Jeff Doppelt, at right, with RTC President Keith Laughlin on the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho.
Trail Voices: Jeff Doppelt
"Trail Voices" highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
For April, we caught up with Jeff Doppelt, an avid bicyclist and longtime Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) supporter, who works as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Great Neck, N.Y.
Name: Jeff Doppelt
Involvement: Jeff is a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Trailblazer Society since 1995. The Trailblazer Society is made up individuals who help accelerate our core trail-building efforts with an annual personal commitment of $1,000 or more.
On the trail: Jeff has bicycled all over the country. About the only time he walks on trails, he says, is when he's exploring potential rail-trails on old, out-of-service railroad corridors.
Off the trail: Hiking, skiing and working out. He also runs a basketball team in a local semi-pro league. He says he was fortunate to have Allan Houston (the former New York Knick) play three games for his team this past summer.
How did you initially become involved with RTC, and what sparked your interest in bicycle and pedestrian issues?
I became involved with RTC because of my love of trains as a child. I have been an avid bicycle rider and did a cross country Youth Hostel trip one summer while in high school. I believe that preservation of unused railroad corridors creates a tremendous opportunity not just for pedestrian issues but also for future transportation uses.
Do you use trails on a regular basis?
Whenever possible. Unfortunately, there are few rail-trails in my immediate area. However, I have flown to Colorado on several occasions to ride Corona Rollins Pass from Winter Park to Rollinsville. This line was the highest in the United States until the Moffat Tunnel was built, and the route over the Continental Divide was abandoned. The scenery is spectacular. At the summit you cross over Twin Trestles at Devil's Slide. These two trestles cling precariously to the side of the mountain. I have also flown to Florida and ridden a section of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. This is another spectacular trail, which when complete will be the longest bikeway over water in the world. More than 20 miles will cross the Atlantic ocean.
I have flown to Vermont to ride the Island Line, which is currently the longest bikeway over water. Since three of the four trestles have been removed, it was necessary to arrange for ferry service over the three missing sections. I was told that it was the first time in 40 years that the trail was covered from Burlington to the Canadian border. The last time was when the Island Line train was active.
Locally, I have driven to upstate New York and have ridden the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, as well as the Wallkill Valley Rail-Trail. I am looking forward to riding the Cumberland, Md., to Pittsburgh, Pa., section of the Great Allegheny Passage in the near future. I have attended every Trailblazer Society trip since becoming a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 1995.
Tell us about your most memorable trail experience.
It was on our VirginiaWest Virginia Trailblazer Society Excursion. One morning we were scheduled to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail. The line was originally 80 miles long but only 34 miles in Virginia was preserved. However, a handful of us, including RTC President Keith Laughlin, decided we would experiment on the section of trail that ran into North Carolina. We rode for about three miles and crossed over five trestles that were in original abandoned condition. The line ran through the forest and over the streams. Finally our progress was stopped by a fence across the far side of the fifth trestle. It made us think of the loss of this precious corridor for the public. It also made us realize the importance of RTC as an organization, and the many miles of trails we have been successful in preserving. The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the most scenic trails on the continent and is known for its original 100 bridges and trestles. The ride back to Abingdon, Va., was absolutely breathtaking.
Tell us about an interesting travel experience by bike or trail.
My most interesting travel experience was this past summer when I did the Harlem Valley Rail Ride. Although the first 10 miles of the ride is on rail-trail, the remaining 65 miles are on road, which includes 5,500 feet of climbing. We rode through three states and met dozens of interesting people who share the same love of biking as I do. It also gave me an opportunity to talk with many of the road bicyclists about RTC. It is funny how there are so many road bicyclists who are not aware of the work the organization is doing and the beauty of preserving and protecting the trails.
While the start of the ride for everyone is on the 10-mile section of rail-trail, the attraction of this ride for most is the scenery, overall length and degree of difficulty. I will say it was a terrific experience because of the grueling nature of the ride.
How has a local trail impacted your neighborhood or community?
We are working here in Long Island on connecting the Old New York Central Line (which is now a utility right-of-way) from Eisenhower Park to Bethpage State Park. Bethpage State Park has a 7.5-mile bike trail. The distance between the two parks is approximately five miles. However, the end of the Bethpage bike trail is a short distance to the Jones Beach bike trail, which runs approximately five miles to the boardwalk. If all goes well, we may have a 20-mile trail to Jones Beach starting at Eisenhower Park. This would be a spectacular resource for our community. I have made donations toward this cause, and now New York Parks and Trails is onboard as well.
After supporting the rail-trail movement for so many years, how have you seen it change and grow?
I am somewhat disappointed in the difficulty in getting some trails completed. The Western Maryland Rail Trail is an example. Twenty miles have been paved, but 34 miles remain unfinished. Within these 34 miles there are three tunnels and six high bridges. I would like to see a commitment to complete this trail.
I have seen the rail-trail movement become very strong in Congress, as we have been successful in preserving the budget for off-road transportation. I do not believe when I first joined the organization we had anywhere near the support in Washington as we have today. Now I am hoping to see our organization play a more active role in getting these transportation dollars into the hands of trail managers, as well as the Department of Transportation, for the various states in which these unfinished trails exist.
Do you see alternative transportation such as biking, walking and public transit having an impact on the climate change and energy issues facing our country?
I definitely see alternative transportation as a means of energy-efficient transportation. We waste a tremendous amount of energy in this country. Not just driving our cars, but we also waste a lot of energy in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, until the price of gas at the pumps becomes intolerable, I do not believe we will change our transportation habits.
Do you have a favorite rail-trail?
Mine are the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha. These are absolutely magnificent trails located at the Idaho/Montana border. The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is approximately 74 miles (all paved) with a one-of-a-kind turn bridge, which has been raised approximately 17 feet to allow boat traffic to pass underneath. The bridge is now in a permanent position with ramps on both sides which allow bikers to complete the entire length of the trail.
The Route of the Hiawatha is located approximately three miles from the opposite end of the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. It is an astonishing ride over seven sky-high steel trestles and through 10 tunnels (the longest of which, the St. Paul Taft Tunnel, is 8,800-feet long). You may not find two better trails so close together (eventually they will be linked and expanded) anywhere in the country.
Tell us about a recent accomplishment.
I was recently promoted to First Vice President of Investments at Merrill Lynch. Achieving this title was a marathon and a significant milestone that less than 10% of my peers have achieved. It is based on meeting superior financial performance hurdles within a five-year timeframe.