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)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

May 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

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.

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,

“A spellbinding tale of the history of the rails-to trails movement, . . . Harnik’s book gives us the inspiring story of local grit overcoming great odds for the changing benefit of all.”—Charles N. Marshall, former officer of Conrail and Genesee & Wyoming railroads

“Peter Harnik captures the history of a movement that has provided so many pathways for people to commute, recreate, and enjoy nature. . . . I hope this story will inspire emerging generations to recognize the rights-of-way for future projects that benefit our communities.”—Sally Jewell, former U.S. secretary of the interior and former CEO of REI

“A marvelous history. . . . This book tells a unique American tale—from deep in the heartland to New York City and Seattle—that will surprise and astonish you.”—Ray LaHood, former U.S. secretary of transportation and former congressman

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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