Meet the 2020 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame Nominees

Posted 07/31/20 by Laura Stark in America's Trails

The 2020 election is almost upon us, that critical time when Americans make their voice heard as they consider the options and choose… the country’s next Hall of Fame Rail-Trail

In July, the Hall of Fame nomination committee at Team RTC voted in the “trail primaries” to narrow down the running to four exceptional candidates—based on the merits of scenic value, high use, trail amenities, historical significance, management and maintenance, and community connections. We’ve got a stump speech below for each of our final nominees, so check them out and then cast your vote for the nation’s next esteemed Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee.


Public voting has ended for the 2020 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame nominees. We’ll unveil the winner in the August 2020 edition of eNews. Sign up for eNews here.

Major Taylor Trail (Illinois)

Coursing through Chicago’s southwestern neighborhoods, the Major Taylor Trail has transformed a corridor that was once desolate, overgrown and neglected into a wellspring of community pride, and a draw for both residents and tourists. Along its 7.6-mile stretch, colorful murals line the paved pathway, sharing the inspirational life and achievements of the trail’s namesake, Marshall “Major” Taylor, a Black cyclist who was one of the most celebrated bicycle racers of the late 19th century, setting several world records and winning numerous races all over the world. Although born and raised in Indianapolis, Chicago is where he spent his final years.

Taylor’s legacy continues through the establishment of dozens of Major Taylor Cycling Clubs around the country, including the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, which works to enhance the trail and promote its use in partnership with the Major Taylor Trail Keepers and Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, two local volunteer groups, and the Chicago Park District, which maintains it.

Bookending the route, two Cook County forest preserves offer delightful escapes into nature from the surrounding bustle of the city. Built on some of the city’s highest land, the steep slopes of Dan Ryan Woods on the northern end of the trail offer sledding and snowboarding opportunities in the winter. In the warmer months, visitors can wander through the park’s native grasses and wildflowers, relax under the shady canopy of oak and hickory trees, or gather with family and friends in the picnic groves. Tucked into this picturesque setting are limestone aqueducts and stairways constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. On the trail’s southern end, Whistler Woods offers a birding hotspot and views of the Little Calumet River.

But the trail serves as more than a recreational outlet: between its forested hubs, the route thrives in its urban setting with connections to commuter rail lines, public transit and major street corridors. Weaving through five city wards, the rail-trail provides a transportation option for more than 200,000 residents, improving access to workplaces, schools, grocery stores and other businesses.

Cool connections: To the south, the Major Taylor Trail connects to the developing Cal-Sag Trail, which will one day span 26 miles. When complete, travelers will be able to seamlessly go between the Major Taylor Trail, Cal-Sag Trail, John Husar I&M Canal Trail and the Burnham Greenway.

Related: Honoring the Legacy of African-American Cycling Legend Major Taylor

Three Rivers Heritage Trail (Pennsylvania)

Branching outward from downtown Pittsburgh, the Three Rivers Heritage Trail traces the banks of three major waterways—the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio—that lifted the city to prominence as an American industrial powerhouse. Built in phases over three decades, the pathway—a mix of asphalt and crushed-stone surfaces—was key to opening up riverfront access to residents who had been cut off from this resource for more than a century. 

“Heritage” is a key part of its name, and along the trail, travelers will find 61 interpretative signs covering a range of topics: everything from Ice Age geography to Native American settlements, the changing river ecosystem, and visits by prominent historical figures like George Washington and Lewis and Clark. The rise of the city’s industries and railroads—like the B&O, on which portions of the rail-trail are built—are also detailed. For railroad history buffs, passage over the Hot Metal Bridge (circa 1887) on the trail’s eastern leg is a special experience.

Keeping the pathway in tip-top shape is a priority for Friends of the Riverfront, which has been instrumental in building and maintaining the trail. The group’s trail stewards inspect every section of the trail on a continuous basis and work with hundreds of volunteers each year on a range of projects.

Dotted with parks, museums, sports stadiums, public art and restored woodland habits, today’s riverfront trail spans 33 miles and is bursting with cultural and recreational opportunities. As a safe, clean and green way to get around Pennsylvania’s second-largest city, it serves as a national model for urban trails, positively contributing to financial health of the region—with an estimated economic impact of $8+ million annually—and improving the quality of life for the Allegheny County communities that surround it.

