Restoring Our Country's Railways, One Trail at a Time

While trains are no longer as widely used as they once were, the abandoned railway lines that traverse our country have recently become popular places in communities. These historic treasures showcase the natural beauty of America’s countryside and some are being preserved. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has made great progress in raising awareness about these railways and leads the movement to have them restored for community use.

Established in 1986, RTC is now the largest trails organization in the country. With over 100,000 members and donors, this non-profit organization is committed to connecting communities through a network of public trails. The conservancy is not only dedicated to preserving old railways, but also encourages exercise and celebrates nature.

The positive results of RTC’s efforts in the communities it serves are substantial. Not only do outdoor trails promote active living, but new trails keep local economies healthy by encouraging tourism and the development of home-grown businesses. In urban environments, finding land to build public places is often a problem, however, converting a preexisting railway into a trail is spatially and financially effective. These trails have also proven safer than other community trails, as they are removed from busy public roads and thus, are appropriate for families and children.

There are currently more than 1,000 trails in the US that operate on railway lines that have fallen out of use. At the moment, there are 523 miles of these trails in the nation, and RTC has expressed a commitment to create even more trails for active Americans to enjoy. If there is interest in building a trail in your community, consider contacting RTC advocates, the Federal Railway Administration, or the Association of American Railroads.

In my home town, I have been lucky enough to experience the simple charm of an RTC trail. During the last few years, RTC has constructed a 4 mile long trail just a few minutes from my home in Southern New Jersey. Once a rail line used to deliver dairy and produce to larger railroads at junctions in Pemberton and Hightstown, NJ, the Union Transportation Trail crosses over a refurbished trestle and is surrounded by horse pastures and farms. Today the railway lives on as a welcome destination for hikers, joggers, horse riders, and bicyclists of all ages who come to enjoy its beautiful scenery.

Every time I come home from college, my father and I make it a priority to get to the Union Transportation Trail. We have spent countless hours meandering down the railway, enjoying the outdoors, and simply spending quality time together. Our love for both trains and nature draws us to this trail again and again. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has made it possible for me to do what I love with my best friend. Full steam ahead!

To search for trails sponsored by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, visit From this database, you can search for RTC trails by name or location, making it easy to find a beautifully restored trail near you.

Photo: Restored railroad trestle at Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania by Frank Kovalcheck