Outreach is one of the most important ongoing activities for any rail-trail project. Without support from community members, politicians and key businesses, even the best rail-trail proposals can fail.
If you've conducted corridor research and determined that the railroad still owns or operates on the right-of-way, you'll need to start the acquisition process by contacting the railroad. Navigating through the corporate structure to find a representative who is willing to discuss rail-trail acquisition and development may be difficult. Negotiations with the railroad will differ depending on the nature of the property, and the options and interests of the railroad.
Trails and greenways are community-based projects, and every project needs broad community support to be a success. As soon as you have created your vision, shop it around to groups that may be interested in the project, such as land trusts, bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups, bird-watching groups and equestrians, to gain their trust and support.
Many trail development projects are cooperative efforts between trail advocates, local municipalities and state agencies. One of the early steps should be to identify the local municipalities through which the corridor passes, which will vary considerably from state to state based upon the established form of government.
Some rail-trail conversions face opposition from landowners living alongside or near the corridors. Lack of information and unanswered criticism of trail proposals usually fuel this opposition. Some common misconceptions include confusion related to property rights issues, concerns that property values will drop and liability will increase, and fears of increased crime such as littering, trespassing, burglary and vandalism. If informed of the benefits of a trail early in the process, adjacent residents almost invariably become enthusiastic trail users and supporters within a few years of a trail's creation.
Engage with key constituencies, including opponents, early and often. Though you may not be able to turn everyone into a supporter, you will be able to forge a much smoother path to your trail's completion.