Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Fiscal Year 2021 (Oct. 1, 2020–Sept. 30, 2021) Impact Report chronicles a year of momentum and victory for the trails movement. Explore the ways that, together, we are making a difference.
IMPACT REPORT FY 2021
Connecting America’s Trail Networks
Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath | Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Our visionary TrailNation™ work is redefining what it means to build trail networks and the impact these equitable trail systems can have on people and places. Each of our eight TrailNation projects—diverse in their geography, culture, size and scope—takes an innovative approach to how trails and active transportation systems can create healthy, thriving communities.
Totaling 40,000+ miles of trails to date, these trail network projects are transforming the communities they serve and providing a playbook for how trails can be connected in ways that are equitable and impactful.
In FY 2021, we moved the dial and then some on connectivity, social equity and economic vitality. We prioritized projects that would create connections and deliver the greatest impact for the greatest number of people, with an emphasis on how these trail networks can bring benefit to low-income areas and Communities of Color.
Last year, $130 million in public and private funds were secured to further the development of TrailNation projects, accelerating these transformative local and regional routes that will eventually collectively extend more than 11,000 miles throughout the country.
Meet Our Newest Trail Network Project
The New England Rail-Trail Spine Network initiative was launched in March 2019 with a goal to unite the region's six states—Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut—by multipurpose trail. At 50% on the ground with 560+ miles of open trails, the system is already making the case for more investment in these assets for job creation, community development and sustainable transportation.
Local trail managers and advocates within the network have raised millions of dollars and generated critical support to help complete and connect impactful projects throughout the regional trail network. Of significant note was Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC's) work to help establish the Twin States Rail-Trail Working Group to create a cross-state link between Vermont and New Hampshire—and a successful fight, against opposition, for funding to complete Maine’s 50-mile Mountain Division Trail, a newly designated spine trail that will eventually span lower Maine, from Portland to the New Hampshire border.
Promoting Social Equity
In Baltimore, the vision of the 35-mile Baltimore Greenway Trails Network inspired the city to move forward with the acquisition of a Canton Railroad parcel that will serve as a park and trailhead for a future trail segment, transforming a former industrial area into a vibrant community space and neighborhood connector. These efforts have also generated investment in the city as Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland legislature announced $1.5 million in the state budget to support the trail network.
Within California's 2,600-mile Bay Area Trails Collaborative network, the Richmond Greenway and East Bay Greenway—two high-priority projects in severely disadvantaged communities—will be supported by state grants (totaling $104,000) for community outreach, connectivity analysis, wayfinding plans and maintenance strategies.
Related: Richmond’s RootS | Rails to Trails Magazine
In North Philadelphia, community-driven renewal efforts along the 800-mile Circuit Trails network in Greater Philadelphia, and Camden, New Jersey, are transforming a disused rail corridor along the Richmond Industrial Track into a 1.9-mile revitalized space that will link residents to green space, public transportation options, anchor institutions and multiple community development projects. This includes the construction of a trailhead park via a $272,220 grant secured by Hispanic Association Contractor Enterprises to bring new economic opportunities to residents.
Related: Richmond Industrial Trail Will Transform Neighborhoods and Lives in North PhiladelphiA | TrailBlog
The “My Circuit Trails” marketing campaign, designed to encourage trail use among diverse constituents, kicked off in 2021. The successful program is hoped to serve as a national model for other communities.
Fueling Strong Businesses and Economies
Completing the 800-miles-plus Capital Trails Coalition network in the D.C. Metropolitan Area could generate over $1 billion annually from construction and local spending alone, according to an economic impact report released in April 2021 by RTC and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The trail network also brings significant environmental and health impacts annually: $517 million in public health savings and a reduction of 49 million vehicle miles.
Related: The Economic, Health, and Environmental Benefits of Completing the Capital Trails NetworK | Capital Trails Coalition
Related: Completing Network of Trails in the D.C. Region Would Bring a Financial Boost, Report SayS | The Washington Post
In November 2021, RTC and partners in southern Texas celebrated the opening of a 1.8-mile extension of the City of Brownsville’s Historic Battlefield Trail. The new section is part of efforts via the developing 428-mile Caracara Trails network to connect Brownsville to neighboring Los Fresnos by trail and build a more sustainable future for Cameron County driven by outdoor tourism and healthy, active living.
“The trail extension is a significant step forward in building a sustainable future in Cameron County that will position our city and our region as a leader in tourism based on a strong economy that is driven by ensuring the health of the local residents and community.”
—Rose M.Z. Gowen, M.D., Brownsville City Commissioner and RTC Board Member
Related: Historic Battlefield Trail Extension Opens, Offering Health and Economic Boons for Cameron CountY
Related: Los Fresnos Trail Extension CelebrateD | The Brownsville HeraLD
Improving Health and Wellness
Within the 1,500-mile Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition footprint, 2021 marked the completion of two gap-filling projects along the developing Cleveland to Pittsburgh corridor that will have a major impact on connectivity. The newly opened Wendy Park Bridge connecting the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail to Lake Erie provides long-sought public access to the lakefront and its green space for residents, and the new Bolivar connector on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail fills a key gap that creates 90 seamless miles of trail and eliminates a hazardous on-road section that had been part of the route.
“It will strengthen the view that if the public owns it, [they] should have access to it. And it will lead to more enthusiasm for further expansion of the lakefront access.”
—Dan Moore, Cleveland Metroparks Commissioner, on the Wendy Park Bridge
Related: Bridge to Everywhere: Examining Signature Gateways Across AmericA | Rails to Trails MagaZINE
Expanding Transportation Options
In Southeast Wisconsin—a $1.5 million public-land acquisition of a former rail corridor for the expansion of the White River State Trail marked a major advancement for the region, which seeks to connect 700 miles of trail across seven counties through the Route of the Badger network. The 10.7-mile tract will help create 56 miles of uninterrupted trail and connect communities across Racine County, expanding recreation and active transportation opportunities for residents.
Additionally, a total of $6.3 million in federal grants was awarded to Route of the Badger projects in FY 2021, providing much-needed resources for the planning and development of transformative trail connections across the region.
“The trail extension will positively impact Racine County and its communities by stimulating tourism, local economies, the quality of life for residents and visitors, and improved environmental impacts such as transportation alternatives and additional green space for both people and wildlife.”
—Larissa Gallagher, President of Union Grove Rails to Trails
Related: Route of the Badger Coalition Highlights Trail Network Progress in Racine CountY
Related: New Federal Grants Deliver Momentum for Southeast Wisconsin’s 700-mile Trail NetworK
Related: Trail Development in Racine County, Across Southeastern Wisconsin on the Right TracK | The Journal Times
Protecting the Environment
Florida's Miami LOOP will play a role in decreasing the city’s carbon footprint and meeting ambitious climate goals. In Miami-Dade County, it is estimated that two projects, the Ludlam Trail and The Underline, will help residents avoid nearly 8 million vehicle miles annually when complete. In 2021, $4 million was secured in the state budget for the two projects—part of the cumulative estimated $10 million in federal and state investments secured for the 225-mile trail network.
Both the 10-mile Underline, which opened its first section in February 2021, and the 6.2-mile Ludlam Trail are anticipated to generate significant benefits for the region—as community gathering spaces and active-transportation routes in a car-centric region—connecting parks, neighborhoods, transit stops, schools and commercial areas.
The Miami-Dade Trail Alliance continues to coordinate trail efforts in the area and has grown to nearly 50 agencies and organizations.