Impact report cover photo from Baltimore, MD | Photo by Side A Photography


Since 1986, the team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been standing shoulder to shoulder with passionate partners, trail advocates and public leaders to grow the nation’s trails and trail networks—inspiring movement, spurring economic development, celebrating and lifting up America’s diverse heritage, and connecting the nation by trail like never before.

With more than 1 million grassroots supporters, 24,000+ miles of rail-trails on the ground and more than 8,000 miles of rail-trails ready to be built nationwide, our focus is on linking these corridors—creating trail networks that connect people and places, and bringing transformative benefits to communities all across the country. Our flagship initiatives—the Great American Rail-Trail™, TrailNation™ and™—bring that strategy to life, connecting millions of people by trail.

We are proud of the impact we’ve made, and we are humbled by the incredible contributions to our movement among the partners, advocates and public leaders who together are making big strides in creating a nation connected by trail.

Join us in exploring that impact throughout this interactive report—dig in on the stories and the statistics that represent progress and persistence in a movement dedicated to delivering safe spaces where we all can walk, bike and move.

Image Above: Baltimore, Maryland | Photo by Side A Photography, Graphic by RTC


RTC’s strategic plan guides our work to build a nationwide network of trails, with five ambitious goals to anchor us:

1Create Models of Success by advancing a vibrant portfolio of nationally significant trail system projects through our TrailNation program.

2Advance Innovative Trail and Active Transportation Policy by securing increased and sustained public investment at the federal, state and local levels.

3Increase Demand for Trails by Encouraging Trail Use via resources, public education and—the nation’s most comprehensive trail database.

4Expand Reach and Encourage Replication by using our national platform to showcase successful project and policies.

5Build the Backbone by Strengthening RTC and the Community, ensuring diversity and equity in all facets of our work.


Ryan Chao addressing the crowd at the Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in Washington, D.C., in May 2019 | Courtesy RTC
Ryan Chao addressing the crowd at the Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in Washington, D.C., May 2019 | Courtesy RTC

Building a Brighter Future

07/02/20 by Ryan Chao

“The pandemic has made clear that trails are essential assets for the well-being of people and places, and our country needs a trail in every community. While FY 2019 in many ways seems like a distant time, our work last fiscal year, and in the decades leading up, positioned us to meet the current moment and be part of helping to shape a brighter future.”



Here’s how we deliver on our strategy and create meaningful impact for people and communities.

Building a Nation of Trails gif
United States Capitol
United States Capitol


On Capitol Hill, and to state legislatures and local governments—for investments and policies that support safe trail, walking and bicycling networks for people of every age and ability. In FY 2019, $850 million in federal funds were dedicated to trails and active transportation via Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program, and $160+ million in new funds were secured for trails at the state level.

2019 Opening Day for Trails celebration in Brownsville, Texas | Courtesy RTC
2019 Opening Day for Trails celebration in Brownsville, Texas | Courtesy RTC


Trail supporters and the public to advocate in their own communities for safe walking and biking infrastructure. Nearly 29,000 federal and state advocacy actions were taken from RTC members and supporters in FY 2019, and we engaged 6,000+ people from all 50 states and D.C. via our Trail Expert Network.

Ribbon cutting of the Bozeman to Bridger Mountains Trail, Montana | Courtesy Gallatin Valley Land Trust
Ribbon cutting of the Bozeman to Bridger Mountains Trail, host trail along the Great American Rail-Trail in Montana | Courtesy Gallatin Valley Land Trust


With nationally respected organizations; federal, state and local agencies; public leaders; and trail advocates to build trails and educate Americans on their value. In FY 2019, we engaged hundreds of partners on advocacy initiatives aimed at innovating trail policies and furthering our national TrailNation™ portfolio and the Great American Rail-Trail™, which collectively span 21 states and cover nearly 10,900 miles.

Quad Cities event in the fall of 2019 to demonstrate how trails transform American communities | Courtesy RTC
Quad Cities event in the fall of 2019 to demonstrate how trails transform American communities | Courtesy RTC


To develop regional trail networks that create and connect healthy, thriving communities and raise the quality of life for Americans. Our collaborations helped raise millions of dollars in public and private funds for trail projects in FY 2019, including $7.2+ million secured to assist in completing projects along the Great American Rail-Trail.

