What’s your “honorable mention” rail trail?

Posted by Matt Van Hattem
on Thursday, April 14, 2011

Here's a guest post from our Map of the Month illustrator, Bill Metzger. It's about the "Rails to trails across America: Your guide to 415 trails 10 miles or longer (11,830 miles in all)" map in the May 2011 issue of Trains. This map has generated a lot of reader letters, so we thought we'd share some of the "honorable mentions" that didn't make the map.


Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel in the United States, was built by the Allegheny Portage Railroad in 1834.  The 901-foot- long bore, located near Johnstown, Pa., is easily accessed by the 2 1/2-mile-long Staple Bend Tunnel Trail, which is operated by the National Park Service. Bill Metzger photo


Trains Magazine's May 2011 map of U.S. recreational trails fashioned from old railroad lines generated a lot of responses from readers - not the least of which concerned the decision to limit the map to trails of 10 miles in length or longer.

My original intention was to show all the trails in the country more than 5 miles long. I started with Massachusetts as a test and quickly realized that 5 miles was totally unworkable - even on a 3-page foldout map. I settled on 10 miles and briefly considered running some boxes with significant shorter trails, but gave that idea up, too, as the space began to fill up.

Still, that left out some trails that have a unique place in railroad history. Here are a few of those "honorable mentions" among rail trails shorter than 10 miles.

Reader Dave Ruby nominated one: "The Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 'Walkway over The Hudson.' According to the description, it is the world's longest pedestrian bridge and celebrates this historic rail crossing." The former New Haven Railroad bridge last carried trains in the 1970s.

Here's one from reader Peter Kushkowski: "There is a trail near Las Vegas, Nev., of such historic and scenic significance that it warrants at least an honorable mention. Known as the 'Railroad Tunnel Trail,' the original railroad was built to transport materials and equipment used in the construction of Hoover Dam. Hikers on this approximately 4-mile-long trail pass through no less than 5 tunnels, each about 300 feet long, and bored to 25 feet in diameter to accept over-sized, hydro-electric equipment loads. Additionally, the trail's high elevation provides scenic vista views of Lake Mead, the huge lake impounded by Hoover Dam."

As for others, the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail is right in my back yard, in mountainous western Pennsylvania. It's the oldest railroad tunnel in the United States (901 feet long, built in 1834), but since the trail is just 2 ∏ miles, I could not include it. (We did show the trail in in our August 2010 issue foldout map of the Altoona-Johnstown, Pa. area.)

For that matter, the Kinzua Bridge Trail in the northern part of our commonwealth takes you out on what's left of what was once the highest railroad bridge in the country (301 feet high). But it's only two tenths of a mile long.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning the Walnut Street Bridge in Harrisburg, Pa., as a favorite. It's significant for two reasons: first, because it's one of the few remaining bridges that uses a combination of wrought iron and cast iron construction (the end diagonal columns use six riveted sections to make a round column, a technique pioneered but never patented by early bridge engineer Wendel Bollman), and second because my dad helped remove the Valley Railways interurban tracks from the bridge as one his jobs during the Great Depression.

In another life I was a photographer and one of the first things my photography teacher told me was KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It's a lesson that carries over to my mapmaking. The trick is to include what's necessary to tell the story at hand and no more. And that's what I try to do with every map I do for Trains and Classic Trains.

So now you have two honorable mention rail trails from readers and three of mine. What are yours?

Can't get enough maps? Visit our Railroad Maps section that contains an archive of Maps of the Month.

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