These Eight Trail Networks Are Connecting Millions of Americans

Posted 12/06/17 by Amy Kapp, Laura Stark in Building Trails, America's Trails

San Francisco Bay Trail in California | Photo by Cindy Barks

With more than 32,000 miles of rail-trails and multiuse trails on the ground across the United States, it’s safe to say trails are truly shaping American life. As Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) moves ahead, we have a vision to show how connecting these vital amenities can result in exponential benefits.

In eight diverse areas of the country, through our TrailNation™ program, RTC is investing in projects that show what’s possible when trails are seamlessly linked together to form complete systems that are well integrated into the communities they serve—providing low-stress, high-quality and environmentally friendly transportation and recreation for all. In some cases, filling in just a few trail gaps could improve mobility for hundreds of thousands of people in underserved neighborhoods. In other cases, the resulting safe walking and biking connections could reduce vehicle travel by millions of miles over time and serve as a boon for economic development.

And as these projects continue to demonstrate the impact of trails on our health, mobility, social equity and the environment, they will serve as replicable role models for communities across the country. Here’s a quick snapshot.

Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan: A New Star for a Healthier Texas

Historic Battlefield Trail in Brownsville, Texas | Photo by Mark Lehmann

This developing 428-mile network of multiuse trails, bicycle routes and paddling trails—sponsored by RTC, The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation and 10 municipalities in Cameron County—is poised to spark new waves of tourism and job creation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and serve as a major catalyst for health and wellness.

The area faces significant socioeconomic challenges, including high levels of poverty and a disproportionate number of residents suffering from preventable health issues related to inactivity—most notably type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that by the 10th year of completion, the Active Plan will generate tens-of-millions of dollars in economic impact annually and result in medical costs savings for residents of between $3 million and $6 million per year. 

Cool Fact:

Via the Historic Battlefield Trail, the trail network connects to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, where the first battle that led to the Mexican-American War took place.

The Circuit Trails: Sparking Better Transportation in Greater Philly

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Photo by Thom Carroll

The Circuit Trails, a project of RTC and the Circuit Trails Coalition, is like no other trail system in the country—with a plan to connect urban, suburban and rural communities across nine counties in the fifth largest metropolitan region of the United States.

Currently at more than 322 miles and eventually stretching to 800 miles, the Circuit Trails, and the connections they provide to critical destinations in the Philly-Camden area, are resulting in huge benefits. For example, the 34-mile-and-growing Schuylkill River Trail—a kingpin in the trail network that links hundreds of neighborhoods, parks, business centers, transit stations and waterfront areas—was found to have an economic impact of $7.3 million in 2009 alone.

Cool Fact:

The Circuit Trails network has been used as a springboard to engage thousands of local underserved youth to date in watershed education and biking skills classes, and long-distance rides aimed at making them environmental stewards and trail champions in their communities.

The Miami LOOP: Creating Regional Competitiveness—and Resiliency

Miami River Greenway in Florida | Photo by Lee Smith

Implemented by RTC in partnership with the Miami-Dade Trail Alliance, Florida’s Miami LOOP is a 225-mile trail vision that is expanding safe transportation options for millions of people, and creating a new era of regional competitiveness and environmental resiliency.

The primary corridors for the LOOP—which include world-renowned beaches, the Miami River area and multiple old rail lines—will connect major sites including South Beach, downtown Miami, and Biscayne and Everglades national parks. These connections will do much to decrease automobile dependency in an area that is challenged by traffic congestion, lofty carbon reduction goals, and some of the highest pedestrian and biking fatality rates in the country.

Cool Fact:

Miami-Dade County estimates that two projects—The Underline (M-Path) and the Ludlam Trail, which create the 10-mile eastern and 6.2-mile western portions of the inner LOOP—will result in approximately 119 million vehicle miles avoided over 15 years, nearly the average distance from Earth to Mars!

Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition: Safe Connections for Everyone

Gwynns Falls Trail in Baltimore, Maryland | Photo by Katie Harris

RTC and the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition have been working to create a new, 35-mile world-class trail system in the city with the goal of providing equitable, healthy, low-stress access to open space and transit for people of all ages and abilities.

