The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was established in 1986 with the goal of converting unused railroad right-of-ways around the country into trails. According to Eli Griffen, RTC's Manager of Trail Development Resources, the conservancy has had a hand in converting 23,000 miles of railroad into 2100 different trails around the country. In 2015 the Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund was established to provide grants to user groups to help create more trails out of railroads. Their Project Transformation grants help to fund trail construction or other infrastructure projects and their Community Support grants help with things like interpretive signage, maps, websites, etc. Recently, the RTC gave a $5,000 Doppelt Community Support Grant to the Greater Arkansas River Nature Alliance (GARNA) in Salida for the Stage and Rail Trail. The trail follows an old stagecoach road that closely parallels a railroad that ran 70 miles from Leadville to Salida. According to Julie Mach, Conservation Director for the Colorado Mountain Club, which provided assistance to GARNA in getting the grant, the funds will be used to develop interpretive signage, a website with interactive maps and eventually a mobile app for the trail. Also in the works is an automated audio tour, that when downloaded to a users phone will trigger a narrative when the phone's GPS indicates they are near a point of interest.
- Bob Falcone
- View of Mt. Princeton from the Midland Bike Trail
Building recreational trails on old railroad beds is a smart idea for a number of reasons. Since land doesn't have to be cleared to build the trail, costs, time and additional environmental impact is greatly reduced. Also, since trains are limited in how much of an incline they could climb, trails that follow old railroads tend to be fairly flat or have gentle inclines. And, since the railroads connected communities, the trails built on them provide great connectivity to other towns and trail systems. These trails also provide a glimpse into the history of the west. On a recent trip to the Buena Vista area, I hiked a 7 mile stretch of the Midland Bike Trail, built on the bed of the Colorado Midland Railroad, which operated from the late 1880's to the early 1900's. At times during the hike, the massive Mt. Princeton would pop into view, seemingly filling the sky. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be a traveler on the train, and to come around a bend and be met by such a grand sight. The Narrow Gauge trail, which runs on a ledge on the north slope of Mt Antero, runs on a section of the Denver, South Park and Pacific rail line that connected St Elmo to Nathrop. At about 4 miles round trip, the trail provides stunning views of Mt Princeton, the Chalk Cliffs, and if you look closely enough, Agnes Vaille Falls, across the valley.
- Bob Falcone
- Information sign at one end of the Narrow Gauge Trail
You can explore and find trails that were at one time railroads by using the RTC's TrailLink website.
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Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 26 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.