Top 10 rails-to-trails states; Michigan is No. 1

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Bicyclists near Snoqualmie Tunnel on John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington

Michigan is fast becoming a major destination for bicycle touring, and one of its major draws is its wide-ranging network of rails-to-trails.

Abandoned and out-of-service railroad corridors criss-cross the state, and local governments and “friends of the trail” groups are transforming these into paved and gravel trails for bikes and other non-motorized users.

In fact, Michigan leads the nation in upgrading railroad corridors into bike trails. Its 126 rails-to-trails stretch for 2,379 miles around the state, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Twenty-eight projects on the drawing board in Michigan would add another 336 miles to the total.

Bike tours

Some 45,000 to 50,000 cyclists participate in 300 bike tours scheduled every year in Michigan, League of Michigan Bicyclists executive director Rich Moeller recently told the Center for Michigan’s Bridge magazine last month. At least nine of these are 5 to 10 days long.

While Michigan hasn’t studied state income associated with bicycle touring, George Zimmerman of Travel Michigan shared some anecdotal reports:

“Bicyclists rent cabins, hotel rooms, buy food, gas, souvenirs. People spend money on bicycles and repairs.  When you look at the bike industry and what it brings to the state, bicycling cuts across all lines because everyone can participate, young, old, the serious or the casual cyclist.”

Build it…

Obviously, not all of that can be attributed to the state’s rails-to-trails projects, but some like the State Line Trail at 107 miles, White Pine Trail at 92 miles and the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail at 87 miles are good destinations.

The mantra for trail advocates is “build it and they will come… and spend.” Economic impact studies along Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Trail and Great Allegheny Passage trails has borne this out.

Bike travelers on the GAP trail from Cumberland to the outskirts of Pittsburgh pumped about $40 million a year into local economies along the 132-mile route in 2008 and 2009. That sounds like rails-to-trails are a good investment.

Top 10

Here’s the list of the top 10 states for rail-to-trails, according to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy [To find out about each state’s trail, go to Trail Link and browse by state in the upper right-hand corner of the page]

1. Michigan —  2,379 miles in 126 trails; 28 ongoing projects for 336 miles

2. Minnesota — 2,291 miles in 72 trails; 15 projects at 198 miles

3. Wisconsin — 1,841 miles in 78 trails; 19 projects at 212 miles

4. Pennsylvania — 1,470 miles in 156 trails; 57 projects at 428 miles

5. Washington —  1,047 miles in 76 trails; 15 projects at 93 miles

6. Ohio — 794 miles in 84 trails; 36 projects at 296 miles

7. Iowa — 792 miles in 68 trails;  20 projects at 362 miles

8. California — 713 miles in 110 trails; 56 projects at 976 miles

9. New York — 703 miles in 82 trails; 60 projects at 596 miles

10. Florida — 653 miles in 40 trails; 29 projects at 420 miles

The state with the fewest miles of rail-trail is Delaware at 19 miles.

See also: 10 longest rails-to-trails for bicycling in the US

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