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Celebrating 20 Years of Building America's Rail-Trails

Dear Friend of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy,

In the 19th century, railroads helped to build America. These ribbons of steel connected people and communities, creating a single nation spanning a continent. But in the late 20th century, many of these railways fell into disuse. Gleaming ribbons of steel decayed into ribbons of rust. These former rail lines came to symbolize the loss of connection—the fraying of community—that is a by-product of modern life.

When Rails-to-Trails Conservancy opened its doors in February 1986, its mission was to foster one great idea: To protect these irreplaceable rail corridors by transforming them into multipurpose trails. At the time there were about 250 miles of open rail-trails in America. In 2006—RTC's 20th anniversary—we can be proud that one great idea has gone so far. Today more than 13,000 miles of open rail-trails are enjoyed by tens of millions of Americans every year.

These ribbons of green span the American landscape, reconnecting people and communities. Rail-trails connect us to family and friends by providing safe public space to enjoy each other's company while walking or cycling. Trails connect us to nature and protect places of beauty that quiet the mind and calm the spirit. And rail-trails reconnect us to our history, for when we restore the roadbeds, trestles and tunnels of unused rail lines, we honor previous generations that helped to build America.

We have accomplished much together over the last 20 years. This 20th anniversary edition of Rails to Trails celebrates innovative trails that have been opened, trails still in development, trail advocates who have forged these successes and RTC's own trail of achievement over the last two decades.

But there is no time to rest on our laurels. To bring the benefits of trails to everyone, we have a visionary goal for the future. That goal: By 2020, 90 percent of Americans will live within three miles of a local trails system. Ambitious? You bet! But can you imagine how grateful future generations will be?

I have no doubt that this legacy can be realized. But RTC cannot do it alone. To achieve this goal, we must continue to work in partnership with our friends in local trail groups, government agencies and the private sector. And we will need the continued support of you—our members—as we pursue our mission to reconnect America with trails and greenways.

Keith Laughlin

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037