A new bill in Congress will, if passed, enable communities
across America to connect their trails, sidewalks and bikeways to the places
that people want to go – by bike or walking – within and between communities.
But our U.S. Representatives need to hear from us to make it happen.
The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act,
co-sponsored by Reps. Jared Huffman (Calif.-2), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.-3) and
Chris Pappas (N.H.-1), will provide $500 million in direct funding annually to
help communities and regions across the country build connected
active-transportation systems to ensure people can get where they want to go
safely by foot, bike or wheelchair.
This proposal, coupled with increases in funding for
Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program, would
provide critical resources for communities to build safe, convenient and
accessible places for people to walk, bike and roll.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s top policy priority is to
create this game-changing opportunity to build a trail and active
transportation system to serve the nation.
“Our research has found that wise investments in connecting
trails, sidewalks, bikeways and other active transportation systems are
creating returns of more than $34 billion in health,
environmental and economic benefits around the country,” said Kevin Mills,
Rails-to-Trails Vice President of Policy. “And that return could even be quadrupled as
more communities have the opportunity to connect their active transportation
“People across the country want to be able to safely walk
and bike where they need to go. The Connecting America’s Active Transportation
System Act is a major leap forward because it would reshape federal
transportation law to recognize that communities nationwide need safe,
connected trail and active-transportation networks.
“Urge your representative to sign on to the Connecting
America’s Active Transportation System Act.”
How fitting that during May, National Biking Month, Rails-to-Trails
Conservancy (RTC) has just unveiled its preferred route for its visionary Great
American Rail-Trail™—or the “Great American”— a 3,700-mile biking trail that
would link Washington DC with Washington State.
The proposal underscores the organization’s long-time
commitment to creating an iconic piece of American infrastructure that connects
more than 125 existing trails and fills 90 trail gaps to create the
cross-continental recreational trail.
“Since the 1980s, RTC has understood the potential of a
trail like the Great American Rail-Trail that could connect the nation. That
vision has been a guidepost for the organization for 30 years. Now, we have the
chance to create from that vision a national treasure that unites millions of
people over thousands of miles of trail,” said Ryan Chao, president of RTC.
“This trail is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide—together—an enduring
gift to the nation that will bring joy for generations to come.”
The preferred route of the nation’s first cross-country
multiuse trail is detailed in a comprehensive report released by RTC today. The
Great American Rail-Trail Route Assessment Report outlines RTC’s recommendation
for the route, developed in close partnership with states and local trail
planners and managers.
“When defining the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail, we sought a cross-country route that would provide the highest-quality experience while delivering significant economic and social benefits to the communities it connects,” said Liz Thorstensen, vice president of trail development at RTC. “This route achieves those things and more, in large part thanks to the input, support and leadership of state agencies and local partners who have built the existing trails that will make the Great American Rail-Trail possible, and whose ongoing collaboration is vital to its completion.”
The route assessment was developed over 12 months with input
from RTC’s GIS analysis of more than 34,000 miles of multiuse trails; review of
state and local trail plans; and discussions with hundreds of local trail
partners and state agencies representing the trails along the route. The
preferred route aligns with RTC’s and its partners’ criteria that specify the
Great American be one contiguous route that is initially more than 80 percent,
and ultimately entirely, off street and separated from vehicle traffic;
comprises existing trails to the extent possible; is the most direct route
possible between Washington, D.C., and Washington State; is amenable to the state
and local jurisdictions that will host it; and will serve as a catalyst for
local economic development, including providing services for long-distance
Traveling through 12 states and the District of Columbia,
RTC and its partners have defined the Great American Rail-Trail as more than
3,700 miles, comprising more than 1,900 miles of existing trails—those trails
already developed that will help carry the route across the country—and more
than 1,700 miles of “trail gaps,”—sections of trail in need of development to
fully connect the Great American into one contiguous route.
As the nation’s first cross-country multiuse trail, the
Great American will connect people of all ages and abilities with America’s
diverse landscapes and communities. Nearly 50 million people living within 50
miles of its route will be able to call this iconic American infrastructure
their own as the trail delivers new access to the outdoors and new
opportunities for physical activity and recreation. Hundreds of communities
along the route will experience new opportunities for business development and
tourism thanks to the Great American Rail-Trail, all while contributing to the
growth of the country’s burgeoning outdoor economy—one of the largest sectors
in the United States.
“We believe the Great American Rail-Trail will be a
transformative project for the nation, as it magnifies on a grand scale the
benefits that trails have delivered to communities for decades,” said Chao.
“Whether bridging gaps within and between communities, creating safe walking
and biking access to jobs, transit, shopping and green space; or serving as
recreation for cyclists, runners and casual daily explorers, this will be
While completion of the Great American Rail-Trail is a
significant undertaking and several decades away, 52% of the path is already
complete and available for public use, with plans for RTC to work in
partnership with states and local jurisdictions and organizations to bring new
segments online year after year.
