From Rails to Trails


From Rails to Trails

The Making of America's Active Transportation Network

Peter Harnik

288 pages
23 photographs, 2 illustrations, 5 maps, 19 tables, 7 graphs, index


May 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

If, as Wallace Stegner said, the national park is “the best idea we ever had,” the rail-trail is certainly a close runner-up. Part transportation corridor, part park, the rail-trail has revolutionized the way America creates high-quality, car-free pathways for bicyclists, runners, walkers, equestrians, and more.

It was only a few decades after railroad barons had run roughshod over America’s economy and politics that they began to shed nearly one hundred thousand miles of unneeded railroad corridor. At the same time, bicyclists were being so thoroughly pushed off ever-more-intimidating roadways they came close to extinction. Through political organizing and lawyerly grit, an unlikely, formerly marginalized advocacy arose, seized on seemingly worthless strips of land, and created a resource that is treasured by millions of Americans today for recreation, purposeful travel, tourism, conservation, and historical interpretation.

From Rails to Trails is the fascinating tale of the rails-to-trails movement as well as a consideration of what the continued creation of rail-trails means for the future of Americans’ health, nonmotorized transportation networks, and communities across the country.

Purchase the audio edition.

Author Bio

Peter Harnik is cofounder of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and founder of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land. He is the author of Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities and Inside City Parks as well as a former editor of both Environmental Action magazine and Trailblazer quarterly.


"Harnik rightfully deserves credit for being one of the pioneers who led a movement that positively affected the lives of millions of Americans. His book will be a reference for trail designers and builders for generations to come."—Dirt

"In the new, informative book From Rails to Trails, Harnik tells the fascinating tale of the rails-to-trails movement and considers what the continued creation of rails-trails means for the future of Americans' health, nonmotorized transportation networks, and communities across the country."—Brooklyn Digest

"Anyone who reads the book will have to come away with some appreciation for how the trails they ride got there."—Charles Pekow,

"Harnik's sweep through this lane of American transportation, industry, and politics will engage the most sedentary. Buffs will geek out on the dozens of charts, maps, and tables."—Michael Leccese,

"In From Rails to Trails: The Making of America's Active Transportation Network . . . Harnik, now 72, recounts the rich history of bicycling, the rise and fall of railroads, and the grassroots activism that led to the creation of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy."—Jeanette Der Bedroslan, John Hopkins Magazine

"From Rails to Trails is a compelling and thorough introduction to applying 20th-century political skills to the double lines of steel rail created by 19th-century physical brawn."—James D. Porterfield, Railroad History

"I've read thousands of trail books and publications over my forty-year career of developing and enjoying trails. The majority of these publications fall into four categories: trail guides, trail memoir/adventure narratives, trail construction, maintenance how-tos, and trail studies. During the last few years, we've seen an added category—books exploring the history of what many call the 'nature of trails' or the 'trails movement.' They expand our trail knowledge to this fifth category—delving into the history of where trails and organizations began, how they began, and where they, as well as us, are heading. Peter Harnik, a longtime environmental activist and avid bicyclist joins this last category with his new book that covers the political, cultural, transportation, design, and land-use issues that have shaped the rail-trail movement."—Jim Schmid,

"I read with relish Peter Harnik's telling of the rail-trail history, From Rails to Trails: The Making of America's Active Transportation Network. . . . The inspirational book is a bit of a memoir, too, as Peter tells of his own path as one of the founders of the movement to save the rail corridors for public recreational use. Thank you for all that energy, Peter!"—Bill Thorness,

"To accommodate trains, the corridors were engineered to be relatively flat, and their hard-packed roadbeds still offer surfaces suitable for most bicycles. The potential for many more rail trails remains, including the completion of the remaining 48% of an east-west, coast-to-coast trail network. The compelling story of how this came about is told by Peter Harnik."—Tom Horton, Bay Journal

"Spotlighting key trails and key individuals from the history of rails to trails, Harnik's book should appeal not only to bicyclists but also those of us more broadly interested in environmental history, parks and recreation history, transportation and commerce history, and activism."—Scott Einberger

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. The Queen of Trails
2. Why Were There So Many Rail Corridors?
3. Meanwhile, the Bicycle
4. Dark Days and a Seismic Shift
5. Is This Idea for Real?
6. Congress Steps In
7. It’s Perfect! Who Could Be Against It?
8. The Movement Gels
9. Fighting for Rights in Court
10. Building the Political Base
11. Breaking into the Money Vault
12. City Trail, Country Trail
13. Bridges and Tunnels
14. Sharing the Corridor
15. Full Throttle Ahead
16. Filling the Gaps
17. Of Rail-Trails and Real Estate
18. If You Want to Count, You Have to Count
Selected Bibliography

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