Supplement Feature - April 2014
Find a printable version here

Get Connected

Create Greenway Trails to Get Your Community On the Move

By Jessica Royer Ocken

How Greenway Trails Work

Some of the most successful greenway trails these days are created using inactive rail lines, Storck said. "[Rail lines] are very practical and sensible and are already bookended by cities or urban areas," she explained. And they likely have some nice, flat, grassy space around them where a paved or unpaved trail could be installed. The original point of such railroad tracks was transportation from one city to another—or perhaps even to various points within a larger city—so the connectivity is built in. The High Line, a trail created on an old elevated freight line on Manhattan's west side in New York City, is a great example of using old railway lines to create green space and functional trails through a very urban area. (Visit for more information.)

Experts report that another current greenway trend is connecting trails across larger regions to create alternative transportation pathways—so commuters from the suburbs could bike to work, rather than drive or compete with cars on the roads, or so dedicated hikers and campers could visit all the state parks in an area without needing the highway to get there. Iowa is just finishing up a project like this, Crawford reported. (Visit for more information on Iowa's extensive system of trails.) For projects that cover a larger area, consider your "ability to capitalize on utility transmission corridors," he suggested. The grassy, open areas beneath overhead lines already do a great job of cutting a clear, relatively straight path from one municipality to the next.

And, as mentioned previously, the area alongside a stream or river also makes a great path for a greenway trail. "The most proactive approach to developing a greenway is to have a city, county or state agency acquire land along drainage ways, creeks and streams," Crawford said. Because it's easily flooded, this land has limited development potential anyway, so it makes sense to purchase it (perhaps with federal or state grant money) and preserve it for public use and wildlife conservation. If your community is already well-established and developed, the process of acquiring land may be a bit more challenging. But, it's still worth the effort. Perhaps you can re-acquire previously developed land and work to clean it up and return it to a more natural state.

You may also need to coordinate with private landowners or with an assortment of local governments as you work to map out your greenway and gain access to the land you need. (More on this below.) But, if you consult with your community along the way, you may just get some help with this part of the job. In many cases, nonprofit groups—like Chicago Wilderness ( along the southern tip of Lake Michigan—"work with municipalities, park districts and recreation departments to help identify potential land holdings to purchase and protect for increasing length and size of greenway corridors," Howard said. The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) has been fostering a regional veloweb (a series of connected cycling trails) that links 16 counties and 117 cities in North Texas, Cowan reported.