Social equity is a primary focus of the project, which seeks to reverse the urban fragmentation and isolation from transit, trails and greenways that has restricted access and mobility in many neighborhoods since the 1950s and 1960s. The trail network will connect 50 communities in Baltimore to the downtown core, opening up access to trails, and walking and biking infrastructure for hundreds of thousands of residents, one in three of which currently don’t have access to a car.

Cool Fact:

A northern project segment will connect a number of historically significant African-American neighborhoods—including Rosemont, Mondawmin, Ashburton, Walbrook Junction and Auchentoroly Terrace—providing new and improved access to jobs, schools, transit, hospitals and parks.

Industrial Heartlands Trail Coalition: A Region’s Renewal

Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | Photo by Kelly Carter, courtesy Friends of the Riverfront

Imagine a trail system stretching more than 1,400+ miles from the shores of Lake Erie to the confluence of Pittsburgh's three rivers and on to the Ohio River and Appalachian foothills. That’s the aspiration of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (IHTC), composed of more than 100 organizations and led by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the National Park Service and RTC.

The massive network, which will connect four states by trail, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York, is expected to spur a new wave of regional tourism, encouraging the exploration of the small towns, major cities, historical sites, rivers and mountains along the route. A study on the project's impact found that the network is uniquely positioned to bring value to the region by harnessing its industrial past and cultural history into a new shared identity that promotes tourism and increases trail use and demand.

Cool Fact:

When finished, the IHTC network—now 48 percent complete—will stretch across a whopping 48 counties to become one of the largest multiuse trail networks in the country.

Route of the Badger: Trail Access for All

Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Photo courtesy Wisconsin Bike Fed

The Route of the Badger, an effort being led by RTC and the Wisconsin Bike Fed, will span 500 miles across seven counties in southeast Wisconsin with the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, serving as an important hub.

The transformational project—of which 340 miles are already complete—will provide increased opportunities for physical activity, tourism, connections to nature, recreation and stronger businesses along the route. An important next step will be to close gaps in the trail system between urban and suburban neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine counties to develop a 75-mile trail loop connecting Racine and small towns to the west and Milwaukee to the north.

Cool Fact:

A BikeAble™ study released by RTC this summer found that neighborhoods experiencing inequality in Milwaukee disproportionately lack access to biking and walking facilities. Further, this Reconnecting Milwaukee study found that just two trail projects—adding the 30th Street Corridor and extending the Kinnickinnic River Trail—would provide significant transportation improvements for these underserved neighborhoods, increasing walking access from 3 percent to 11 percent and skyrocketing biking access from 8 percent to 66 percent.

Bay Area Trails Collaborative: California Dreamin’ (and Doing!)

San Francisco Bay Trail in California | Photo by Cindy Barks

The Bay Area Trails Collaborative (BATC) vision is to develop a 2,700-mile trail network connecting nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area—an effort that’s already 58 percent complete! The BATC is being chaired by RTC and currently comprises more than three dozen organizations, agencies and businesses.

This critical regional trail system will provide an active transportation and recreation corridor for the 7 million people living and working in the Bay Area and will address serious challenges the area is facing: alleviating traffic congestion; increasing economic opportunity; improving public health and safety, especially in disadvantaged areas; and reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution from vehicle traffic.

Cool Fact:

The BATC network includes major destination trails, such as the 500-mile San Francisco Bay Trail (which links communities all around the Bay), the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail (along the ridgelines), a portion of the 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail and the 47-mile Napa Valley Vine Trail through one of the most popular tourist areas in the country.

Capital Trails Coalition: A National Role Model in the Nation’s Capital

Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, D.C. | Photo by Milo Bateman

The Capital Trails Coalition, led by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, RTC and the National Park Service, envisions 686 miles of interconnected multiuse trails that will encircle D.C. in a bike/ped beltway and extend outward into Maryland and Virginia. Approximately 285 miles worth of planned trail projects will enhance an existing pool of 400 miles of trails, ensuring equitable access to trails throughout the region.

The aim is to provide effective transportation connections and a healthy, environmentally friendly alternative to motorized travel in an area often cited as among the worst when it comes to traffic congestion. The extensive trail system will not only serve the area’s 6 million residents and 20 million annual visitors, but also provide a shining example for other American cities to improve the way people live, play and get around in their own communities.

Cool Fact:

More than 60 miles of rail-trail are part of the Capital Trails Coalition network, including a Rail-Trail Hall of Famer, Virginia’s incredibly scenic 45-mile W&OD Trail.

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