Great American Rail Trail

The Great American Rail Trail uses the Panhandle Trail in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. (MILES BATEMAN PHOTO)

Imagine a rail trail traversing the entire United States.

Last month, the non-profit Rails to Trails Conservancy announced its preferred route for the Great American Rail Trail, an ambitious 3,700-plus mile journey between Washington, D.C., and Washington State.

The plan would connect more than 125 existing trails with various surfaces across 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Though valley cyclists can put the pedal to the metal of their camper vans and touring coaches to ride sections of the route now — it’s 52 percent done — they will have to wait a couple of decades for the whole project to be completed as new segments are expected to be added annually.

The Great American was first envisioned at Rails to Trails Conservancy in the late 1980s, and for decades has been an underpinning of the organization’s strategy to create a nationwide network of public trails.

“That vision has been a guidepost for the organization for 30 years,” said Rails to Trails Conservancy president Ryan Chao in a statement. Now, we have the chance to create from that vision a national treasure that unites millions of people over thousands of miles of trail.”

Using rail trails, greenways and other multi-use paths, the Great American passes through Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington.

“This trail is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide — together — an enduring gift to the nation that will bring joy for generations to come,” Chao said.

Rails to Trails Conservancy says the trail will be comprised of 1,961 miles of existing trails and more than 1,700 miles of “trail gaps” — sections of trail in need of development to fully connect the Great American into one contiguous route.

Once completed, the Rails to Trails Conservancy says the Great American will serve approximately 50 million people living within 50 miles of its route and countless visitors.

“When defining the preferred route of the Great American Rail Trail, we sought a cross-country route that would provide the highest-quality experience while delivering significant economic and social benefits to the communities it connects,” said Rails to Trails Conservancy vice president of trail development Liz Thorstensen.

Rails to Trails Conservancy set a goal to reach 1 million pledges in support of the cross-country trail through the website greatamericanrailtrail.org.

“We believe the Great American Rail Trail will be a transformative project for the nation, as it magnifies on a grand scale the benefits that trails have delivered to communities for decades,” said Chao. “Whether bridging gaps within and between communities, creating safe walking and biking access to jobs, transit, shopping and green space or serving as recreation for cyclists, runners and casual daily explorers, this will be America’s trail.”

Valley cyclists wanting to go for a spin this summer along the trail might consider the nearly 185 miles in the District of Columbia and Maryland which include the iconic ride along the C&O Canal.

In all, sounds like a grand plan that will hopefully move along quicker than estimated.

Here in the valley, nice to see three picnic tables on the Swift River Covered Bridge in Conway now. Great spot for a bit of a rest while pedaling West Side Road.

The downhill lift-service biking schedule at Attitash and Bretton Woods is daily June 15 to Sept. 2 and weekends only Sept. 7 to Columbus Day.

The Coos Cycling Club and Gorham Recreation Department recently purchased nine Kona mountain bikes for local children to borrow for free when used for organized kids rides. The club used money donated to it in memory of the late Peter Brockett who died a couple of years ago.

Stop three of the Tour de Borderlands is tomorrow at Circuits Frontieres in East Hereford, Quebec with group rides, food truck and local beer. The ride is to promote The Borderlands, a contingent of seven mountain biking networks across northern New England and Quebec including the Coos trails.

Registration is under way for the June 28-30 NEMBAfest at Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vt. Valley mountain bikers are often part of the 4,000 riders attending the family-friendly event featuring group rides, demos, entertainment, camping, skills clinics, yoga, kids games and more. The schedule is at nembafest.com.

Get ready to roll for the popular Maine Lobster Ride July 20-July 21. That Saturday is filled with family activities while Sunday is the ride itself. Four routes of 15, 38, 62 and 100 miles through bucolic Midcoast Maine are offered with headquarters at the Camden Snow Bowl. Register at eventbrite.com.

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