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

We're 25 and Going Strong

Twenty-five years ago, on February 1, 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) opened its doors. At the time, only a few hundred miles of rail-trail existed in all of America. In the years since, we've helped create more than 1,600 rail-trails, totaling nearly 20,000 miles of rail-trail and representing all 50 states. What began as an interesting concept has become a national movement enjoyed by tens of millions of people every year. Like the railroads before them, these trails have transformed the American landscape and touched countless communities, from rural whistle stops to metropolitan centers.

I joined RTC in February 2001. Looking back on my decade here, I can barely keep up with all the growth and innovation we've seen in the rail-trail community. Trail builders are now using elevated lines, like the High Line in Manhattan, to rise above traffic the way railroad trestles once negotiated mountain passes. We're seeing neglected industrial corridors transformed into urban greenways, like the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C., providing invaluable public space for exercise, transportation and recreation.

On the technology front, we've built up our trail-finder website,, to include more than 30,000 miles of rail- and other multi-use trails. Featuring detailed maps, descriptions, user reviews and photos, and much, much more—and all for free—these profiles provide the most comprehensive source of trail information available online. We're also pioneering trail survey methods, using infrared counters to track trail usage and estimate economic impact for local communities. And with our Trail-Building Toolbox, we're staying at the cutting edge of trail development, from rail-with-trail to road crossings.

I've also been blown away by the ability of our grassroots supporters to mobilize and make their voices heard on local and national issues. Using online outreach and our on-the-ground contacts, we're now able to reach thousands of advocates in communities around the country—our AAA petition this past fall drew more than 51,000 signatures! Our Campaign for Active Transportation is likewise helping galvanize and transform how communities think about and invest in trails, walking and bicycling. We have a lot of work yet to do, but the early results are exciting.

None of these achievements would have been possible without a dedicated membership, and I can't thank you enough for joining us in this mission. We all have a lot to be proud of from the past 25 years. But more importantly, at RTC we're looking at this milestone anniversary as an opportunity to imagine all we can accomplish in the next 25 years.

Happy Trails!

Keith Laughlin

Spring/Summer 2011

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