Rails to Trails is a conservancy that has taken unused rail corridors and make them into public spaces. This is their way of promoting growth in the United States and repurposing what would otherwise be left to rot and waste throughout the country.
These railroads are created into multi-use paths, including walking, bicycles, and even horseback for some. The abandoned tracks make for perfect walking and trail developments because they are flat, long and go through historical regions – which means there are plenty of sights if you choose to follow a Rails to Trails map.
Rails to Trails is a global project, and there are sites throughout Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Europe, and other small countries.
History of the Rails to Trails Conservancy in the United States
By the 1970s, railroads were not as popular as they were before; therefore, main lines were being sold or abandoned throughout the country. The first abandoned railway corridor in the country to be converted was the Elroy-Sparta State Trail located in Wisconsin. It was reopened in 1967. After that, the Illinois Prairie Path opened, per Wikipedia.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy was opened in 1986 by two men that were inspired by the opportunities of these abandoned sites. They were fueled by the Railroad Revitalization Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. As part of the RTC, today’s members develop programs that take these urban developments and create new trail systems.
They are a non-profit organization, which means that they rely heavily on valuable support from their members to create these new pathways and trails for the community.
How to Experience the Rails to Trails in Your Area
Whether you are looking for Rails to Trails in PA or another state, you can go to the RailstoTrails.org website and input your city, state, or zip code. From there, they will give you a list of local trails to explore and enjoy through their TrailLink website.
TrailLink then spits out a list of Rails to Trails listings. They will tell you the state, location, length of the trail, and the surface. Surfaces vary from gravel to asphalt and concrete. It depends on how they were repurposed for trail use.
For example, the state of Utah has multiple trails, including the Porter Rockwell Trail that is 10.7 miles long and consists of asphalt.
The Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park runs through an old park and is 28 miles long — one of the longer trails in the area.
If you are looking for a Rails to Trails Ohio location, there is the Olentangy Trail, which is 13 miles long. The 4-C Bicentennial Trail is 1.3 miles and consists of asphalt. The Great Miami River offers an astounding 86.2 miles total. For breathtaking scenery, there is the Blacklick Creek Greenway Trail, which is 17.8 miles and consists of asphalt and dirt.
TrailLink also provides a detailed description, you can download the GPS coordinates, and you can see all pertinent information about it, including photographs uploaded by other walkers and travelers.