Norma Russell on the Boise Greenbelt in Idaho.
The Greenville Hospital System Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail in Greenville, S.C.
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More Trail Tales
For the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: Which rail-trail offers the best urban experience?
Jan Necessary of Bethel Park, Pa., writes:
The best urban rail-trail is right in my backyard, or rather front yard: the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System in Pittsburgh, Pa. This urban trail follows Pittsburgh's Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers and features the downtown's dramatic cityscape, as well as scenic river views and Mount Washington's wooded hillside and cliffside neighborhood vistas.
I live in Bethel Park, a suburban neighborhood 10 miles south of Pittsburgh, yet I can take my bicycle aboard a trolley (the "T") near my house and enter the trail at Station Square, a redeveloped train station featuring restaurants, bars, clubs and shops. I can follow the trail through the Southside, a trendy neighborhood of restored row houses popular with young professionals. Or I can cross the landmark Smithfield Street Bridge and ride the Eliza Furnace Trail, aka the "Jail Trail," which begins near the Allegheny County Jail and passes sites of Pittsburgh's steelmaking past. One can head back to the Southside via the Hot Metal Bridge (a steel industry relic that is now a pedestrian and vehicular conduit), or head to Point State Park and access the Allegheny River portion of the trail, which is near PNC Park (baseball) and Heinz Field (football), and the new Rivers Casino. There is also a short, brand-new trail along the Monongahela near the Smithfield Street Bridge where there used to be a parking lot.
In short, the Three Rivers Heritage Trail showcases Pittsburgh's natural scenery, its rivers, its urban gems and pays tribute to its past. I am very proud of my city for its efforts to create this trail system.
Norma Russell of Kuna, Idaho, writes:
Anybody who makes their way along the Boise River Greenbelt in the "City of Trees" will discover an idyllic place where time seems to stand still and a vision of nature's handiwork entices them to linger. The paved rail-trail, with its towering trees, lush growth and abundant wildlife, also links to more 850 acres of parks and natural areas along the Boise River. Those who use the trail often take time to enjoy any of the 12 parks connected by the path.
There are several developed sites and overlooks adjacent to the Greenbelt for wildlife viewing. Visitors often see songbirds, ducks, Canada geese, great blue heron and even bald eagles in the winter. For the accomplished observer, beaver, grey fox and muskrat can also be seen.
The pathway stretches from downtown through the Boise Valley and accommodates walkers, bicyclists, inline skaters, runners, wildlife observers and fishermen.
At the heart of the trail is its vibrant city center with one-of-a-kind museums such as the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center, Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, Idaho Black History Museum, Boise Art Museum and the World Center for Birds of Prey. Other area attractions adjacent to the trail include the Discovery Center of Idaho and Zoo Boise. For more information about this unique urban oasis, check out Visit Idaho.
Ty Houck of Greenville, S.C., writes:
The 14-mile Greenville Hospital System (GHS) Swamp Rabbit Tram Trail is a tale of two cities: Travelers Rest and Greenville. Starting at the shoulder of the Blue Ridge Escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains, the GHS Swamp Rabbit follows the flow of the Reedy River.
At the northern terminus is Travelers Rest, a stagecoach stop that was aptly named for travelers retreating from the coastal heat. The urban experience then unfolds as you flow with the Reedy toward Greenville, with views changing from geologic formations to remnants of the industrial revolution and ghosts of textile mills. As the Swamp Rabbit gets closer to the center of Greenville, you begin to see how Greenville has re-birthed itself to include one of the country's top-rated Main Streets, including public space with train-themed splash fountains for the kids; Falls Park, which was literally rediscovered under a downtown bridge; and our striking skyline of high-rise buildings (we haven't hit skyscraper ranks yet). The GHS Swamp Rabbit is the best urban rail-trail because it preserves our memory of the geologic and industrial history and alludes to our future of connected communities.
Larry Hedgepeth of Canmer, Ky., writes:
In September 2009, I left Kentucky with five other riders and three tandems to ride trails in Illinois and Missouri. We found an outstanding trail when we started on the Illinois end at the Old Chain of the Rocks Bridge and followed it all the way to the St. Louis Arch. This trail offers everything an urban trail should have, including crossing the Mississippi River on a historical bridge that was part of the original Route 66. We also were able to travel through riverfront parks with fantastic views of the river and the Arch in the distance.
Pedaling along the trail with the St. Louis skyline gave us the opportunity for some truly unique photos. We have traveled hundreds of miles on rail-trails and greenways, and this Illinois and Missouri trail system has to rank in the top five of our favorites. We really enjoyed being able to ride in downtown St. Louis and to see the Arch on our bikes. The return trip was probably even better, as the sun was setting behind the Arch as we departed. We would highly recommend this trail for anyone wanting to see the various aspects of an urban trail, from bird watching to painted murals on the riverfront flood walls.
Michael Brady of Milwaukee, Wis., writes:
It's 7:30 on a sunny, 32-degree weekday morning and I'm off on my daily commute to downtown Milwaukee along the 5.5-mile Hank Aaron State Trail. From my home in the picturesque Story Hill neighborhood, it is a quick 30-minute trip on the trail. Named for the legendary homerun king and former Milwaukee Brave and Brewer, the pathway runs alongside the Menomonee River, adjacent to the main railroad lines south and west of Milwaukee's city center. As I ride I can see the skyline of downtown Milwaukee, including Miller Park Stadium and City Hall, where I work.
Riding past the former Milwaukee Road smokestacks, I head east as freight trains are going west and Amtrak carries passengers to Chicago and points south. I pass the Marquette University fields, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino and the Harley Davidson Museum. From there the trail extends east through the Third Ward to Lakeshore State Park and the Calatrava wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum on Lake Michigan. But I leave the pathway for the last stretch to City Hall.
The Hank Aaron State Trail is a showcase for Milwaukee's attractions. It provides visitors and residents an opportunity to experience the best museums, sporting sites, medical centers, universities and neighborhoods in the heart of the city. And it is getting even better. A trail extension to be opened in 2010 along an unused rail corridor to the west will pass the Veterans Administration and Hospital, State Fair Park and the Milwaukee County Zoo. Also, a link along the Oak Leaf Trail will go to the Milwaukee County Medical Center. When these additions are completed, the Hank Aaron will be within a 15-minute bike ride of more than 415,000 residents.