Special thanks to RTC President Ryan Chao for this—the latest post in his new monthly series on the role of trails in connecting the nation, and creating healthy, thriving communities across America.
This past year—and especially since starting at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) in February—I’ve spent much time on my home town trail, the Patuxent Branch Trail in Maryland. The trail has long been a favorite place of mine, but my work at RTC has brought a new lens with which to experience and understand it.
On May 8, in the days leading up to the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, RTC launched the Great American Rail-Trail, embarking on a journey to complete the first multiuse trail across America that will be entirely separated from vehicle traffic. The enthusiasm the Great American has inspired is contagious. We’ve heard from thousands about their excitement for this vision, their ideas for how it can be fully connected and their passion for getting out on the trail ASAP. Even Al Roker, RTC member and Today Show host, can’t wait to ride the Great American.
THANK YOU to @alroker @SheinelleJones @craigmelvin @DylanDreyerNBC & the rest of the @3rdhourTODAY / @TODAYshow team for giving the #GRTAmerican—a 3,700+ mile trail that will connect DC to Washington—a shout-out during today’s show! 🤩❤️— Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (@railstotrails) June 26, 2019
📽️▶️@ 6:28: https://t.co/mR5bKXZGJ3 pic.twitter.com/GuwcOLSeFV
Between Washington, D.C., and Washington State, epic infrastructure exists that forms the backbone of the Great American Rail-Trail—more than 1,900 miles of trails that already connect millions of people to incredible sites, experiences, nature and history.
The anchors on each end of the Great American—the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail in Washington and the C&O Canal National Historical Park in D.C. and Maryland—are incredible testaments to the nation’s history. From the innovation and entrepreneurship to create the nation’s canal system to the pioneering spirit of the west, these trails are each epic and iconic.
And while the Great American will connect the East and West, the planned Great Redwood Trail in California will stretch 316 miles north to south, from San Francisco Bay to Eureka, making it the longest rail-trail in California. An emerging trail with outstanding potential, it will connect millions of people to the Great Redwoods, inspiring a new appreciation for the grandness of America’s natural resources.
All of these trails, while powerful in their impact and intention, require political and public will to realize their full potential—from officially railbanking the Great Redwood Trail corridor to delivering the funding necessary in Washington and Maryland to close key gaps and protect and rehabilitate historic trestles.
Nationwide, we’re witnessing all that’s possible with connected trail systems. They are powerful tools for economic investment and give all people the chance to be outdoors and choose active transportation. One such person is Ian Mackay in Washington. A lifelong bicycle advocate, trails were key to his recovery from a bicycle accident that left him with a spinal cord injury. Ian strives for greater accessibility of multiuse trails for people living with disabilities.
The work to build trails couldn’t be more complex. Each project is exceptional and unique—and familiar. The Patuxent Branch Trail provides respite for my family, as the country’s trails do for millions of Americans. But realizing the full potential of these trails to connect people and places—to create new access to the outdoors, transportation, health and wellness—requires teamwork: all of us, together, advocating for the investments necessary to create a nation truly connected by trail.
08/27/19 by Scott Stark