RTC resources | Courtesy RTC
RTC resources | Courtesy RTC


In the form of trail planning, capacity-building grants, technical support and best practices for rural, suburban and urban communities seeking to build trails and connect trail systems. Since 2008, we've awarded nearly $2 million in grants to 178 trail organizations in 32 states and Washington, D.C.

Willits rail-with-trail in California | Photo by Laura Cohen, courtesy RTC
Willits rail-with-trail in California | Photo by Laura Cohen, courtesy RTC


Continuing to lead a 30-years-plus effort to shape the legal framework around rail-trails and defend them in the courts. In FY 2019, more than 20,000+ actions were taken by RTC members and supporters to protect railbanking.

Cobbs Creek Trail in Philadelphia | Photo by Thom Carroll
Cobbs Creek Trail in Philadelphia | Photo by Thom Carroll


About the transformative power of trails, encouraging their use and generating demand for trails. We do this by engaging more than 7.2 million trail users via, as well as our 1-million-strong grassroots community of trail supporters nationwide.

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RTC has a big goal: To connect the nation’s 37,000+ miles of multiuse trails and create a nationwide network of trails—delivering seamless pathways for walking, biking and rolling that are completely separated from vehicle traffic. And with it, we are delivering big, transformative outcomes for people and places, including new, equitable opportunities for mobility, recreation and social interaction, economic growth, health and wellness, and climate protection.


Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in South Cle Elum, Washington, in May 2019 | Photo by Kathy Young
Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in South Cle Elum, Washington, in May 2019 | Photo by Kathy Young

How We’re Creating a TrailNationTM

RTC’s diverse portfolio of trail-network building projects, TrailNation, inspires us in the opportunities they represent for America. Each of these eight projects, collectively covering a footprint of nearly 7,200 miles, offers unique potential to deliver meaningful change through direct impact and the replication of these trail network models nationwide.

TrailNation Impact areas

With strong collaboration from our partners in each project region, we made some giant leaps—and some small-but-no-less-important bounds—in our efforts to connect the country by trail. These trail networks propel our movement forward and show how trails can benefit every community.

Together, we ...

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in Washington, D.C. | Photo by Milo Bateman
Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in Washington, D.C. | Photo by Milo Bateman

Announced 40 impactful projects that will provide a powerful foundation for the Capital Trails Coalition, which aims to create equitable access to more than 800 miles of existing and future trails for the more than 6 million people in the D.C. Metro Region. This investment in mobility—costing less than it would to build one highway—will have a net health savings of $500 million annually.

North Bend Rail Trail leading into Cairo, West Virginia | Photo by Mike Tewkesbury
North Bend Rail Trail leading into Cairo, West Virginia | Photo by Mike Tewkesbury

Helped catapult connectivity in two major hubs of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, a developing 1,500-miles-plus trail network in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York that will redefine the region as a premier outdoor tourism destination.

In Cleveland, our cutting-edge Bikeable™ study, “Advancing Cleveland’s Active Transportation Agenda,” illustrates how the city’s planned projects could improve walking and bicycling access for more than a quarter of residents, with powerful results.

In West Virginia, a $223,000 federal grant secured for the Wood County Commission will help close a small but critical gap in the 150-mile Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Corridor with the potential to stimulate an economy worth tens of millions of dollars annually.

Hank Aaron State Trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Photo by TrailLink usesr lixunz
Hank Aaron State Trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Photo by TrailLink usesr lixunz

Solidified a transformative blueprint for the Route of the Badger, a 700-miles-plus trail system that will serve as a game-changer for the way residents live, work and get around in southeastern Wisconsin. Opportunity, equity and connectivity are at the heart of this effort, which seeks to reconnect many neighborhoods experiencing inequality in Milwaukee and improve regionwide mobility.

Fort Mason, San Francisco, California | Photo by Cindy Barks
Fort Mason, San Francisco, California | Photo by Cindy Barks

Celebrated the first protected east-west bike and pedestrian lane across the San Francisco Bay—crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge—a vital piece of the Bay Area Trails Collaborative’s vision to connect nine counties across 2,700+ miles. The completion of this project signifies an exciting milestone in California trail history, as people can now safely walk and bike between the North and East Bay for the first time ever.

