The Catharine Valley Trail, fall foliage
on full display.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of one visionary advocate, the Catharine Valley Trail today is a stand-out attraction in New York.
Bruce and Jolene Crider enjoy a ride on the Chehalis Western Trail in Washington.
Tell Us ...
In October, we asked you to tell us which rail-trail you would "elect" to represent all rail-trails!
Clifford Jones — Horseheads, N.Y.
The Catharine Valley Trail, between Horseheads and Watkins Glen in New York, is the epitome of the concept of rail-trails. It was the vision of local activist Ed Hoffman, who immediately saw the value of the Penn Central line through the Catharine Valley as a trail when the corridor fell out of service after a destructive flood in 1972.
He organized hikes along the line beginning on January 1, 1973, and every year thereafter until the trail became a reality. He began lobbying the state of New York to obtain the property for a trail almost from the moment word of the abandonment was out. He said the parks department people thought he was crazy, that nobody would want to walk along a railroad bed!
The trail itself traverses the most beautiful terrain types this state has to offer. It follows the deep glacial valley carved by the Seneca Lake branch of the last two continental glaciations on the south end, ending in the wide flooded plains of the Seneca Lake inlet in the world-renown hamlet of Watkins Glen. In between are stunning examples of the immense power of the glaciers, in the convoluted, ever-changing topological scenery they created. Wending its way through the valley is Catharine Creek, truly a world-class trout fishing stream. A wildlife rehabilitator uses a section along the trail to reintroduce 'patients' to their natural habitat.
Much of the trail passes through towering forests managed by a local lumber concern, recognized as one of the best stewards of the indigenous forests in the northeastern United States. They vow to maintain the corridor in its natural state, which is approaching climax with towering hardwoods of numerous, often rare species. The diversity of environment on the forest floor beneath is a rarity anywhere in the Northeast.
All of which is what attracted Ed to rope his friends into trekking through the snow on New Year's Day every year. His trail, in my esteem, is the single greatest asset we have in this region.
Of course, some may argue the nearby wine trails, Finger Lakes, Corning Museum of Glass, Watkins Glen International Raceway or the dozens upon dozens of incredible destinations in nearby Ithaca, N.Y., are the better destinations. But from my experience, if you want to meet the best people, see the local flora and fauna, get out into the wild for exercise or just to clear the mind and find peace, the Catharine Valley Trail is the place to go.
Bruce and Jolene Crider — Denver, Colo.
The Chehalis Western Trail in Lacey, Wash., to me is an obvious choice. I road 48 miles roundtrip and was fresh as a daisy. So much so that we passed our truck on our return trip by a couple miles. The trail is smooth as glass and flat as a pancake. It's wide as a country road with a vast variety of scenery and really awesome blackberries.
Buck Laird — Honolulu, Hawaii
I just completed a personal quest to do a 50-kilomter ride in all 50 U.S. states. I rode lots of rail-trails in lots of states, and my enthusiastic nomination for the best rail-trail is Iowa's 33-mile Sauk Rail Trail.
Despite its somewhat modest length, which connects two small Iowa towns—Carroll and Lake View—the trail deserves recognition as a tribute to the tireless work and public/private cooperation between two counties during a 20-year period. The Sauk is a classic example of two small communities, rivals in many other situations, coming together as neighbors and friends to accomplish one of the most ambitious recreational initiatives in America's heartland.
Make no mistake, the Sauk is a lovely trail with all manner of interesting sights and structures. Moreover, it is a true rail-trail that effectively demonstrates the concept and benefits of the rail-trail movement.
The Katys, the Cowboys and the Alleghenys may have the length and strength to warrant considerable support for the best rail-trail crown. But when you measure a trail by the per-capita outpouring that its host communities of Carroll and Sac counties have invested in their trails, I think that the Sauk Rail Trail stands above the crowd.