Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is an American nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that works with communities to preserve unused rail corridors by transforming them into rail trails within the United States of America. The mission of RTC is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.
RTC was formed in 1986 by Peter Harnik and David Burwell, inspired by the opportunities presented by the increasing abandonment of railroad corridors throughout the country. The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (known as the 4R Act) included a little-noticed section to provide funding, information exchange and technical assistance in order to preserve these corridors and create public trails. The "railbanking" provisions of this legislation allowed disused railroad corridors to be preserved in public ownership rather than sold and dismantled. In addition to the creation of public rail-trails, railbanking legislation has also enabled the reactivation of rail-service along previously disused corridors.
In recent years, RTC has focused increasingly on urban rail-trails and trail systems, a response to growing congestion and mobility problems in cities, as well the obesity epidemic which is encouraged by increasingly sedentary lifestyles, particularly among young people. This urban work includes RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), which features ongoing programs in Washington, D.C., Camden, N.J., Jacksonville, Fla., Compton, Calif., New Orleans, La., Springfield, Mass., and Cleveland, Ohio.,and is funded by The Kresge Foundation.
In addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., RTC has smaller offices in California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The organization receives no government funding and is supported almost entirely by paid members. As of December, 2012, RTC had approximately 80,000 paid members, the remainder of its funding coming from foundation and corporate grants and major donors.
The organization publishes a quarterly magazine for its members. (ISSN 1523-4126) Rails to Trails magazine covers existing trails, planned trails, and member experiences, as well as news and items of interest to the bicycling public.
In August, 2000, RTC launched http://www.traillink.com/, a free, trail-finder website that features maps, photos, reviews and other information on rail-trails, trails and greenways across America. Since 2000, RTC has used thorough GPS mapping data to provide accurate maps of more than 23,000 miles of trails around the country. In 2012, RTC re-launched www.traillink.com with a new look and increased functionality.
In 2007, RTC began recognizing exemplary rail-trails around the country as part of the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. The first inductees into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame were the Great Allegheny Passage, Penn., the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, Fla., and Katy Trail State Park, Mo. In June, 2012, the Greenbrier River Trail, W.Va., was the 26th and most recent inductee into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
In recent years, however, organizations affiliated with the Rails to Trails Conservancy have begun campaigning to dismantle active railroad lines and replace them with trails Examples of this include the efforts aimed at the Catskill Mountain Railroad in Kingston, New York and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad in Old Forge, New York.
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