Bike riding is one of those physical activities that combine so many benefits that it will hopefully never go out of style. And projects such as this one from the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy (RTC) make this even more likely.
The project is dubbed “The Great American Rail-Trail.” The plan of the RTC is for a coast-to-coast bike trail that’s over 3,700 miles long. To do this, the organization is going to connect already existing bike trails across 12 states, connecting Washington State with Washington D.C.
How will it be done?
Creating nearly 4,000 miles of bike trails through both populated and unpopulated areas sounds like an insurmountable task and it would be. However, the RTC is relying on the fact that the U.S. is already well-traversed with routes, trails, and even abandoned railroads. And given the country’s history, a lot of those trails usually go from east to west anyway.
Abandoned railroads, in particular, have already proven to be very useful for the creation of both bike trails and other public areas. Ever since cars and highways started outcompeting the railroad industry, abandoned railroads have been switched to walking paths, horseback riding trails, skating routes, and many other activities, including biking. And given the aversion toward high-speed trains in the U.S., this trend is likely to continue.
This is exactly what the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy has been doing ever since its creation in 1986. Since then, the RTC has created over 24,000 miles of bikeable pathways from rail-trails already.
The “Great American Rail-Trail” is definitely ambitious and will take a lot of time, but it would also offer amazing tourism, travel, exercise, and even business opportunities.
Spanning 12 states, the trail will offer bikers traffic-free paths, countless scenic vistas, a lot of historic landmarks and monuments along or near the trail, as well as access to a lot of populated areas. According to the RTC, the finished trail will pass by towns and cities with a combined total population of 50,000,000 people.
And because the trail will be made by connecting 125+ already existing bike trails across the country, ~52% of it is already built. There are ~90 path gaps still to fill, however, so the RTC is working hard with local governors, other politicians, companies, and volunteers to complete the project as soon as possible.
The bad news is that the project can still take decades to complete if it doesn’t receive the necessary backing and funds from state governors. Even in this case, however, the RTC is committed to keeping at it as the “Great American Rail-Trail” offers too much to not be completed.
Tourism boost and business opportunities
Just like the Camino de Santiago walking trail in Spain attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year, so can “The Great American Trail” once it is completed. In the case of Camino de Santiago, it’s only 620km or 386 miles long but it’s a walking route that takes about a month to complete.
The Spanish walking trail has a deeply religious history but it’s also often visited as a tourist attraction as it passes through most of Spain and close to a lot of historic monuments and tourist-friendly locations.
The RTC project can do something similar but on a 10x times larger scale and in the form of a bike path. This means a stark boost to the tourist industry all along the trail and fresh opportunities for countless small businesses to open – hotels, motels, campgrounds, lodging, restaurants and pubs, and more.
Cycling tourism is rising in popularity across the world and the “Great American Rail-Trail” can be a great way to both stimulate it and take advantage of it.
Change the exercise culture in the U.S.
It’s no secret that the U.S. has obesity issues. This is a complex problem created by a lot of different factors and it’s by no means exclusive to the U.S. One of the main factors that contributes to this problem, however, is the deteriorating exercise culture in the country. Creating new, exciting, and practical exercise options for Americans is likely the best way to tackle this issue.
What’s good about the “Great American Rail-Trail” project is that it isn’t necessary for the whole trail to be traversed at once. You can use the rail-trail to make shorter trips form state to state, for example. Or, you can use it as an opportunity to cover several trails at once instead of having to drive your car to visit a single trail.
Cycling offers near-countless health benefits, almost all of which are sorely needed in the U.S.:
- Weight loss. Cycling is one of the best calorie-burning and cardio exercises out there. Check out the Keisan online calorie calculator to see how many calories you can burn with simple, short biking trips. Depending on the intensity and the rider’s weight, the rough estimate is between 400 and 1,000 calories per hour.
- Building muscles. Cycling is amazing for your calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Want those perfect legs that both men and women love? Cycling is the best way to go about it.
- Mental health. Physical health is not the only problem many Americans face – mental health issues need addressing as well and cycling is a great answer to them as well. Depression and anxiety, in particular are greatly benefited by long, scenic bike rides in nature. Alone or with friends, cycling is a great way to boost your mood.
- Lung health. 2020 has certainly reminded a lot of people how important it is to maintain adequate lung health. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, lung health was vital for a lot of Americans. Cycling helps with that not only by improving your lungs’ capabilities but by reducing your exposure to air pollution as well.
- Heart disease and cancer prevention. It’s no secret that heart diseases and cancers are the two biggest killers in the U.S. and the western world as a whole. Studies like this one from the University of Glasgow clearly show a direct link between regular cycling and both cancer and health disease reduction. This particular study worked with over 260,000 participants over a period of five years and the results were that bike riding cuts both risks by half.
There are many more benefits we can list but the point is hopefully clear by now. The “Great American Rail-Trail” can easily be one of the best things to happen to the U.S. in quite some time. The sooner it’s finished, the sooner we can start benefiting from it.