With fireworks, flags and a fervor billowing about for the birth of our country, we felt that it was the perfect time to pick America’s next Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee. Our team scoured the states for rail-trails with exemplary scenic value, use, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, management and maintenance, community connections and other Hall-of-Fame-worthy merits—and though it was difficult, we were able to narrow our choices down to five nominees:
Now we’re trusting you, America’s esteemed trail users, to come together and choose the 32nd addition to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. And with these heavy hitters—trails that have helped inspire the development of others throughout the country, and which have helped build the national trail movement—we know it’s no easy task!
Voting will run July 9–13, and you can vote as many times as you want before the deadline! So please let us know with your votes which trail you believe deserves a place among America’s list of most superlative pathways. And be sure to encourage your friends and family to vote as well! After tallying the votes, we’ll officially unveil the winner in the 2018 Green Issue of Rails to Trails magazine this summer.
Before the vote kicks off, get ready by reading about this year’s fantastic nominees (listed in no particular order) below—and start raising support for your trail using #RailTrailHOF on social media!
1Cardinal Greenway, Indiana
Passing by shaded woods, running rivers, urban centers, small towns and bucolic farmland, this Indiana trail truly is the cream of the crop. Stretching nearly 62 miles along the former rail corridor that served as the route of its passenger-train namesake, the Cardinal Greenway is the state’s longest rail-trail and is a core segment of an even longer system, the Cardinal Greenways, which has sights to link up with trails in Illinois and Ohio. Thanks to the dedication of the Cardinal Greenways, Inc., the system’s visionary and caregiver, the trail is celebrating both its 25th year as a community treasure and the promise of its exciting future connections!
And if its variety of landscapes and grand plans for the future weren’t enough, the trail’s users—feet and wheels alike—also get to delight over its half-mile markers, nine bridges and restored Victorian Queen Anne style depot, which has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
2Tunnel Hill State Trail, Illinois
When toiling over a tricky hill in southern Illinois, a group of railroad builders ultimately made up their minds to go through the oblong obstacle instead of over it. More than a century later, the result of their decision now takes the form of a jaw-dropping 543-foot tunnel that inspired the name of this Hall of Fame nominee. But the Tunnel Hill State Trail's mesmerizing features don’t stop at its namesake. On the route, travelers will wander through the vast Shawnee National Forest, wetland areas, the Cache River State Nature Area’s ancient cypress-tupelo swamp, streams and farmlands, and by dramatic rocky bluffs.
Complementing the trail’s natural beauty are nearly two-dozen trestles, the longest being the 430-foot-long and 90-foot-high Breeden Trestle. Other sightings along its 55 miles include a variety of birds and other wildlife, as well as the multiple communities through which it passes—including a handful of ghost towns!
3Centennial Trail, Snohomish County, Washington
This Pacific Northwest nominee is certainly a point of pride for the state of Washington. Due to its beginnings in 1989, the linear park and conservation corridor was named in honor of Washington’s centennial celebration. Today, more than 400,000 citizens use the accessible trail each year, including hikers, bicyclists, skaters, skiers, wildlife watchers and equestrians. Of note: The Centennial Trail's creation is courtesy of four horsewomen who wanted a nonmotorized space where they could ride their steeds and others could safely recreate; now, the Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism department leads the charge, with help from park rangers and community volunteers.
While traveling this 30-mile route, trail users will be able to enjoy sparkling waters, a range of tree types, the outlines of the Cascade and Olympic mountains, agricultural lands, benches and shelters, other trail connections, art and several historical features, such as a replica of the 1890s Machias Station railroad depot.
4Raccoon River Valley Trail, Iowa
Meet our longest contender for this year’s Hall of Fame pick: the 89-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail. Created along the railroad corridor that once spanned the prairielands between Des Moines and the Iowa Great Lakes region, this accessible, easy-riding rail-trail currently links numerous communities and has plans to extend to the iconic High Trestle Trail. Already, the trail is estimated to host 350,000 walkers, bicyclists, joggers, skiers, skaters, snowmobilers and outdoorsmen annually, but after the extension is complete, the connected pair is sure to be an even more popular destination and powerful economic engine for the region.
Today, trail users can experience dense woods, wildlife sightings, farmland, trailside depots, swirling wind turbines, parks and the 600-foot-long trestle bridge over the North Raccoon River, when exploring the impressive partially looping route.
5Wood River Trail, Idaho
In the 1930s, avid skier and Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman set about to create an unprecedently upscale winter resort in America. As his team was on the brink of giving up the search for the ideal location, they realized a section of Harriman’s own rail line tucked beneath Idaho’s Rocky Mountains was perfect. Soon after, the famous Sun Valley resort—home of the first ski lift—opened. Now, the same but retired rail line connects the entire Wood River Valley, which encompasses Sun Valley and a handful of other communities, as the stunning Wood River Trail.
Between the spurs and 20-miles-plus spine, the paved path provides a combined 36-miles for snow and sun lovers to get around and play within the picturesque region. In addition to terrific wilderness views, users can expect to see two of the 10 remaining Pegram railroad bridges, which are more than 200 feet long and on the National Register of Historic Places. The well-used trail welcomes 400,000 visits yearly, thanks to the decades of stewardship provided by the Blaine County Recreation District.