Making It Happen

Connecting the Great American Rail-Trail

2021 Completion Infographic

The Great American Rail-Trail promises an all-new American experience, creating new access to the outdoors and America’s heritage, people and places for the millions of trail users who will visit. Across the nation—and the worldonly the limits of imagination will limit how people chose to experience the Great American.

The plan to complete the Great American Rail-Trail is bold, and it will take decades to complete. RTC partnered with states and local trails to define a preferred route for the Great American Rail-Trail, which is detailed in a comprehensive route assessment—the product of a 12-month analysis of potential trail routing using RTC’s comprehensive GIS database of more than 34,000 miles of existing, multiuse trails nationwide, and findings from the review of over 300 state and local trail plans to identify planned future trails. In addition, RTC conducted dozens of meetings and phone calls with 200+ local trail partners and 50+ state agencies representing the trails along the route. These discussions informed the preferred route, ensuring it aligned with local and state priorities.


Advocating for Public Funds to Connect the Trail—between Washington and Washington

Creating a trail that spans the nation will require a significant investment of time, expertise and resources. That is why the team at RTC waited until now to commit to the project’s development. It was important that a viable route was possible across the country and that it was well-aligned with the interests of the existing trails and state and local priorities. Now, with the preferred route of the Great American well defined, RTC is ready to lead the movement to complete the trail—including advocating for the local, state and federal funds necessary to close trail gaps and maintain existing trail segments.

“Public money is central to how you get public amenities like trails built, and there are federal, state and local roles in that. At the federal level, there are the existing core programs that RTC helped create in the early 1990s and has helped to sustain, track and nurture to be ongoing sources of funding in every state in the country to build and maintain trails. These include the Transportation Alternatives Program and the Recreational Trails Program.”

—Kevin Mills, RTC Vice President of Policy, Rails to Trails Magazine, Spring/Summer 2019

Securing public funding for trails has long been a focus of RTC, and the organization will continue to be a leading advocate for this critical resource. Based on RTC’s experiences completing regional trail networks across the country, it is expected that a combination of federal funds dedicated to trail building, as well as state and local funds and private investment, will be critical to complete the trail gaps along the route. RTC actively advocates for federal and state programs used to support trail networks and spines, and walking and biking projects, across the country—and these public funds will be critical in our efforts to complete the Great American.


Frequently Asked Questions

Looking to learn more about the Great American Rail-Trail, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy or the trail movement?


Spurring Trail Completion: Catalyst Initiatives

In every state along the preferred route of the Great American, needs for completing the trail vary. To spur trail completion, RTC has identified initial catalyst initiatives—projects or challenges that would most benefit from RTC’s national breadth of resources. For example, along the preferred route of the Great American, RTC will provide trail planning assistance for completing trail gaps; generate public funding support for future trail development or open trail improvements; advocate for local and state trail priorities, and provide communications support and strategy to advance trail priorities along the route; and conduct research critical to advancing trail priorities. Through these initiatives, RTC will directly support local and state partners, investing time, expertise and organizational resources in specific projects that are critical to the ultimate completion of the Great American Rail-Trail.


The Great American Rail-Trail will stand alongside our country’s iconic landmarks as a national treasure. You can help by making a gift to RTC, supporting the national leadership and on-the-ground support—the work to organize people, plans and ideas; trail planning and community engagement; the advocacy and marketing that is necessary to completing the Great American Rail-Trail.