In May 2020, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and partners around the country are celebrating the first anniversary of the launch of the Great American Rail-Trail® and the progress being made for this ambitious and impactful project. Since the Great American was introduced in 2019, more than $14.5 million have been secured in public and private funding for trail segments, and nearly 40 miles of trail have been added to the route.
Within the next few years, 100 miles of trails are in the pipeline to be completed, representing nearly 6% of the gap miles on the trail. And by the end of 2020, new trail mileage is expected in eight of 12 states along the route, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Washington.
Here’s a look at a handful of these exciting projects.
Montour Trail (Pennsylvania)
Pennsylvania’s Montour Trail, which forms an arc around western and southern Pittsburgh, offers an exhilarating experience with many delightful touchpoints, including three railroad tunnels, three impressive viaducts, remote woodlands and rolling farmlands, welcoming small towns and big-city connections. The rail-trail was created and continues to thrive through the efforts of the volunteer-run Montour Trail Council, which is currently working on a 0.8-mile extension of the trail and two other gap-filling segments, all set to open in late 2020.
The extension will trace the banks of Montour Run, journey into Coraopolis and end at the Coraopolis Bridge, which crosses the Ohio River. Travelers on the Great American will follow the Montour Trail to its connection with the Panhandle Trail, heading west into West Virginia. The pathway is also part of another ambitious project being spearheaded by the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, an RTC TrailNation™ project that aims to develop a 1,500-miles-plus trail network across four states: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York.
Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail (Ohio)
Bolivar, a small village in northeast Ohio, will play a big role in unlocking a major trail connection in the state. Building a trail route through the community will tie together sections of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, a key component of the Great American Rail-Trail in the Buckeye State. A quarter-mile gap, anticipated to begin construction in the fall of 2020, will facilitate travel along the 101-mile corridor between Cleveland and New Philadelphia.
Pennsy Greenway (Indiana and Illinois)
Tucked into the northwest corner of Indiana and crossing into Illinois, the Pennsy Greenway is an important connector between the two states for the Great American. In spring 2020, a key 3.1-mile gap in the Indiana portion of the trail between Schererville and Munster will be closed, allowing for contiguous travel from Schererville to Calumet City, Illinois. The picturesque trail, buffered with trees and flowers, is already a local treasure, providing important connectivity between residential neighborhoods, downtown businesses and park space. Completing the 15-mile vision for the greenway will only enhance its value on a grander scale.
River’s Edge Trail (Iowa)
In central Iowa, a 34-mile rail-trail nestled in the scenic Iowa River greenbelt is taking shape that will close a key gap in the Great American’s trek across the Midwestern state. Northeast of Des Moines, the River’s Edge Trail, formerly known as the Iowa River Trail, will connect seven communities and two counties on its passage between Steamboat Rock and Marshalltown. Its completion is being spearheaded by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and currently, two short sections—located at either end of the trail and totaling about 3 miles—have opened. Another 4.4 miles of the trail, heading south from Steamboat Rock to neighboring Eldora, is under development and anticipated to open in the fall or winter of 2020.
Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail (Nebraska)
Spanning more than 200 miles already, the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail propels the Great American Rail-Trail across a large swath of northern Nebraska through a landscape of tree-lined river valleys, native prairie, cultivated fields and grass-covered dunes. As the national route makes its way toward Wyoming, a key missing piece to fill is a gap in the Cowboy Trail of about 30 miles between Rushville and Chadron, with Hay Springs midway. In partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, a volunteer group called Cowboy Trail West, Inc. is developing the eastern half of this new section—from Rushville to Hay Springs—while another nonprofit, the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association, is working on the western half, between Hay Springs and Chadron. Although a top priority for the trail in 2020 is repairing flood damage on the section between Norfolk and Valentine, trail advocates hope to keep the momentum going with additional trail on its western end under construction in the near future.
Olympic Discovery Trail (Washington)
Washington’s Olympic Discovery Trail promises to be a gem of the Pacific Northwest: a 130-mile journey from Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean, with views of old-growth forests, glacier-topped peaks and alpine meadows, along with pastoral agricultural landscapes, the Strait of Juan de Fuca shoreline and a series of welcoming communities along the way. This western leg of the Great American Rail-Trail has about 80 miles in place already, including a rail-trail section through Olympic National Park, which was a five-year project due for completion in late 2020. Trail advocates are also actively working to close other gaps in the expansive trail over the next few years. These include: just over 17 miles between Discovery Bay and Blyn; nearly 15 miles between the Elwha River and Lake Crescent; and 24.5 miles between Sappho and La Push.
Learn more about this ambitious cross-country route on the Great American Rail-Trail website.