Across the country, old U.S. railway lines have been transformed into places to play. Removed from traffic, these multi-use trails are worth seeking out.
In the 1960s, a group of railroad history lovers and outdoor enthusiasts in Washington, D.C., organized an effort to preserve unused railroad corridors as public multiuse trails. by 1986, the movement had grown into a nonprofit organization known as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Some 30 years later, there are more than 2,000 rail trails scattered across the United States that range in length from a few miles to 240 miles (Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park). Some are well-known, like New York’s City’s High Line, and others are small town secrets. Many trails are open for public activities, including walking, biking, horseback riding, and even snowmobiling.
Elroy-Sparta State Trail
In 1965, the 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail became the first rails-to-trails project in the country. It follows the former Chicago and North Western Railroad line through five towns. The project began soon after the trains stopped running. Highlights of the trail include three rock tunnels, including the .75-mile long Norwalk tunnel. The trail draws over 60,000 visitors annually, and snowmobiles are permitted on the trail in the winter. (Note: Bikers over the age of 16 must purchase a trail pass for $5.)
The Atlanta BeltLine is transforming a 22-mile stretch of railway corridors into a trail that connects 45 neighborhoods, one the largest redevelopment projects in the country. An ongoing project covers four inactive freight lines and will include 33 miles of multiuse trails when it is completed. Currently, four sections of the trail are open.
Island Line Rail Trail
This stunning 12.4-mile trail begins in the southern part of Burlington and follows the shores of Lake Champlain before ending on a 2.5-mile raised rail bed that juts across the lake. The trail ends abruptly, but the views of the lake and the Adirondack Mountains are inspiring. A seasonal bike ferry connects the causeway to South Hero Island, where visitors can try out other bikeways. These include the South Hero loop, which miniature stone castles built on the island by a local gardener as a reminder of his native Switzerland.
More local to eimports is the Ironton Rail Trail in Whitehall, Pa.
The 9 mile trail follows the Coplay Creek from North Whitehall through the 110 acre natural Whitehall Parkway. Following the parkway, the IRT turns towards Saylor Cement Kilns and then parrallesthe Lehigh River and the D & L National Trail. The IRT then turns in a northwesterly direction where it again follows Coplay Creek to form a unique 5.2 mile loop. The 10′ wide, flat grade of the IRT, with many easy access points, has a paved surface on 7.8 of the 9.2 mile trail.