Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

RR to RT: An American environmental success story

One thing is for sure: The United States has become the rail trail capital of the world.  A rail trail is an abandoned railroad corridor that has been converted into a mufti-use recreation trail.  As the railway in the United States became obsolete due to higher demands for freeways and interstates, many federally designated railroad lines were abandoned.  Rail roads that were not federally designated were gradually left in decay and sometimes were sold to neighboring land owners.

However, in the past few decades, many of these discontinued rail lines are being converted into recreation trails.  Often, many of these former rail roads pass through scenic areas and environmentally sensitive habitats.  The conversion of these areas into public recreation trails has had many benefits, some of which include:

  • Improved access to open space.  Recreation trails are usable by nearly anyone, including the physically disabled, and are often conveniently located near residential and urban areas.
  • Connecting green space.  Rail trails often serve as important wildlife and pedestrians connections between various parks and neighborhoods.
  • Increasing land values.  Neighborhoods that have easy access to rail trails often have high land values because lots of people want to live near parks and trails.
  • Wildlife habitat.  Many rail trails offer a ribbon of green, and as people become aware of the surrounding landscape, greater attention is paid to protecting surrounding natural areas along the trail.
  • Sustainable transportation.  People can use rail trails to bike to work.  Also, in the event that rail roads and trains are needed again, a public travel corridor is already available.

Here are some photos of different rail trails and recreation trails that have sprung up around the United States:

A section of the Allegheny River Trail near Franklin, Pennsylvania. Photo by Andrii Cherniak. 2010.

Eliza Furnace Trail. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Oak Leaf Trail. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail as it passes through southern Summit County.


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