5 New American Rail-Trails

Doodle Trail_May 23_The Doodle Trail
Courtesy City of Pickens


Guest post by Amy Kapp, Editor-in-Chief, Rails to Trails magazineEarthShare member Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines and connecting corridors. 


When the rail-trail movement was in its infancy in the mid-1980s, there were approximately 250 miles of open rail-trails. Today, there are more than 22,000 miles, and more than 8,000 miles of projects are waiting to be built.

Running through urban, suburban and rural communities, rail-trails are used by tens of millions of people each year—for walking, biking, running and community engagement—increasing human mobility, protecting natural resources and wildlife, improving public health and sparking outdoor tourism and stewardship.

Here is a quick look at five new rail-trails across the country.


The 606, Chicago, Illinois—A New Town Square

The606_life is good (pete) via Flickr CC
life is good (pete) via Flickr CC


In June 2015, the Windy City welcomed its new 2.7-mile elevated trail, The 606, a $95 million project in the northwest that is expected to become a signature public space similar to New York City’s High Line. Composed of a multi-purpose concrete cycling path and a parallel soft-surface walking/running track, the trail runs above four neighborhoods at an elevation of approximately 16 feet. The Trust for Public Land, the trail’s project manager, is raising $45 million in private donations to fund access parks, trail landscaping, public art, maintenance and security.


Jones Valley Trail, Alabama—Cultural Links

Jones Valley Trail_Zac Napier
Zac Napier FWLT 2015


Stretching along 1st Avenue south from 25th Street to 32nd Street (near the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark) in downtown Birmingham, this paved, tree-lined trail is part of an exciting trail awakening in Alabama. Though short for a rail-trail at just 0.6 mile, the trail will eventually merge with the developing Rotary Trail, a $4.5 million project extending from Railroad Park. This 19-acre green space comprises a historically rich civic and cultural venue that connects downtown with the Southside and University of Alabama at Birmingham campus. The trail is also part of the 750-mile Red Rock and Ridge Valley Trail system that is transforming Jefferson County.


Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Trail, Michigan—Expanding a Network

Fred-Meijer-CIS_Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Natural Resources


October 2014 saw the opening of the 42-mile Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Trail—a major milestone in Michigan’s growing rail-trail network. The 125-mile Fred Meijer regional trail network through Midwest Michigan also includes the 22-mile Flat River Valley Rail Trail, the 16-mile Grand River Valley Rail Trail and the 41-mile Heartland Trail. Spanning seven communities in three rural counties, the CIS Trail crosses nine bridges and trestles and showcases beautiful river, farm and woodland landscapes—as well a replica train station in Pewamo and the Clinton Northern Railway Museum in St. Johns.


Doodle Rail Trail, South Carolina—Connecting Communities

Doodle Rail Trail - Photo by Holly Corbett
Holly Corbett via TrailLink.com


Traveling between Easley and Pickens in South Carolina just became easier with the opening of the 7.3-mile Doodle Rail Trail. Though bare bones at present in terms of amenities, the $2.4-million project provides an easy paved surface, two wooden bridges and diverse landscapes for individuals to travel safely and conveniently from city to city. Unique fact: First opened in 1898, the original Doodle Line railroad received its name because it ran backwards like a doodlebug between Pickens and Easley because of its inability to turn around.


Manitou Incline, Colorado—Health Meets History

Manitou Incline_Samat Jain
Samat Jain via Flickr CC


This 1-mile rail-trail, which starts in Manitou Springs, has seen plenty of action since (and before) it became a legal trail in 2013, but flood damage forced its closing in August 2014. Climbing approximately 2,000 feet up the side of Pikes Peak—a National Historic Landmark—and boasting railroad ties as steps, the trail’s corridor was originally completed in 1907 to support construction of a hydroelectric plant and water pipeline, and later became a tourist attraction. After a $1.5 million overhaul, the Manitou Incline rail-trail reopened to the public in December 2014. At 40 percent grade, the trail is considered one of the most physically challenging hikes in the area—but the “breathtaking” views from the top make it worth the effort. 



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