Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail, the fourth inductee to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
A Toast to Rail-Trails
Last summer, as I stood on an outdoor stage in Cumberland, Md., preparing to honor the Great Allegheny Passage as the first inductee to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, it struck me that this was a special moment in the history of the rail-trail movement.
The Hall of Fame, and indeed the Great Allegheny Passage itself, represents the thousands of rail-trail miles that have been built in the last 22 years. And the hundreds of smiling faces in the crowd that day represent tens of millions of Americans who walk, run, skate and bike on rail-trails every year.
When Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) first opened its doors in 1986, there were only about 200 known rail-trails. Today, there are more than 1,450. What started as little more than a good idea has become a spectacular success and wildly popular program, worthy of the creation of a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. As a result, stand-out rail-trails are receiving national recognition and, in turn, support for the movement is growing with every new person who uses one of these great trails.
Joining the Passage in 2007 were Missouri's Katy Trail State Park and Florida's Pinellas Trail. And I'm happy to announce the first inductee of 2008—Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail. I rode this excellent trail back in 2001 during my first year as RTC president. Even then, new as I was, I could recognize how special the Burke-Gilman was to the community it served.
And it's not only the "celebrity" rail-trails that make big impressions. Each rail-trail plays—or has the potential to play—an integral role in connecting people and places. Like the Mountain Goat Trail in Tennessee (featured as the "Eye On" trail in this issue), incomplete but already serving as a safe route to school for residents of the Cumberland Plateau. Or Massachusetts' Ashuwillticook Rail Trail where a mother and son walked to raise money for Alzheimer's research (page 16 of the magazine). Fundamentally, this is what the Hall of Fame is all about: honoring the community a trail creates.
I look forward to announcing more Hall of Fame rail-trails in the years to come. And, perhaps even more than that, I can't wait to see what new, amazing trails emerge from the nearly 1,000 rail-trails across the country still in development. It's because of the passion of our more than 100,000 members and supporters that I know we will succeed.
Here's to rail-trails past, present and future.