Nine Hot New Rail-Trails in 2017

Posted 12/11/17 by Laura Stark in America's Trails, Building Trails

Westside Trail | Photo by John Becker

Say hello to the newest batch of rail-trails! As 2017 wraps up, we end the year with more than 2,000 such trails all across the American landscape. We’ve highlighted a few of these remarkable new pathways here—which are connecting people with each other and nature, providing new opportunities for physical activity and active transportation, and creating healthy thriving communities throughout the nation.

And did we mention the incredible greenspace, railroad relics and cultural sites they connect along their routes? Check them out.

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 1Kickapoo Rail Trail (Illinois)

Kickapoo Rail Trail | Photo by TrailLink user bigdealer

This is our type of summer blockbuster! The 6.7-mile Kickapoo Rail Trail in eastern Illinois opened in August. Champaign County’s paved pathway runs from Urbana east to St. Joseph along the former Big Four Railroad through a peaceful rural landscape with views of the Salt Fork River near its eastern end.

Why It’s Hot:

This is just the beginning! Future phases of the trail will continue its eastward trajectory into Vermilion County to Danville (near the Indiana border) for a total of 24.5 miles. Along the way, the trail will provide access to Kickapoo State Park, cross a trestle bridge over the Middle Fork River and connect the towns of Ogden, Fithian and Oakwood.

2Great Sauk State Trail (Wisconsin)

View of the Baraboo Range along the future extension of the Great Sauk State Trail | Courtesy Friends of the Great Sauk State Trail

Opened in October, the Great Sauk State Trail connects the southern Wisconsin communities of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. Built along a former section of the Union Pacific Railroad, the smoothly paved, 5-mile pathway begins on the banks of the Wisconsin River and travels north to the border of the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area.

Why It’s Hot:

A second phase will extend it north to another recreational asset, Devil’s Lake State Park, which would bring the trail’s total length to nearly 13 miles. But trail advocates aren’t stopping there; they foresee the Great Sauk as part of a regional effort that would connect the state’s newest rail-trail with its oldest, the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, via a future linkage with the 400 State Trail.

3Firefly Trail (Georgia)

North Oconee River bridge on Firefly Trail | Courtesy Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services

At less than half a mile, the length of the Firefly Trail’s first section may be small, but its opening this fall was a big step forward for the pathway being built along the former Georgia Railroad. Found in Athens, a vibrant college town home to the University of Georgia, the paved rail-trail travels through Dudley Park and connects to the North Oconee River Greenway. A highlight of the new trail is a 500-foot-long bridge with large platforms for taking in the views of the North Oconee River 40 feet below.

Why It’s Hot:

From Athens, the Firefly Trail will eventually head east to Winterville and then south through a handful of small towns—many of which began in the heyday of the railroad—to end at Union Point, a distance of 39 miles.

4Escanaba to Hermansville Rail-Trail (Michigan)

Gov. Rick Snyder cut the ribbon for the new Escanaba to Hermansville Rail-Trail. | Courtesy Michigan DNR

Most rail-trails are built in phases with a small handful of miles opening at a time. Not so with the Escanaba to Hermansville Rail-Trail, which opened 25 miles in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in August. From Hermansville, the crushed-stone pathway rolls northeast through Menominee County and into Delta County following the former Soo Line Railroad. The route is heavily wooded and includes three bridges with scenic overlooks. The trail ends in Escanaba, near the Upper Peninsula State Fairgrounds.

Why It’s Hot:

The Escanaba to Hermansville trail is part of the massive Iron Belle Trail project, which is linking together trails to span Michigan from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula’s Ironwood. The Iron Belle has two components under development: a 1,273-mile hiking route and a 791-mile bicycle route.

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5Point Douglas Regional Trail (Minnesota)

Point Douglas Regional Trail | Courtesy Washington County

About 30 miles southeast of St. Paul, Minnesota’s new Point Douglas Regional Trail offers a picturesque route between two Mississippi River towns, Hastings and Prescott. From Point Douglas Park, at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, the paved pathway follows the former Peanut Line railroad along the waterfront for 2.5 miles.

Why It’s Hot:

While the trail currently ends at busy Highway 61, which crosses the Mississippi, construction is underway on a new pedestrian bridge over the river leading into Hastings, where travelers will be able to connect to the city’s “Scenic Circuit,” a 10-mile trail loop.

6K&T Trail (Pennsylvania)

K&T Trail | Photo by TrailLink user lbrzowski

Philadelphia’s K&T Trail offers a pleasant mile-long walk or ride along the Delaware River. Named for the Kensington and Tacony Railroad, the paved rail-trail connects the city’s Wissinoming and Tacony neighborhoods as it travels from the Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch to the beautiful Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. Future plans call for extending the trail southward to Port Richmond.

Why It’s Hot:

The little but mighty trail is part of three larger efforts: Greater Philadelphia’s expansive network known as the Circuit Trails, the nearly 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway and the developing 11-mile North Delaware Riverfront Greenway.

7Lyman Rail Trail (South Carolina)

Lyman Rail Trail | Photo by Mark Elbrecht

The Lyman Rail Trail provides safe and convenient pedestrian access to Lyman’s commercial center and a relaxed space for outdoor recreation in this small former mill town in South Carolina. Beginning in Lyman Park, the paved pathway swings by the town’s amphitheater and heads north for a half-mile. Trail proponents were no doubt inspired by the success of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail to the west, a popular 20-mile rail-trail between Travelers Rest and Greenville.

Why It’s Hot:

Just opened in spring, the trail is already seeing good use as residents enjoy the new route through their community. An extension is in the works to continue the trail toward Groce Road, and a future playground and dog park have also been proposed near the trail route.

8Lower Yahara River Trail (Wisconsin)

Lower Yahara River Trail | Courtesy Dane County Parks

While not built on an old railroad bed, the Lower Yahara River Trail parallels still-active railroad tracks, allowing railfans the opportunity for watching trains up close. But trains aren’t the only thing to see on this rail-with-trail running between Madison and the Village of McFarland. The 2.5-mile paved pathway offers views of Lake Waubesa and traverses Lake Farm County Park with its woodland and prairie landscapes, as well as an archaeological district on the National Register of Historic Places. For a longer ride (and more great views), the adventurous can also connect to the 17-mile Capital City State Trail.

Why It’s Hot:

The trail includes a mile-long bridge across the lake, which the Dane County Parks website proclaims is “the longest boardwalk bridge constructed solely for nonmotorized transportation in North America!”

9Westside Trail (Georgia)

Westside Trail | Photo by John Becker

Spanning just over 3 miles, the Westside Trail offers a tree-lined route in Atlanta along the former Louisville and Nashville Railroad. It connects the historical neighborhoods of Adair Park at its south end with Washington Park at its north end, as well as West End, Mozley Park and Westview in between. With a centerline separating one direction from the other and an underpass beneath I-20, the paved rail-trail offers an easy and convenient way for residents to get around town.

Why It’s Hot:

The trail is part of the growing Atlanta BeltLine, which will form a 22-mile loop around the city with another 11 miles of spur trails. The transformative project is integrating trails, green space and parks while connecting 45 neighborhoods throughout the city.

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