Matamoros, Mexico | Photo by Frontera Media
Matamoros, Mexico | Photo by Frontera Media

Put a national spotlight on the Caracara Trails, a powerful vision in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for a 428-mile trail network that leverages the area’s rich natural assets to inspire active lifestyles and transform the tropical landscape into a must-see active tourism destination. In the fall, our Active Plan Tour brought together partners, major media and decision-makers from across the state and the nation to build support for this transformative project.

Rickenbacker Trail in Miami, Florida | Photo by Ken Bryan
Rickenbacker Trail in Miami, Florida | Photo by Ken Bryan

Accelerated broad investment for projects within the Miami LOOP—a 225-mile active transportation network that will transform Miami-Dade County. In FY 2019, collaborative efforts with partners helped secure a $22.3 million federal BUILD Grant to advance the 10-mile Underline, as well as millions in state funds and $2 million in discretionary funds from Commissioner Xavier Suarez to build out the 5-mile Commodore Trail and connect The Underline with the planned 6-mile Ludlam Trail. Together, these two trails alone could help avoid some 8 million vehicle miles annually.

Burlington to Camden Trail corridor | Photo by Betsy McBride
Burlington to Camden Trail corridor | Photo by Betsy McBride

Executed two advocacy efforts in New Jersey to protect or secure tens-of-millions of dollars for trails—including $3.6 million for impactful projects in the Circuit Trails network, which will one day directly connect an estimated 3.1 million people by trail. For an inspiring example, check out the Atlantic Avenue Trail in Camden County, New Jersey—which has been designed to get walkers and bicyclists in 15 communities off a busy road and onto safe, separated trail for daily commuting and recreation.

Baltimore, Maryland | Photo by Side A Photography
Baltimore, Maryland | Photo by Side A Photography

Turned the connectivity dial in Baltimore by helping to raise $360,000 for the city to design a new 5.5-mile trail segment between the Gwynns Falls and Herring Run trails that will link numerous neighborhoods, a major shopping center, the 745-acre Druid Hill Park, Johns Hopkins University and Lake Montebello. The project is part of a larger 35-mile effort by the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition to connect 85 neighborhoods—many that have been economically and socially segregated since the 1950s and 1960s.

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Great American Rail-Trail Preferred Route National Map | Updated May 2020
Great American Rail-Trail Preferred Route National Map | Updated May 2020

More than 30 years after a team of visionaries formally established Rails-to-Trails Conservancy—a dream some three decades in the making came to fruition when the plan for the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail was introduced to the world on May 8, 2019, the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. The day was a symbolic moment for the national trail community as RTC stood alongside hundreds of partners and fully committed to completing this multiuse trail that will eventually connect over 3,700+ miles between Washington, D.C., and Washington State.

More than 52% complete to date, the Great American travels through some of the most renown geography, landscapes, and historic and cultural landmarks in America.

Illustration by Anderson Design Group
Illustration by Anderson Design Group

How We Made This Iconic Project Come Alive in 2019

125+ Existing Trails

We engaged with and drew inspiration from hundreds of partners—including trail groups, community leaders, funders and advocates—to solidify a preferred route for the Great American including more than 125 existing trails, and 90+ gaps waiting to be filled, spanning 12 states and Washington, D.C. (The route has since grown to more than 145+ existing trails!)

$7.2 million in Public and Private Funds

We supported advocacy efforts yielding more than $7.2 million in public and private funds for project trails—and helped build vital support from decision-makers and community leaders for the Great American regionally and nationally. In Nebraska, a grant from RTC was leveraged to unlock critical state funds to complete a western segment of the Cowboy Trail, one of the longest rail-trail conversions in the country.

10,000+ Supporters

We rallied tens of thousands of supporters—who stepped up to support this national treasure with donations, voices and inspirational engagement in the media and within our national trail community. We’ve been receiving an amazing response from across the country—get a glimpse  our Great American Rail-Trail Facebook page.

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A post shared by Hakeem A (@chief.keem) on

Amplifying the Great American Experience

“Following the success of our Great American route reveal celebration in May 2019, we launched the #GRTAmerican Experience campaign to encourage people to experience the more than 52% of the route that is already complete, and to help build momentum for the trail on social media.

By sharing their unique experiences in their own personal networks, trail users are serving as ambassadors to help build awareness of the Great American—and amplify national excitement for this iconic route.

