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A volunteer harvests squash from a school garden along the Metropolitan Branch Trail
in Washington, D.C.

What are Urban Pathways?

Urban pathways go by many names, including bikeways, trails and greenways. These pathways are used for healthy recreation andwhen seamlessly interconnected with pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure like sidewalks and bicycle lanescan be ideal routes for active transportation, including biking and walking.

Learn more about RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative, an effort to encourage the development, stewardship and use of urban pathways.




RTC's TrailBlog


Urban Pathways Lessons


Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods

Focus On: Gardens

Download four-page GARDENS summary
Return to Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods

In urban areas, trails and gardens are a kindred pair. They offer new uses for abandoned land—rail-trails revitalize former railroad corridors, and urban gardens often take root in vacant or neglected lots. Both enhance community health by providing opportunities for physical activity (gardening is exercise, too!), and gardens increase access to fresh, healthy foods. Trails and gardens also serve as neighborhood gathering spots where neighbors can interact, helping to strengthen community rapport.

Many communities are finding that gardens and fruit tree orchards are desirable trailside amenities. In addition to the bounty of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers produced, these landscapes beautify barren spaces along the trail, provide shade for trail users and bring more people to the trail—which helps to deter delinquent activities. Establishing a successful community garden may be challenging, but the benefits of a trailside garden can be well worth these initial efforts, as shown in the following examples from Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Minn., Seattle, Wash., Denver, Colo., and Richmond, Calif.


Plan ahead and allow for prep time
It is important to spend time planning and making preparations for a garden. There are a number of preliminary issues to consider: Will the garden be open year-round or seasonally? Will the garden produce food for consumption or provide plots for individuals to cultivate? Is there access to water? What is the soil quality? Will you set hours of operation? How will you address foot traffic from the trail? Answers to these questions will inform decisions about plants, planting beds, the watering system, etc.

Washington, D.C. — Metropolitan Branch Trail
In 2010, a garden was installed along the Metropolitan Branch Trail. To address the lack of access to a water source, six rain barrels were constructed on-site to capture rain from the roof of an adjacent school building. The barrels are connected to an irrigation system embedded in the garden beds. Learn more on RTC's TrailBlog.

Reach out to the community
Urban gardens provide myriad benefits, including the opportunity to grow produce in neighborhoods that lack adequate access to fresh, healthy foods. Use outreach and programming to engage a diverse range of community residents, including low-income communities and communities of color. Being inclusive creates a sense of ownership of the garden within the community. A broad sense of ownership will help ensure that the garden is well-tended and looked after for all to enjoy.

Denver, Colo. — High Line Canal Trail
The Delaney Farm Park, adjacent to the High Line Canal Trail, is a small urban farm that relies primarily on volunteer labor, with a mission to improve access to healthy foods for people of all economic levels. The farm welcomes scheduled visitors and volunteer groups; visiting trail users must be accompanied by garden staff. The garden runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in which participants purchase a share at the beginning of a growing season and receive produce throughout the harvest. Through a partnership with local health departments, residents who receive assistance from the federal WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program—who are likely unable to purchase a CSA share—can receive produce in exchange for volunteering in the garden. For each hour of volunteering in the garden, they receive a half-share of fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden.

Consider long-term use for project sustainability
Community gardens are sometimes viewed as temporary uses, serving as placeholders for future development. Securing the long-term use of the parcel will help guarantee the garden remains an integral part of the trail for many years to come. A few options include long-term lease, purchase or acquisition by a municipal agency.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The Midtown Greenway
The Soo Line Community Garden was cultivated in 1991 on a parcel of tax-forfeited land along the Midtown Greenway. Once the site of a grain elevator that serviced the Soo Line Railroad, gardeners demolished the structure to create a community garden to produce food for local residents and serve as green space for the trail system. Several years later, developers expressed interest in purchasing the land from the state. Faced with the risk of displacement, the Soo Line gardeners rallied to save their investment and years of sweat equity. They partnered with the Midtown Greenway Coalition to protect the garden, which had become an integral part of the trail experience. In 2010, the groups worked with state and local officials to transfer the property from the state of Minnesota to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Tend to your garden regularly
By nature, plants and fruit trees require ongoing maintenance. Local organizations and community groups can contribute additional resources and time to regular maintenance activities.

Seattle, Wash. — Burke-Gilman Trail
As part of the Urban Orchard Stewards program, a corps of volunteers tends a grove of apple trees planted along the Burke-Gilman Trail. The program—a public-private partnership between the city of Seattle and City Fruit, a local nonprofit—trains the stewards on tree pruning, pest management and fruit harvesting. The stewards adopt trees, caring for them year-round. The apples harvested along the trail are used to make cider for community events.

Case Study: Gardens and Urban Pathways

Learn how gardens are sprouting up all along the Richmond Greenway in Richmond, Calif., which beautify the landscape, improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables for nearby neighborhoods, and bring together a diverse range of community residents.

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