How to develop rail-trails and greenways

Earlier this year I mentioned various resources for rail-trail development. Some of the more important links were broken when the Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse website was redesigned, so I thought I’d include the updated links and mention some new ones.

The Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse, provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy provides information about rail-trail benefits as well as rail-trail development. One of the best resources is the Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails book. Also useful are the Online Manuals, Reports and Fact Sheets.

2002 Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has recently issued the 2002 Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan. The plan is the result of an 18 month study that “identifies system-wide strategies and policies and conforms to the goals established in the Cabinet’s 2001 strategic plan, provides a vehicle to identify future rail issues to meet Federal Railroad Administration requirements for federal funding as such funding becomes available, and it serves as a valuable source of statistical information regarding rail transportation in Kentucky.”

“The plan should serve as a means of heightening awareness of the significance of rail transportation throughout the Commonwealth,” said KYTC Secretary James C. Codell, III. “It is important to note that our rail system is a major element of our transportation system in Kentucky. Rail carries approximately the same amount of freight as does our interstates.”

The Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan addresses the following three main parts:

  • Rail System
  • Rail Safety
  • Rails To Trails Program

I’m excited that one of the major goals of the plan is to promote rail system preservation. Much of the rails-to-trails language in the plan will be familiar to rail-trail supporters. The plan includes a discussion of the pros and cons for rails to trails projects, including the viewpoint of the railroads. There’s also brief descriptions of current rail-trail projects and rail-trail supporting organizations.

Go to the website for the 2002 Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan or go directly to the rails to trails chapter (needs Adobe Acrobat reader).

More High Bridge photos

The Nollau (Louis Edward) Railroad Glass Negative Collection has photographs of the bridge and station during the rebuilding, starting around photo no. 1123 of the bridges section. The quality of the online versions are not nearly as good as the ones I mentioned before.

The general structures page also mentions a photo of stairs on the side of a cliff. I suspect this was taken near High Bridge as well. And could this be the tunnel?

I also found a photograph of log rafts on the Kentucky River near High Bridge. It is from the Arthur Y. Ford albums at the University of Louisville.

Rail-trail How To Guides

The Rails-to-Trails Library provides many useful resources about how to build rail-trails. The Art of the Rural Trail Deal seems relevant to many Kentucky trails. The common theme in it and really all rail-trail work is to build lasting relationships and cooperate with other people and groups in the community.

By many accounts, the best book on creating rail-trails is Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails: An Acquisition and Organizing Manual for Converting Rails into Trails. The book is available online in various formats and can be purchased from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The Guide to Creating a Greenway or Trail also contains practical and helpful information.

Where’d that railroad go?

I just realized I haven’t mentioned the Kentucky Abandoned Railbed Inventory, which I expect will help us identify other potential railtrails like the one I mentioned yesterday. Sadly, their website has essentially no information about this fascinating project.

The project began with the creation of the Railtrail Development Office within the Department of Local Government by the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly. (See KRS 147A.250) The office is focused on preserving abandoned railroad right-of-ways in Kentucky and helping utilize them for public recreation. To that end, by June 2003 it will complete a study that inventories all abandoned rail corridors in the state and evaluate their suitability for railtrail conversion.

Last March, I had the opportunity to hear a presentation about this project by Lisa Rainey, a graduate student at the University of Kentucky who is working on it. She apparently also presented a paper at the 2002 Association of American Geographers conference about challenges of designing useful critera for the railbed inventory. Her description of the process of creating the inventory made me suspect that she had my dream job: it’s a mixture of historical research and first-hand field inspections to verify that there is indeed something there. She said that many of the early maps had been significantly inaccurate, making it even more rewarding to finally find that suspected tunnel, old station foundation, or railroad debris.

I’m looking forward to seeing the inventory. Based on the pictures and information she conveyed in her brief presentations, it should be fabulous.

Wilmore–Burgin Rail-trail?

Well, what d’ya know! I was looking at a topo map the other day and noticed that the High Bridge–Wilmore Railtrail may have a sister on the other side of the river. I suspected that since the railroad had relocated when it doubled the tracks in Jessamine County, it might have needed to do the same in Mercer County. The map shows a dotted line nicely labeled “Old Railroad Grade” that starts near the powerplant and continues on toward Burgin. It looks like about 3 miles of abandoned line. The abandonment begins about 1 ½ miles from High Bridge. I wonder if the bed is still intact.

Kentucky Bourbon

In doing research for another rail-trail, I came across a delightful article on Kentucky Bourbon which was published in Louisville Magazine. It begins:

Fast horses, gorgeous women and potent bourbon are trademarks of the Bluegrass State. You can find out all you need to know about the first two at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, but for an inside look into the latter, we recommend a road trip.

The article describes visits to four major Kentucky bourbon distilleries. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit them for a tour, but think it would be a lot of fun.

I had been curious about the history of Austin Nichols’ Wild Turkey distillery near Tyrone because a potential rail-trail begins there. See the Anderson county trail description on the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council website. Be sure to look at the pictures of the massive railroad bridge there, too.

The bridge, known as Young’s High Bridge, or the Tyrone bridge, is occasionally mistaken for the High Bridge despite their obvious differences. The Bluegrass Railroad Museum has a page about Young’s High Bridge and a page about its history.

The proposed rail-trail between Lawrenceburg and Tyrone would be wonderful. The line has recently been abandoned. The existing bridges provide terrific (and somewhat terrifying) views of the river and surrounding area. I heard that a group called the Tyrone Bridge and Railroad Company was planning to acquire the line. I believe they are somehow related to the Bluegrass Railroad Museum, but have been unable to find any more information about them. It would make a beautiful rail-trail.

History of High Bridge

I’ve been researching the history of the Kentucky River railroad bridge called High Bridge. I believe I now have the most comprehensive resource online about the history of High Bridge. It’s been an enjoyable project; I’ve done all of the research so far using online resources and have been amazed at how much historical information is available. I delight in the fact that all photographs of the construction and later rebuilding of the bridge are out of copyright, so we can use them freely. I will be expanding the High Bridge site with additional photographs and details as I continue my research. In the meantime, enjoy learning about what may be the most important railroad bridge in the Eastern United States.

High Bridge construction photos

Wow! I just found the High Bridge Collection, provided online by the University of Kentucky Libraries, Special Collections and Archives. The collection contains seven photos of the High Bridge railroad bridge during its construction in 1876-1877.

Another collection provided by the same library, the Nollau High Bridge Photographic Collection, claims to contain sixty photographs of the rebuilding of the bridge in 1910-1911. Based on the distinctive towers and appearance, I’d say that only pictures 33 through 60 are of High Bridge, Kentucky. I remember reading that they rebuilt High Bridge around the original bridge, using the same footings, with no disruption of railroad traffic, and raised the track almost 30 feet. These photos make it obvious how it was achieved.

You may also want to look at the related collections—Louis Edward Nollau took photos all over Kentucky. I found many interesting Kentucky historical sites, including a picture of the High Bridge railroad station and a number depicting the building of the new bridge approach embankment (see photos 8 through 20).