Travel + Leisure

Here's the Proposed Route for the Massive, Great American Rail Trail

05/08/19 by Andrea Romano


Spotlight on a Catalyst Initiative

In August, we headed to the Quad Cities where we joined on-the-ground partners to showcase the transformative impact of the region’s trails, including the Riverfront Trail and Great River Trail, both of which are host trails of the Great American Rail-Trail. Underscored during the event were the vast economic benefits that could be realized by completing other key projects in the route, and the potential of state programs like the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which could help support a myriad of outdoor initiatives statewide, including trails—for making this possible.

A Landmark for the Ages

Read More About the Cultural Connections of this Iconic Route: 16 Historic Highlights Along the Route of the Great American Rail-Trail


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Engaging a Nation of Trail Users

A flagship program of RTC, is the nation’s foremost trail-finder website, with a current catalogue of more than 4,100 trails spanning a collective 37,000 miles across the country. Through an extensive set of offerings available online and via TrailLink’s mobile apps—including interactive maps, descriptions, directions, reviews, ratings and user-submitted photos—TrailLink is leading the way for encouraging trails use in the United States, supporting more than than 7.2 million users annually in the pursuit of safe and meaningful trail experiences, and helping to satisfy the growing demand for trails and active transportation nationally.

TrailLink Android App Screenshot

“What I enjoy the most about TrailLink is that it makes me go out more to see nature and to be more confident about myself that I can do things.”

— TrailLink user Y.Llammas

Connecting People to Trails Like Never Before

In July 2019, RTC released its new iOS mobile app for TrailLink—adding to the 250,000 users who accessed critical information about trails via the platform’s mobile apps in FY 2019. In addition to offering all the functionality of, the apps are designed to show the specific location of the trail user while on the trail and in relation to other waypoints, including restrooms, business areas, water and parking—providing an important level of safety and security during the visit.  iPhone App  Android App

TrailLink Android App Screenshot

“Great organization, and this app is a must have if you are a rail-trail user. The GPS function is very useful. Thanks, keep developing and improving, and I will keep supporting and using.”

— TrailLink user DZ215

TrailLink’s Reach Across the Country

TrailLink animation of stats

TrailLink’s biggest trail user demographic is the 25–34 age range, demonstrating its impact in expanding the national trail movement—and engaging new generations of potential trail supporters and advocates.

Top 5


Top 5

Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail | TrailLink user britte.lowther
American Tobacco Trail | TrailLink user susiepop66
West Orange Trail | TrailLink user britte.lowther
Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail | TrailLink user scfroehlich
D&L Trail | TrailLink user vivki1960

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Capitol building

RTC is the top advocacy voice in the United States dedicated to trails and active transportation, unwavering in our commitment to grow and safeguard trail funding at every public levelfederal, state and local—to secure robust investment in connected active-transportation systems for people of every age and ability across the country.  

As Congress continues to debate the next federal transportation bill, and states and local communities seek innovative strategies to meet the growing demand for trails and walking and bicycling infrastructure, our goal remains constant: to establish the investment needed for the creation of a truly transformative 21st-century active-transportation system.

On the Way to Visionary Transportation Reauthorization

With the FAST ACT set to expire in September 2020, RTC is urging Congress to take bold steps to transform America by carving out critical funding for a robust, modern transportation system that serves America’s fast-evolving transportation needs. This includes:

  • Continued advocacy on Capitol Hill for the support and expansion of critical federal programs like Transportation Alternatives (TA) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which have provided $15+ billion for projects to date, including $880 million in FY 2019.
  • New, focused investment in connecting trails and active-transportation networks, including closing key infrastructure gaps within communities and across state lines, which has the potential to unlock billions of dollars annually for the U.S. economy.
$15+ billion in Federal TA + RTP funds dedicated to date

Trails Transform America

In 2019, RTC’s Trails Transform America campaign served as a central rallying point for the national trails community to urge Congress to pursue a visionary transportation bill in 2020. We made our voice heard through 54 visits to Congressmen and Hill staff, and 25 federal agency interactions—and collaborated with a broad range of partners to make sure our message was heard by key decision-makers (e.g., check out this letter we sent to the House T&I Committee in May 2019.) Throughout the year, we also elevated transformative trail and active transportation projects that, with the right public investment, would unlock enormous economic, health, transportation and environmental benefits for communities.

$880+ million in FY 2019

Senate EPW Bill Kicks Off Transportation Reauthorization

In July 2019—transportation reauthorization was off and running with the passage of a bill by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) following months of discussion and anticipation by RTC and the national trails community. Two key highlights: 1) unanimous bipartisan support to restore TA funding to former heights; and 2) for the first time, proposed dedicated federal funding to address the transportation-related causes of climate change.

