Rails to Trails – Healthy, Zero-Emission Fun

| May 28, 2024

By Peter Aronson

You will notice a trend in our articles in our NYLCVEF Citizen Toolkit articles: We are promoting ways to reduce your carbon footprint by still having a great time, whether it’s a weekend getaway or a full-on week or two-week vacation.

This week, we are writing about the seemingly infinite (ok, a slight exaggeration) number of vehicle-free biking, walking and hiking trails within a few miles, or a relatively short train, bus or car ride away, of any place you live in New York City, the wider NY metro area, or really any place in the country. 

We are doing this because we believe it’s not always necessary to get on a plane, or travel a great distance by car to see or do something new. 

Through a Washington-DC based nonprofit called Rails to Trails Conservancy, we can now all access their Trail Link search engine. Enter the town or city and state where you live and up will pop enough trails to walk or bike on for years to come, from Brooklyn to the Bronx, from Chicago to Cheyenne, from Knoxville to Kennebunkport, and from Las Vegas to LA, all you have to do is search, find a trail that interests you, and go for it.

Rails to Trails Conservancy, founded in 1986, is an organization dedicated to turning old railroad corridors and other public pathways into trails for people to walk and bike on. It partners with communities and local organizations and businesses to establish trails all across the country. So far, Rails to Trails and its partners have created 25,000-plus miles of trails nationwide. 

“At RTC, we believe that every person—regardless of race, gender, geography, income, age, ability, sexual orientation or expression, or other minority status— deserves access to free, accessible and safe places where they can walk, bike and be active,” its website states. “We believe trails have the power to transform communities and create joyful, vibrant public spaces that are equitable and inclusive.

Its signature project is the Great American Rail-Trail, a vehicle-free bike and walking path that will lead from the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., 3,700 miles west, passing through 11 states before it ends in the state of Washington, in the town of La Push, on the Quileute Reservation, at the Pacific Ocean.

So far, this path is 55 percent complete, with 2,059 miles down and 1,688 to go, aka trail gaps that need to be filled. It’s billed as the “single greatest trail project in the history of the country.” When completed, 50 million people in this country will live within 50 miles of the path. Rail to Trails hopes one day to make it an Atlantic to Pacific path.

Rails to Trails publishes regional trail guidebooks, including one on the New York – New Jersey area.

A Rails to Trails article lists the top 10 trails in New York state, from the High Line in Manhattan to the Erie Canalway Trail from Buffalo to Albany, to the Heritage Trail in Orange County, the North County Trailway in Westchester County, the Keuka Outlet Trail in Yates County and the Harlem Valley Rail-Trail in Columbia and Dutchess counties, among others.

The bottom line is, you don’t need to get on a plane or travel too far to get outdoors, to bike, walk or go for a long hike. Nothing to say you can’t go on a bike or hiking trip, town hopping around the state or region, carrying a small backpack and enjoying places not too far from home, but places you may never have seen before.

Sometimes, beauty, joy and excitement is right in front of us. All you have to do is look

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