Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) visionary TrailNation™ work is redefining what it means to build trail networks and the impact these equitable trail systems can have on people and places.
Photo by Side A Photography
At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we believe that communities are healthier and happier when trail networks are central to their design. That’s why we’re committed to connecting trails and building comprehensive trail systems that bring people together and get them where they want to go. TrailNation™ brings to life our vision of trails at the heart of healthy, thriving communities from coast to coast.
In eight places across the country—places that are diverse in their geography, culture, size and scope— Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is investing in projects and partnerships that demonstrate what is possible in all types of places when 21st century trail networks are central to our lives. The results that our TrailNation projects can deliver for communities nationwide are powerful.
Expanding Transportation Options
More than one-quarter of all trips we make are less than a mile—an easy walking distance—and nearly one-half are within three miles—an easy biking distance.1 Trail networks create the infrastructure that encourage and enable people to walk and bike as part of their daily lives.
Fueling Strong Businesses & Economies
As trail systems grow, they spark new investment in trailside businesses and commercial opportunities along the trail route. In urban areas, this supports trail-oriented development on the neighborhood scale; in rural and suburban communities, this spurs and supports tourism, bringing new dollars into the community.
Promoting Social Equity
Comprehensive trail systems can bridge gaps within and between communities, creating new access to jobs, physical activity and outdoor recreation-offering connected active transportation options to the more than 90 million Americans without a car.2
Protecting the Environment
The environmental benefits of green infrastructure are strongest when open spaces are connected.3 Trail networks contribute to a healthy environment by protecting precious open space while encouraging active modes of transportation that reduce air pollution, traffic congestion and climate change.
Improving Health and Wellness
When people have safe places to walk within 10 minutes of their home, they are one and a half times more likely to meet recommended activity levels than those who don’t.4 Comprehensive trail systems can give people new access to outdoor recreation opportunities.
1 Safe Routes to Everywhere: Building Healthy Places for Healthy People Through Active Transportation Networks, Partnership for Active Transportation
2 Active Transportation for America: The Case for Increased Federal Investment in Bicycling and Walking, 2008
4 Places to Walk: Convenience and Regular Physical Activity, American Journal of Public Health, 2003
RTC’s TrailNation™ Playbook curates case studies, best practices and tools to accelerate trail network development nationwide. Explore each section for lessons learned that can support trail planners, municipalities, states and regions working to advance trail network projects.
Our TrailNation work is redefining what it means to build trail networks and what trail networks can mean for people and places. These TrailNation projects take an innovative approach to how trails and active transportation systems are built—from concept to implementation—proving the power of trails to create healthy, thriving communities.
A game-changing urban trail network that will link three existing Baltimore City trails to form a 35-mile loop connecting the city’s diverse neighborhoods and unique natural features with the downtown core. When complete, this project—a partnership between RTC and Bikemore—will transform the public realm by opening up bike and pedestrian access to major civic institutions and destinations around the city, and providing equitable, low-stress access to open space, transportation and recreation for people of all ages and abilities. Only 10 additional miles are needed to close critical gaps.
The vision is to develop an ambitious 2,700-mile regional trail network that will connect the San Francisco Bay Area—its trails, people and places—in innovative new ways. Through the development of the regional trail network, the Collaborative—currently comprising more than three dozen organizations, agencies and businesses—will provide safe biking and walking routes for millions of people across nine counties to get to critical destinations, including jobs, parks, shopping areas, educational institutions and cultural and civic sites.
The coalition seeks to create an 800-mile network of multiuse trails that are equitably distributed throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region, linking communities and major destinations, promoting physical activity and spurring economic development and trail tourism. The regional trails network will transform public life by providing healthy, low-stress access to open space and reliable transportation for people of all ages and abilities. RTC is a founding partner in this coalition, which was conceptualized by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
A blueprint for a 428-mile trail network that will link the rich natural, cultural and historical resources the area is known for—thereby creating a unified regional identity for outdoor tourism and generating a new sense of community pride for all residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Sponsored by the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, University of Texas School of Public Health, RTC and 10 communities in Cameron County, the Active Plan will support job creation, tourism spending and economic development across the project footprint and serve as a “catalyst” for healthier lifestyles in one of the most underserved areas of the country.
An innovative, regional urban trail network that is connecting people of all ages to jobs, communities and parks in the nine-county Greater Philadelphia-Camden, New Jersey, region. Led by a coalition of dozens of nonprofit organizations, foundations and agencies, the Circuit Trails will encompass 800 miles of trails on both sides of the Delaware River by the time of the project's completion in 2040, and more than 50 percent of the region’s population—over 3.1 million people—will live within a mile of the trail network.
Comprising more than 100 organizations, and led by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the National Park Service and RTC—the coalition is working to establish the Industrial Heartland as a premier destination offering a 1,500-miles-plus multiuse trail network experience. The trail network, which will stretch across 48 counties in four states—Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York—will stimulate the regional economy through outdoor tourism and small business investment, and create social equity and new health connections for underserved communities across the project footprint.
A 225-mile trail vision to expand transportation options, make biking and walking safer and more equitable, strengthen the regional economy, reduce the area’s carbon footprint, and improve health and wellness across Miami-Dade County. The Miami-Dade Trail Alliance has recently begun to organize to turn vision into reality by serving as a collective voice for the project and its diverse network of trails—with a goal of enriching the quality of life for all people in the region through equitable access to active transportation and outdoor recreation.
A partnership of RTC and the Wisconsin Bike Fed—the Route of the Badger offers a vision of healthy, thriving communities in Southeast Wisconsin centered around a world-class, 500-plus-mile regional trail system that connects people towns and counties and provides endless transformational opportunities for physical activity, tourism, connections to nature, recreation and stronger businesses along the route.
Imagine a sprawling interconnected system of multiuse trails that could take you city to city, state to state—across an entire region of the country. That’s the vision behind an exciting new initiative that began in 2019 called the New England Rail-Trail Network. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is working with trail advocates and transportation leaders from six states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont—to advance a plan for connecting the region’s 560+ miles of open trail, and develop criteria for prioritizing future trail projects that can build momentum and mobilize support for the effort.