America’s Largest Data Exchange on Federal Trail Spending

RTC’s TrADE data exchange is the nation’s go-to transportation funding data source for trails and active transportation, tracking TA spending for tens of thousands of projects. Key findings of our 2019 report (analyzing FY 2018): While $197 million were transferred out of the program; lapsed funds were reduced from $18.4 million in FY 2017 to $3.5 million. Additionally, off-road trails and rail-trails accounted for 44% of all funding through to FY 2018—a recognition by the states of trails as vital active transportation infrastructure.

A State Advocacy Voice for Trails

RTC’s state policy arm is focused on strategies aimed at building  public investment for trails at the state level, long-term support for trails  and walking and biking infrastructure, and the creation of advocacy infrastructure that will lay a foundation for innovative active transportation policies and programs for years to come.

In FY 2019, our state-level advocacy voice—which extended to 14 states and included more than 6,200 actions by trail supporters—yielded some major funding wins for trail network development.

5 Major State-Level Funding Wins in FY 2019
$160+ Million in New Funds for Trails Secured in FY 2019

How We Elevated State Trail Advocacy in FY 2019

Hudson River Valley Greenway in New York | Photo by Scott Stark
Hudson River Valley Greenway in New York | Photo by Scott Stark

We stood with our partners in New York through our Trails Across New York campaign to help secure passage of a statewide trail plan that was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November. The plan harnesses the power of the 750-mile Empire State Trail as a massive spine to connect and expand trail networks in New York, with a goal to spark new economic, public health and active transportation options statewide.

Eisenbhan State Trail in Wisconsin | Photo by TrailLink user jfjbjl
Eisenbhan State Trail in Wisconsin | Photo by TrailLink user jfjbjl

We built major momentum in the Badger State, along with our partners on the ground, with the launch of the Wisconsin Legislative Trails Caucus, formed to ramp up state investment and unlock vital federal funding for impactful trail network development. This would help complete projects like the 700-mile Route of the Badger in Southeast Wisconsin, which will one day connect people, places and new opportunities across seven counties.

Ryan Chao and Dr. Rose Gowen along a trail in Brownsville, Texas | Courtesy RTC
Ryan Chao and Dr. Rose Gowen along a trail in Brownsville, Texas | Courtesy RTC

We helped secure a new funding source for parks and trails in the Lone Star State via Proposition 5/Senate Joint Resolution 24, which was passed by a statewide vote in November 2019—and paved the way for dedicated funds for state parks and trails generated by Texas’ existing sporting goods tax. The money could help support major trail networks like the 428-mile Caracara Trails, which will promote healthy lifestyles and active tourism across the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Great Miami River Trail in Ohio | Photo by TrailLink user benkretz
Great Miami River Trail in Ohio | Photo by TrailLink user benkretz

We took big steps toward a statewide trail network in the Buckeye State with the establishment of the Ohio Trails Vision. The Department of Natural Resources and trail advocates, including RTC, presented the plan in May 2019 to the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus, which has committed to its prioritization moving forward. Highlight: A focus of the plan includes the buildout of connected trail networks such as the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition and the Great American Rail-Trail.

Skunk Train along the Willits Rail-with-Trail corridor in California | Photo by Laura Cohen, courtesy RTC
Skunk Train along the Willits Rail-with-Trail corridor in California | Photo by Laura Cohen, courtesy RTC

We provided technical support to 15 disadvantaged communities in pursuit of funds to construct critical trails and walking and bicycling infrastructure through California's Active Transportation Program, which allocated $139 million in FY 2019 to dozens of trails and separated bikeway projects. Historically, RTC has helped lead advocacy efforts to secure dedicate funds for ATP, which to date has authorized more than $1.4 billion for active transportation projects statewide.

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Potential Midtown Greenway extension over the Mississippi River in Minnesota | Photo courtesy Midtown Greenways Coalition
Potential extension of Minnesota’s Midtown Greenway over the Mississippi River | Photo courtesy Midtown Greenways Coalition
Nearly $2 million awards to 178 trail orgs in 32 States and DC since 2008

Through our pass-through grant programs, RTC has invested nearly $2 million in trail projects since 2008, supporting trail builders on the ground in meeting their regional and community trail development goals. These projects are essential to building, maintaining and managing the trails that communities rely on for recreation, transportation, healthy lifestyles and economic vitality—and we’ve been able to support 178 local organizations across the country in these efforts with this vital funding.

