We as planners have the opportunity of a lifetime to create something special. We have an opportunity to create a safe and peaceful place for people to travel across the region and through our neighborhoods by use of multi-use trails called rail trails. Rail trails are multi-purpose public paths created from abandoned railroad corridors, although in some cases active rail lines may still exist. There are over 11,000 miles of rail trails in 48 states within the United States. The purpose of the trail is to provide recreational opportunities for cyclists, pedestrians, runners and equestrians, as well as convenient access to jobs, public facilities and shopping. Flat or following a gentle grade, they are ideal for many uses, such as bicycling, walking, horseback riding, in-line skating, wheelchair recreation, and hiking. Rail trails are also extremely popular as an alternative to cars by providing the opportunity to walk or ride to work or school.
It began in the mid-1960s, quietly, gradually, and hesitatingly. The idea was to convert abandoned or unused rail corridors into public trails. Unlike the complex railroad system that was crumbling physically and financially, the concept was simple. It didn't require or even claim an inventor. Once the tracks came out, people just naturally started walking along the old grades, socializing, exploring, discovering old railroad relics, marveling at old industrial facilities such as bridges, tunnels, abandoned mills, sidings, switches and whatever else they could find. Of course, none of the corridors were paved or even graded, they were simply abandoned stretches of land. These corridors were given the name "Rails-to-Trails.".
The growing popularity of outdoor recreation activities, such as cycling, inline skating, walking and running, combined with the loss of community open space, has increased the need for quality recreational facilities such as rail-trails.