Cool connections: The Three Rivers Heritage Trail connects to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage (, and both are part of the Great American Rail-Trail, which is linking 3,700 miles of trail between Washington, D.C., and Washington State. Pittsburgh’s trail also serves as a major spine for the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s developing 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail is also part of the developing Erie to Pittsburgh Trail that will span 270 miles in western Pennsylvania, connecting the Bicentennial Tower in Erie to Point State Park in Pittsburgh.

Related: Riverfront Resurgence: Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Heritage Trail

Mon River Rail-Trails (West Virginia)

Surrounded by the central Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia’s Mon River Rail-Trails, which converge in Morgantown, offer three unique experiences all in one interconnected system spanning 48 miles. Building, managing and maintaining this incredible trail network has been the work of the nonprofit Mon River Trails Conservancy for nearly three decades. As a shared community space, the trail system is used for more than 30 events each year, and the trails are an integral part of numerous health initiatives and activities, such as wellness walks and youth running and biking clubs. The trail also serves as an outdoor classroom for everyone from elementary school children to university students to adults attending birding walks and watershed education talks.

It's not hard to see why locals and visitors are flocking to the trails. The Mon River Trail comes down from the Pennsylvania state line, hugging the gentle curves of the Mon River (short for Monongahela), which cuts a wide, slow-moving path through the forested terrain. The presence of the rail-trails here have transformed this river into a recreational and economic asset after years of neglect and abuse. Along the waterway, a series of massive locks and dams that support navigation are fascinating to watch from the trail. At trail’s end, visitors can check out Prickett’s Fort State Park, a reconstructed frontier outpost circa 1774.

Downtown, the pathway seamlessly blends with the Caperton Trail, which offers access to shopping and dining opportunities and a handful of well-loved parks on its 6-mile route connecting Morgantown and Star City. Nature lovers will enjoy traversing part of the West Virginia University Core Arboretum with a variety of habitats featuring several hundred species of native plants and trees. At Hazel Ruby McQuain Park, the trail splits; the fork heading southwest continues the journey of the Mon River Trail, and the one heading southeast is the Deckers Creek Trail. Follow the swiftly moving Deckers Creek for a 19.5-mile climb out of the river valley through rock cuts, wetlands and rural landscapes, plus enjoy a close-up view of the active Greer Limestone quarry. And throughout the trail system, travelers will see nods to its railroad past with whistle posts and beautiful trestle bridges.

Cool connections: At the state line, the Mon River Trail connects to Pennsylvania’s developing 34-mile Sheepskin Rail-Trail, which in turn links to the popular Great Allegheny Passage ( Both the Mon River and Sheepskin Rail-trails are part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s vision to create a 1,500-miles-plus multiuse trail network across four states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Future plans also include the development of a connector between the Deckers Creek Trail (near mile 17.5) and the Arthurdale Heritage museum, which helps tell the interesting history of the first New Deal community in the United States. Trail planners hope the spur, which will be just over a mile long, will be completed within five years.

Related: Trail of the Month - February 2015: West Virginia's Mon River Trails

Iron Horse Regional Trail (California)

Skirting the eastern fringe of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Iron Horse Regional Trail follows a 32-mile course between Concord and Pleasanton, offering safe and convenient access to neighborhoods, schools, retail centers, parks and public transportation options in a handful of communities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Tracing a rail corridor that once connected the agricultural communities of the San Ramon Valley before they prospered into cities, the rail-trail serves over a million users each year and is a model for other urban pathways across the country. 

Established in 1986 and managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, the Iron Horse Regional Trail is one of the region’s largest and oldest multiuse trails. Loosely paralleling I-680, the route provides an important alternative to congested roads and highways with access to buses and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.

In tandem with its value as a transportation corridor, the trail is a recreational asset with shady greenbelts through suburban areas, views of rolling green hillsides and the burbling Walnut Creek, and passage over several unique bridges, such as the elegant bike/pedestrian overpass of Treat Boulevard and the trestle bridge across Ygnacio Valley Road. History lovers will also want to stop in the trailside Museum of the San Ramon Valley, housed in Danville’s restored 1891 Southern Pacific depot.

Cool connections: Near its northern end, the 14-mile horseshoe-shaped Contra Costa Canal Trail crosses the Iron Horse Regional Trail, offering additional links into the surrounding communities. The Iron Horse Regional Trail is also part of a broader trail network effort by the Bay Area Trails Collaborative that will span 2,700 miles and connect dozens of urban and rural communities across nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Related: Uniting the Bay: Trails Are Creating Healthy Communities
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