The appeal of outdoor pursuits is even more enticing in the days of COVID-19. If you are a cyclist up for some adventure, The Great American Rail-Trail, a project of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), may be ideal for you.
Starting in Washington, D.C. and stretching across the northern United States to Washington State, the cross-country route is made up of 12 major bike trails and covers almost 4,000 miles!
Is Biking the Only Option?
The Great American Rail Trail is ideal for cyclists. However, the multi-use trail is designed to be hiked as well. Other activities along the route include fishing, wheelchair accessible areas, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, walking, cross country running, and even skiing. You can see historic sites and small towns and natural points of interest in places like the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
When Will the Great American Rail-Trail Be Complete?
This trail project has been 30 years in the making. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy spent the better part of the last year and a half uniting local trail partners and state agencies to make the Great American Rail Trail a reality — As of 2019, it's a little over halfway completed. Approximately 1,900 of miles of the route are from existing trails and "trail gaps" of almost the same quantity needed to complete the route; A lot of this uncompleted path lies is in Montana and Nebraska.
They are working to use existing trails mostly so the trail can be separate and safe of vehicle traffic. However, it will take years until the trail development is totally finished. The goal for the project is for there to be away to travel across the country in a way that does not require a vehicle, and they hope that it will boost the economies of the smaller towns along the route. There is, however, an interactive map for those curious. You can see it here: https://gis.railstotrails.org/grtamerican/.
How Many Trails Are There?
The 12 public trails they have included and linked so far are:
- Capital Crescent Trail, Washington, D.C., and Maryland: The Great American Rail-Trail begins in Georgetown, near the nation's capital.
- Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Washington, D.C., and Maryland: The 185-mile C&O Canal Towpath trail connects Washington, D.C. to Maryland.
- Panhandle Trail, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia: Trail users heads west from Pittsburgh to West Virginia.
- Ohio to Erie Trail, Ohio: Moving across the state in a diagonal, this trail connects the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Lake Erie in Cleveland.
- Cardinal Greenway, Indiana: Next is 61-miles through scenic Indiana.
- Hennepin Canal Parkway, Illinois: This trail, over 100 miles long, moves westward connecting the Illinois River and the Rock River.
- Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Iowa: This was one of the first rail-trail conversions connects Waterloo, Cedar Falls, and Cedar Rapids.
- Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, Nebraska: Another long trail, covering 219-miles through Nebraska, with views of small towns and High Plains.
- Casper Rail Trail, Wyoming: Connects in one of the largest Wyoming cities.
- Headwaters Trail System, Montana: A 12-mile trail connecting from Wyoming to Missouri Headwaters State Park.
- Trail of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho: Idaho's 72 miles of trail runs through its panhandle, a great way to see the state's forests.
- Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, Washington: A trail that his trail spans more than 200 miles across Washington and end the Great American Rail-Trail.
The trail will take many years before it is completed. If you would like to pledge support visit the website at http://www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail/takeaction/.
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