In 2019, $130,000+ was awarded to projects in 10 states through the Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund, which has awarded over a half-million dollars across 25 states to support critical trail development work since 2015.

Tunnel in Montana's Thompson Park | Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Tunnel in Montana's Thompson Park | Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Lighting the Way for Safe Trail Travel in Butte, Montana

Nestled in Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, the Great American Rail-Trail follows a former Milwaukee Railroad corridor through the 3,500-acre Thompson Park, located southeast of Butte, which features a stunning trestle bridge and two expansive tunnels. In 2019, RTC awarded the Butte Ranger District a $27,500 Doppelt Grant to install solar-powered lights in one tunnel to create a safer experience for trail users. The support provided by the Doppelt Fund for these small but impactful projects not only strengthens local connectivity—but has a rippling effect on a national scale for the Great American.

Trail Expert Network: Engaging and Connecting Our Trail Professionals

6,000+ people engaged in RTC's Trail Expert Network

In keeping with RTC’s efforts to engage and support the work of trail professionals across the country, our Trail Expert Network provides the resources and tools needed to help build and maintain trails.


TrailBlazer Society: Improving Lives for Generations to Come

2019 Trailblazer Tour | Photo by Eric Oberg
2019 Trailblazer Tour | Photo by Eric Oberg

Selfless, dedicated, visionary—these are words we use to describe our Trailblazer Society members, many of whom have supported RTC’s work for decades. This inspiring group of people—including both long-time supporters and new contributors excited by our forward-looking mission—each donate $1,000 or more annually. Their investment in RTC helps us create a nation of trails and provides the foundational support necessary to create and connect this vital infrastructure in every community in America.


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RTC’s national research and mapping programs utilize some of the country's most cutting-edge tools, methods and data to assist communities and trail advocates in building, maintaining and generating support at all levels for trails and connected walking and bicycling infrastructure—with a goal to catalyze trail development nationwide.

Latent Demand Study: Barriers and Motivators for Trail Use

In 2019, RTC conducted a nationwide study of the perceptions and habits of more than 7,200 people from all 50 states regarding trail use and active transportation. Assisted by RTC’s open trails database—the most comprehensive existing database of trails in the United States—RTC surveyed respondents in two groups: those for which a zip code had a trail within 2 miles, considered as “having trail access,” and those with a zip code farther than 2 miles, or “not having trail access.”

Key highlights

  1. Prior awareness of neighborhood trails was the strongest predictor of trail use, and removing non-infrastructure barriers like lack of awareness can have significant impact on people’s use of trails.
  2. The second most significant way to increase trails use—build more trails where people are.
  3. The findings of this study elevated key questions and next steps, and informed a future follow-up study on barriers to trail use by race and ethnicity.

The study provides powerful proof of how access and awareness of trails impact trail usage: The more connected trails there are, and the more people know about trails and how to safely access them, the more people will use them.

Strava logo

Strava Connectivity Study Yields Inspiring Early Results

In FY 2019, Strava-collected data was used to conduct network connectivity and gap analyses at three locations where gaps in trail networks were recently connected. The analyses found that in the new places where new trail connections were made, trail use increased by 40% to 80%! Additionally, a ripple effect was felt across the trail networks to the tune of 2% to 18%, suggesting the impact gap closures can have in other sections of a connected system. RTC has long been a proponent of trail connectivity, and we are thrilled that the study provided quantitative evidence that trail connectivity induces trail usage.

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RTC has been the nation’s foremost legal advocate for rail-trails in the nonprofit sector since our founding in 1986—having served as a lead voice on some of the most renowned legal cases to shape the movement—including protection of the monumental railbanking statute, which—born from the National Trails System Act in 1983—has helped facilitate the creation of thousands of miles of rail-trails to date.

Improving the Railbanking Process

Railbanking negotiations are critical to creating rail-trails across the country, but these complicated negotiations can take months or even years to complete—often far beyond the initial timeframe originally granted by the Surface Transportation Board (STB). In early 2019, RTC filed a petition with the STB to double the initial negotiation period to one year and to clarify how the STB grants extensions related to railbanking negotiation periods. The STB amended their regulations to adopt RTC’s recommendations in part, and the revised railbanking timeline went into effect in February 2020.

