of the area and of Lake Piney Z.

    New Pinellas Trail Project Promises “Triple” Impact 

    Special thanks to Richard Valentine, secretary of Pinellas Trails, Inc., for providing an update on some developments taking place with regard to one of Florida’s most-popular trails. The Metropolitan Planning Organizations of three counties are collaborating on a Tri-County Trail Project that will connect each of the county’s trails into one big multi-use system.

    Here are more details from Valentine, who is also a volunteer for the Public Relations Advisory Action Committee in Dunedin, a city that experienced economic revitalization following the creation of the Pinellas Trail in the early 1990s:

    “The route will connect the existing Starkey Boulevard Trail in Pasco County with the existing Pinellas Trail extensions currently under construction on East Lake Road and Keystone Road in Pinellas County. The trail would ultimately provide a connection between existing trails in Pinellas and Pasco counties, and would link to Hillsborough, Hernando and Citrus counties—providing access to one continuous multi-use trail.

    “The trail system will definitely have an impact on the area in terms of the ‘quality of life’ quotient. We [Dunedin PRAAC] man a tent at the Dunedin Downtown Green Market.... I've talked to people from as far away as Massachusetts and Oregon who have come to Dunedin specifically because they heard of the trail. I've also talked to people who have recently moved to Dunedin, and invariably one of the selling points [for choosing Dunedin] has been the trail...in addition to the beaches and the quaint downtown. The existence of the trail has played a major part in Dunedin becoming a destination, and I think the same thing can happen to communities along the routes of the Tri-County system.”

    Image of Dunedin, Fla., courtesy of Friends of the Pinellas Trail.org

  • Endurance Run on Florida Rail-Trail Tests the World’s Best

    For the past six years, the Lake Butler-to-Palatka Trail has played host to the Iron Horse Endurance Race, an ultramarathon that spans 100 miles (with 100-km and 50-mile options) from Florahome to Palatka. On Feb. 15, 2014, 150 runners from the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Germany and Mexico will “toe the line” in this test of iron wills. Here’s a brief glimpse of last year’s Feb. 9 event, courtesy of Race Director Chris Rodatz:

    The weather…

    It was a picture-perfect day for a race. The temperatures were in the low-to-mid 70s during the day and in the high 40s at night. No moon; all the stars were crystal clear. There was just a wee bit of humidity during the day. But, hey, we have no hills or mountains, so there has to be an equalizer.

    The course…

    Until 2012, the races were run entirely on the rail-trail. However, due to the paving of the trail, and some deteriorating trestles, part of the race is now run through a state forest on softer forest-service roads. In 2013, Etoniah Creek State Forest made for a superior running surface.

    We had 154 runners start off at 7 a.m. This was the biggest field yet in the eight-year history of the race.

    Memorable…

    Unstoppable is what best describes 41-year-old Floridian Mike Morton on the 100 track. He finished in a time of 13 hours, 14 minutes and 31 seconds. Figure out what that is in minutes per mile! Twenty-five-year-old Allyson Weimer from Oklahoma did the women proud, breaking the female record by almost 30 minutes in a time of 17 hours and 46 seconds. 

    One of the runners asked us about pythons. Hey, with all these records being broken, consideration will have to be given to maybe importing said pythons or adding some swamp crossings this year to make it more challenging. (Only kidding!)

    Really memorable…

    No event is without its tense moments, of course. It was about 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I was dozing next to the finish line when my cell phone rang; it is a runner on the way through the forest informing me there is a forest fire next to the trail! That sent this race director’s blood pressure right through the stratosphere. Only a race director could appreciate the feeling of having to consider rerouting a course in the middle of a pitch-black forest in the early morning hours.

    Fortunately, with the swift attention of the local fire department and forest service, the fire was contained and the race continued.

    At the end of the day…

    Iron Horse is known for its family atmosphere, with its signature burgers, brats and beer, and burn barrels at night. This low-key, friendly environment is what keeps runners coming back year after year.

    Photos courtesy of Iron Horse Endurance Runs

  • Florida Game-Changers Raise Bike Awareness, Community Pride

     

    Share the Road

    As RTC continues to highlight all things Florida trail-biking-walking-hiking-outdoor- friendly this month, we couldn’t do so without mentioning the interesting history of the Share the Road campaign.

    In 1999, due to efforts led by former Florida Bicycle Association (FBA) and Bike Florida President Linda Crider and many others, Florida became the first state in the Union to create a specialty plate dedicated to bike safety.

    After getting off to an enthusiastic start in 1992 by then-FBA Vice President Michael Koenig, the idea would slide into hibernation until 1996 when Crider’s friend and another gentleman were tragically killed near Gainesville in a riding accident involving a pickup truck. But through tragedy came a call to action, and in 1999, the Share the Road license plate would be officially adopted by the State of Florida.

    In honor of the Share the Road campaign, RTC wants to take this opportunity to highlight three organizations, and the unique and impactful ways they are creating bike-safe and bike-friendly communities across the state.

    Bike Florida’s Spring Tour

    Of course, we have to mention Bike Florida, which has a twofold mission of promoting safe and responsible cycling and making a positive economic impact in local communities through events like its Spring Tour, now in its 20th year.

    “When you have 600 or 700 people in a town and you are spending $10,000 a day on food and lodging…the communities really notice you. They say ‘Wow! Please come back!’” says Ken Foster, a former bike shop owner and current spring tour ride director and Share the Road coordinator for Bike Florida.

    Foster mentions the 2012 Forgotten Coast Tour (pictured right and left)  in which the group toured areas devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. “We stopped in Wewahitchka [made famous by the film Ulee’s Gold], and we doubled the population for the day,” he states. “We put [thousands] in the pockets of the local search and rescue club and spent a few thousand that benefited the local high school’s Project Graduation program. We helped that community out, and they were really glad to see us.”

    The cyclists go back to these places after the tours are over, Foster affirms; they remember where they’ve been.

    University of Florida’s Bike Safety Program

    The University of Florida’s Florida Traffic and Bicycle Safety Education Program (FTBSEP) has been training teachers and other professionals to teach bike safety in elementary gym classes for 20 years. According to Associate Director John Egberts, the “train-the-trainers” program reaches between 200 and 300 teachers annually in Florida. Multiply that by the number of students in the average elementary classroom these days, and that’s an incredible reach.

    Check out the cool van they travel in (pictured bottom right) donated by Bike Florida. Makes a statement, don’t you think?

    Capital City Cyclists’ Kids on Bikes

    Tallahassee-based Capital City Cyclists’ Kids on Bikes program has helped foster a love of bicycling and proper riding skills in approximately 5,000 children per year through FTBSEP programming.

    “One of our goals goes beyond just the elementary education,” says President Zach Finn. “We don’t just want to put them on a bike for the four weeks of the program. We want to help them change their lifestyle.”

    To that end, through their Trips for Kids program, the 490-member nonprofit regularly connects with local groups like Boys and Girls Clubs and Boys Town North Florida—a foster-care program for at-risk youth—to organize fun and educational biking trips around Munson Hills.

    What’s really cool: In 2013, they trained 19 Boys Town kids to take part in The Ride for Hope, an event that raises funds each year for the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.

    That’s paying it forward.

     Photos courtesy of Bike Florida

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