The Rails-to-Trails program is reviving the country.
Railways are an iconic symbol of the American West, a network that bridged the distances between disparate population centers and economic cores. While our train infrastructure has largely been superseded by highways and interstates, miles and miles of disused railways remain, particularly in the cores of urban centers that grew around former railroad hubs. The Rails-to-Trails program, however, would like to transform these former industrial corridors into recreational trails.
Rails-to-Trails is a Washington, D.C. based non-profit that works to transform disused railways into biking, hiking, and riding trails throughout the states. Since their inception in the 80s, the program has reclaimed 20,000 miles of trails across the country. Their recent focus has been on developing and linking urban trails networks with more bucolic paths in surrounding areas.
Their activities in Texas have really helped to make outdoor activities much more accessible to city-dwellers, particularly in and around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Here’s just a few of my favorite trails:
Length: 20 Miles
Surface: 2 miles paved (near downtown Mineral Wells), 18 miles gravel
Grade: Gentle and loving
This trail is built on 20 miles of the former WMW & NW railroad, including former rail bridges. As such, the gradient is pretty flat and the curves are gentle. It winds through some rather lovely west Texas hills, with plenty of trees and wildlife. Additionally, the trail links the State Park, with camping amenities, to the town of Mineral Wells.
Length: 64 Miles
Grade: Varies, and can actually be pretty steep and cliffy in spot.
This is one of the best riding/hiking trails in Texas, in my opinion. Well maintained but still retaining a degree of ruggedness, the Caprock Canyon trail has lots of camping along the route, making for some fun overnight trips. Lots of wild Texas scenery, including lots of bats in some of the old railway tunnels. Additionally, the park rents out mountain bikes and helmets, so there’s really no excuse! Get out there!
Length: 3.5 Miles
Grade: Flat and straight as an arrow
Look, I’ll be honest: urban living is rough. I’m not really into the whole sardine-can/ant-farm aesthetic of city life and, for my money, Dallas is one of the ant farmiest of cities. That’s why it’s so important for cities to provide green space and outdoor recreation areas that are accessible to all their citizens.
Unfortunately, Dallas doesn’t really agree, since they don’t give one red cent to the maintenance or upkeep of the Katy Trail, which is entirely supported by donations. It’s a nice walking/biking/whatever trail that runs right through the downtown corridor in Dallas, letting the movers-and-shakers escape their urban hellscape for a little while, at least. The trail uses the extensive Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail lines left over in the center of the city as the basis of their reclaimed greenspace.
There are a lot of these trails throughout Texas, and the Trails-to-Rails folks maintain a pretty handy online trail finder that will link you to information and maps for all the trails in the state. There’s almost certainly one nearby, offering a nice, well-maintained trail for a pleasant afternoon or day-hike/ride. Enjoy!