Photo courtesy Jimmy Emerson, DVM | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Former Monroe County Courthouse | Photo courtesy Jimmy Emerson, DVM | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ensuring States Comply with Federal Railbanking Law

In Monroe County, Alabama, efforts to create the Mockingbird Trail—named to honor To Kill A Mockingbird author and local resident Harper Lee—are being stopped in their tracks by a decision of the Alabama Supreme Court. Although the corridor was “railbanked” under federal law, the state supreme court declared that Alabama law superseded federal railbanking law, ruling in favor of returning a portion of the right-of-way to the adjacent landowner. In September 2019, RTC’s legal team filed an amicus brief in support of the Monroe County Commission’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a review of the state’s decision flouting the federal railbanking law and the U.S. Constitution.

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Keith Laughlin riding Caracara Trails | Photo by Frontera Media
Keith Laughlin riding Caracara Trails | Photo by Frontera Media

Former RTC President Keith Laughlin Named 2019 Rail-Trail Champion

For his bold and passionate work at the helm of RTC for 18 years, Keith Laughlin—who retired in February 2019—was honored as our 2019 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion, joining the ranks of a select group of visionaries who have made significant contributions to the rail-trail movement. Laughlin’s stalwart leadership was central to the movement—including his role in launching RTC’s national mapping program and, which now catalogues 37,000+ miles of trails, envisioning the 700-mile Route of the Badger, and launching the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail.


Tanglefoot Trail Voted 2019 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame Inductee

Since 2007, RTC has been elevating trails on the national stage through our Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, recognizing the country’s exemplary pathways. Congratulations to Mississippi’s Tanglefoot Trail, which was chosen as our 39th inductee following a public contest in which the trail received nearly half of the 29,000+ votes cast. Stretching 43.6 miles in the Appalachian foothills—and built on a former rail line with a rich historical background—the regional gem connects six communities in three counties, and is sponsored by nearly 100 local businesses.


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As the national voice of the trails movement, RTC seeks to inspire every American with storytelling, resources and trail-user engagement campaigns that demonstrate firsthand how trails can transform our lives and our communities.

W&OD trail cleanup at 2019 Opening Day for Trails celebration | Photo by Anthony Le
W&OD trail cleanup at 2019 Opening Day for Trails celebration | Photo by Anthony Le

On April 13, 2019, America kicked off the spring trail season on RTC’s seventh annual Opening Day for Trails. The special day encourages people across the nation to get outside on the country’s spectacular trails and trails systems—generating enthusiasm and support for trails and the people who make them happen. Approximately 100 events were planned in more than 20 states, including 10 events co-hosted by RTC with local partners.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia's Panhandle Trail | Photo by Milo Bateman
Pennsylvania and West Virginia's Panhandle Trail | Photo by Milo Bateman

Through our Rail-Trail Guidebook Series, we present information on some of the best rail-trails and multiuse pathways in America. Released in the spring of 2019, Rail-Trails: Pennsylvania and Rail-Trails: New Jersey and New York contain photos, information and waypoints for a combined 128 destination-worthy and exceptional trails covering 2,000+ miles in three states.


110,000+ Quarterly Distribution: Rails to Trails Magazine

Rails to Trails magazine is the nation’s premier publication exploring the country’s remarkable rail-trails, and the latest active transportation news and issues. In 2019, we provided in-depth coverage on the newly launched, 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail, as well as for some of the most innovative and unique trail networks, spines and destinations in the United States and abroad.


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Summary of Activities and Changes in Net Assets for the Fiscal Year Ending Sept. 30, 2019

FY2019 Financials pie charts
FY2019 Financials charts

*Non-operating income represents realized and unrealized gains and losses on investment of restricted assets. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization as qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Codes.



Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in Washington, D.C. | Courtesy RTC
Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in Washington, D.C. | Courtesy RTC

Board of Directors

Our board members come from diverse backgrounds but with a common purpose—to enrich the lives of millions of Americans by creating a nationwide network of trails. 

View a list of our FY 2019 Board of Directors.


Our Staff

We’re innovative. We’re passionate. We care about making a difference in communities nationwide.

View an FY 2019 Staff List.


Contact Us

Get in touch with us and engage with our national community.


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