Walking the Lines of America's Rail Trails
You might not know it, but TPL is the second-most prolific rails-to-trails organization in the country after the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. We’re not focused on one place or one type of trail; rather, we look for opportunities to bring more trails to communities, which often means repurposing existing rail lines.
By Deborah Williams
Published May 25, 2023
Over the past 50 years, TPL has amassed the country’s second-most prolific portfolio of rail trail projects. From our earliest projects, we’ve looked for opportunities to bring more trails to communities in order to connect everyone to outdoor experiences close to home. Sometimes, that means building new paths from scratch. Other times, it means saving small-but-critical segments that increase connectivity and create longer overall routes. And often, it means repurposing existing infrastructure corridors and rights-of-way, especially rail lines. These are a few of our most iconic rail trails.
Hover over the numbers on the map to read more about each trail.
No one proselytizes the art, agony, and joy of trail building with more passion than J.T. Horn, who spent years on trail crews before joining TPL in 2007. His eyes light up at memories of hiking winches up a mountainside, the feel of a rumbling rock drill, or the pungent odor of chainsaw oil as they cut a new trail where there previously was none.
Now the director of TPL’s Trails initiative, Horn speaks as enthusiastically about creating backcountry trails, but also repurposing existing infrastructure into carbon-free transportation corridors: “Trails are one of the ways we deliver great open space in cities and rural communities,” he says. “If you’re thinking about laying out a trail in an urban landscape, existing linear features such as rail lines and utility rights-of-way are one of the best ways to connect people, get them out of their cars, achieve climate benefits, and increase access.”
Plus, adds Horn, “when we are doing our best work, we can reunite communities by changing the original narratives written by many rail lines that historically divided communities.”
Deborah Williams is Trust for Public Land’s editorial director. Prior to joining TPL, she spent more than 20 years writing and editing for consumer and trade media in the lifestyle, travel, ski, and outdoor industries.
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