People have turned toward outdoor exercise as a way to keep fit, lift spirits and fight the monotony of a pandemic. Now, new and veteran outdoor athletes have something exciting to train for: the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail, which will one day let people bike or hike from Washington state to Washington, D.C.
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The Great American Rail Trail is a project of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), which was founded in 1986. Back then, a few out-of-service railroad corridors had been converted into usable trails. Today, the U.S. has more than 24,000 miles of rail-trails. The Great American Rail-Trail project requires another 8,000 miles to connect existing trails.
The plan is for the trail to traverse Washington state, the top of Idaho and part of western Montana, then cross the whole of Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa. It will travel through the top of Illinois, then cross Indiana, Ohio and small sections of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland before ending in Washington, D.C. The route will cover more than 3,700 miles. With 50 million people living within 50 miles of the route, planners expect it to get a lot of use. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has raised more than $4 million in public and private funds to complete the massive trail.
“This year has proven how vital projects like the Great American Rail-Trail are to the country. Millions of people have found their way outside on trails as a way to cope with the pandemic,” said Ryan Chao, president of RTC. “As the Great American Rail-Trail connects more towns, cities, states and regions, this infrastructure serves as the backbone of resilient communities, while uniting us around a bold, ambitious and impactful vision.”
When complete, the Great American Rail-Trail will join other ambitious thoroughfares around the world. The EuroVelo 6 route travels 2,765 miles through 10 European countries between the Black Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, the Great North Trail opened in the U.K. and allows hikers and bikers to travel from northern England’s Peak District to the northeastern tip of Scotland.
Image via Pam Patterson