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  Keith Laughlin at Flat Branch Park in Columbia, Mo. © Jennifer Kaleba/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Keith Laughlin at Flat Branch Park
in Columbia, Mo.

The Future Couldn't Be Brighter

The rail-trail movement has grown by leaps and bounds since Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) opened its doors in 1986. I am always impressed by the vision and sheer tenacity of the local advocates who built spectacular trails in the 1980s when the idea of rail-trails was brand-new, and there were few success stories on the ground to point to for guidance or inspiration.

Now, with more than 15,000 miles of rail-trail open for millions of people to enjoy across the country, that great idea has matured into a full-bodied movement. And as another year comes to a close, three recent developments lead me to believe our movement is on the verge of another leap forward.

  • In June I had a very productive meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Prior to joining the executive branch, Secretary LaHood was a veteran Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was a long-time champion of rail-trail projects in his district and rail-trail policy in Washington. We have never had such a strong trails supporter in such an important position of influence.
  • I recently visited the first section of the High Line, which opened in June on the West Side of Manhattan in New York. This trail on an unused elevated railroad will eventually be a 1.5-mile linear park running through one of the most densely populated cities in the country. Not only has this marvelous trail captured the imagination of the national press, but it is already becoming a model for trail building in urban America.
  • To my amazement, summer traffic on RTC's trail-finder Web site,, grew by more than 50 percent from last year's levels. This surge is exciting evidence that as we're building our database of free rail-trail information and maps, we're tapping into a growing audience of people seeking safe, fun places to walk, run, skate and ride. We're reaching more new trail users every day.

In short, we now have an old friend in a high place, a new trail in an old place, and tens of thousands of new supporters across the nation who are eager to enjoy the trail experience.

We've come a long way since those days back in the 1980s when a relative handful of visionaries could see the many benefits that rail-trails would bring to America's communities. But we never would have achieved such progress without the strong support of our members. As 2009 comes to a close, I particularly want to thank you for your continued support during a period of national economic crisis. With your help, RTC remains a strong and effective voice for the trails movement. And, as recent events indicate, the future of our movement couldn't be brighter.

Happy Trails!

Keith Laughlin

Winter 2010

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