Sept. 6, 2021

Great American Rail Trail

We are joined today by Kevin Belanger. Kevin is the Manager of Trail Planning for the Rails to Trails Conservancy and the Great American Rail Trail.


We are joined today by Kevin Belanger. Kevin is the Manager of Trail Planning for the Rails to Trails Conservancy and the Great American Rail Trail.

The Great American Rail Trail is the flagship project of the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC). RTC was formed in 1986 with the mission to convert unused railway lines into hiking and biking trails. There are many miles of abandoned railway trails across the country, and RTC reimagines public spaces to create safe ways for everyone to walk, bike, and be active outdoors.

Currently, the route is 53% complete, with just over 2,000 miles of trail across the country. RTC works with state and local officials throughout the country to complete more of the trail. Each of these projects happens on a regional scale, and RTC relies heavily on advocates on the ground. They focus on linking these corridors to create trail networks that connect people and places to transform communities across the country, from Washington, DC, to Washington state.

The trail is called the Great American Rail Trail because RTC wants it to have a railroad feel. The unused railways in the eastern part of the country are relatively flat, broad, and pass through many small communities. As a result, many people can benefit from these trails, not just conditioned athletes. The western part of the country presents a bit of a challenge as the terrain is rougher, and many railways are still in use. So, RTC is working with trail planners to create a system of trails that follows highways, canals, and utility corridors, to name a few.

RTC has a companion website and app called TrailLink, which maps all of their known trails. When you are looking for your next adventure, The TrialLink app can help you find trails near your location. Whether you’re planning an itinerary or have just found a great trail, you can save all your favorites and track your completed trails. It is an excellent resource, with hundreds of miles of newly discovered trails added each year.

Kevin calls himself a “certifiable trial nerd” and has biked since he was a child. He says that the best part about his job has been talking with cyclists, trail planners, state officials, and trail advocates across the country. He has been privileged to visit every state that the trail runs through, and although he has not had the opportunity to bike the entire trail, he has spent a lot of time on the eastern leg (Pittsburgh to DC). His ultimate goal is to bike the whole completed trail someday.

You can learn more about Rails to Trails on their websites; Rails To Trails, Great American Rail Trail, and Trail Link. Follow Kevin on his blog By Way of the Trail.

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