Great American Rail-Trail
Credit: Scott Stark

A coast-to-coast hiking and biking trail is almost a reality.

The proposed Great American Rail Trail, a multi-use trail that will run across multiple states, has been in development for several years. Today, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) unveiled in a statement its preferred route for the trail, which will connect more than 125 existing trails and 90 trail gaps over 3,700 miles between Washington, D.C., and Washington State.

Originally envisioned in the 1980s, the RTC has been conducting a route assessment for the last 12 months, analyzing more than 34,000 miles of multi-use trails across the country and working with more than 200 local partners and 50 state agencies to plan the route. The proposed preferred route is planned to be one continuous route (or over 80 percent continuous) and entirely off-street, made up of almost all existing trails.

Great American Rail-Trail
Credit: Milo Bateman

“When defining the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail, we sought a cross-country route that would provide the highest-quality experience while delivering significant economic and social benefits to the communities it connects,” said Liz Thorstensen, vice president of trail development at RTC, in a statement.

The trail itself runs through 12 states including Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington State, plus Washington D.C.,

According to the RTC, nearly 50 million people living within 50 miles of the trail will be able to find new opportunities to explore the great outdoors once the trail is complete. The 3,700-mile trail will consist of 1,961 miles of existing trails and 1,782 miles of identified gaps (sections of trail in need of development to fully connect the Great American into one single route). These trail gaps also pose more opportunities for connecting trails in the future. From the sound of it, it’s sure to blow some of the best trails in the U.S. straight out of the water once complete.

Plus, the RTC predicts that the Great American Rail Trail could potentially bring significant economic benefits to communities along the trail.

“[The Great American Rail Trail] magnifies on a grand scale the benefits that trails have delivered to communities for decades,” said Ryan Chao, president of RTC. “Whether bridging gaps within and between communities, creating safe walking and biking access to jobs, transit, shopping and green space; or serving as recreation for cyclists, runners and casual daily explorers, this will be America’s trail.”

Great American Rail-Trail
Credit: Hung Tran

At the moment, Washington D.C. and Maryland are the only parts of the trail that are 100 percent complete. The RTC predicts the trail completion is still “decades away,” but the whole of the trail is 52 percent complete.

The RTC has planned projects and initiatives to start making the Great American Rail Trail a reality. In addition to working with local and state partners, the organization is striving to reach one million pledges from outdoor lovers to help complete the massive trail project.

On May 8, the RTC will be hosting live events along the preferred route, which will also be broadcast live on the organization’s Facebook page and on its website from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST.

More information on the trail, live events, and how to make a pledge can be found on the Great American Rail Trail website.