The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, based in Washington, D.C., works to take the unused industrial infrastructure remaining when railroads leave and turn them into usable trails. The beneficiaries are all of us who enjoy playing in the great outdoors, or even like commuting without motors.
RTC is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.” With assistance from over 150,000 members and supporters, it has been instrumental in establishing over 19,000 miles of rail-trails since its inception in 1986, with more than 9,000 miles of potential rail-trails waiting to be built.
The first railbanking application was applied for in 1986 for the 185-mile Katy Trail in Missouri. Built along the abandoned Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad corridor, it forms the core of the Katy Trail State Park and hugs the banks of the Missouri River. Since then, RTC has opened four regional offices, produced a full-color magazine, and has been instrumental in working with local, state and federal governments in promoting, acquiring and developing rail-trails in all 50 states.
In addition to a print magazine (Rails to Trails), RTC also hosts a user-friendly website that contains information about the history of the organization, how you can become involved in building a rail-trail, becoming a member of RTC, and much more.
Perhaps one of RTC’s greatest on-line features is TrailLink.com, a Google maps-based website that allows you to search for trails (rail-trails and others) by trail name, city, and/or state. The site provides free information on over 30,000 miles of trails, including photos, interactive maps and access directions.
If you prefer to peruse potential trails in print, RTC offers a series of guidebooks. Regions include Midwest-Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin), West (Arizona, California and Nevada), Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee), Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.), and New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont).
One great benefit of being a RTC member is a subscription to Rails to Trails. This colorful publication is produced quarterly, with one issue in recent years being an electronic “green issue.” Each issue contains short columns from readers on their favorite trails, as well as longer features on different rail-trails and the advocacy work RTC is doing. Articles generally include a mix of trail and regional history, practical considerations for accessing the trail, and a personal story about the trail. Each issue contains a mix of urban and rural trails, primarily in the United States, but occasionally in other countries as well. This is a magazine well suited to dreaming about future cycling trips.
If you would like to support the mission of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and receive the many benefits of being a member, the RTC website can be found at www.railstotrails.org.