RTC and its partners view the route assessment as a
blueprint for the trail’s development that is based in the reality of existing
plans and priorities. To spur trail completion, RTC has identified initial
catalyst initiatives—projects or challenges that would most benefit from RTC’s
national breadth of resources. Through these initiatives, RTC will directly
support local and state partners, investing time, expertise and organizational
resources in specific projects that are critical to catalyzing the completion
of the Great American Rail-Trail. RTC is also enlisting the support of trail
lovers across the country to demonstrate national enthusiasm for the Great
Setting a goal to reach 1 million pledges in support of the cross-country trail, RTC is asking the public to pledge at greatamericanrailtrail.org.
“We know that it will take a significant investment of time,
resources and energy to complete the Great American Rail-Trail—but it will be
worth it. It will take the help of trail lovers and leaders to bring this
vision to life,” said Kevin Mills, RTC’s vice president of policy. “Federal,
state, local and private investment will all be needed to complete this
project. To support the ongoing advocacy necessary to secure critical public
resources, we hope everyone will be inspired to proudly pledge to show the
widespread desire that exists for this trail.”
The Great American Rail-Trail is a signature project of RTC
and the most ambitious in its portfolio of TrailNation™ projects—the
organization’s initiative to encourage the rapid replication of regional trail
networks across the country. The Great American was first envisioned at RTC in
the late 1980s, and for decades has been an underpinning of the organization’s
strategy to create a nationwide network of public trails.
Separately, New York State, which already offers a 353-mile
long Erie Canalway from Buffalo to Albany, is in the process of filling the
gaps for a bikeway that will extend the entire north-south expanse, from New
York City to the Canadian border.
To learn more about the Great American Rail-Trail and RTC and to view the preferred route, visit greatamericanrailtrail.org and follow @greatamericanrailtrail on Facebook and Instagram.
It will take public and private support to complete the
Great American Rail-Trail. To learn more about how you can support the project
and RTC’s national leadership to plan, organize and advocate for the trail,
contact Alisa Borland, vice president of development at RTC, at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.974.5126.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is the nation’s largest trails organization—with a grassroots community more than 1 million strong— dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines. Connect with RTC at railstotrails.org and @railstotrails on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
There’s still availability to join the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s 2017 Pennsylvania Sojourn, June 18-23, a six-day cycling trip exploring two dedicated trails—the legendary Great Allegheny Passage and beautiful Montour Trail – a total of some 150 miles of biking.
The organization’s main fund-raiser of the year, you get to experience Pennsylvania’s famous scenic wilderness, charming towns, beautiful tunnels, iconic sites and can’t-miss destinations.
The fully supported rail-trail adventure vacation, operated by Wilderness Voyageurs, offers great food (breakfast and dinner), hot showers, flexible scheduling (you ride at your own pace), fun evening activities, optional trips and experiences—and the added benefit of supporting America’s trails.
The trip is June 18-23, and costs $720/adult, $620/child. You have the option of bringing your own tent, renting tent service through Comfy Campers (extremely handy), or booking nearby bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
The tour highlights include optional climbs to the highest mountain in the state, Mt. Davis and the Eastern Continental Divide, the Mason-Dixon Line and Big Savage Tunnel.
The third-day is a layover with an opportunity to choose an excursion – visiting Fallingwater (a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright); visiting Kentuck Knob (also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) or taking a rafting trip, either Lower Yough Class 3 rafting trip or Middle Yough Class 1-2 rafting trip
The annual RTC Sojourn is not just a great way to experience these trails, but also are powerful “trail-building tools” that highlight the significant impact of long-distance trail routes on America’s communities. Participants explore communities and attractions along the way (from the picturesque to the historic), take advantage of open trails and draw attention to gaps in would-be trail systems that, if completed, could result in substantial benefits (economic, health, social, environmental and much more) for their local regions.
For example, the Pennsylvania Sojourn will call attention to a major project, the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition. A collaboration of more than 100 organizations, and led by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the National Park Service and RTC, the project would link 1,400 miles of multiuse trails, stretching across 48 counties in four states – Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. It would stimulate the regional economy through outdoor tourism and small business investment, and create social equity and new health connections for underserved communities across the project footprint.
The sojourns serve to unite a selection of trails for a short period of time, serving as “dry runs” designed to benchmark—through real-world examples and user surveys how trail-system improvements could increase local bikeability and walkability.
Over the past 15 years, Sojourns have helped influence the creation and/or growth of multiple regional trail alliances through demonstrating the significant boost to local economies generated by the sojourn participants in just a few days – a small reflection over what can be achieved when programs are established.
RTC compiles economic impact data on the combined spending on food, supplies, rentals, equipment and other sojourn-related services, which is shared with local hosts to inspire future trail building and enhancements.
The 2014 sojourn’s positive economic impact to the region was $211,000.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy helps communities meet their own challenges toward trail development, with expertise and assistance obtaining funding and design; and advocates with lawmakers at local, state and federal levels for policies and funding programs that make trail development and walking/biking infrastructure possible. The organizations promotes trails – awarding Trail of the Year, for example – forges partnerships, and is the nation’s foremost nonprofit advocate for rail-trails, working to create and protect the legal structures that make them possible.
The sojourns are designed for all ages and skill levels—from the young to the young-at-heart, aficionados to first-timers, families to freewheelers!