Cross-Country Patchwork 'Rail Trail' Expected To Cross Park County | Big Horn Basin Media

Cross-Country Patchwork ‘Rail Trail’ Expected To Cross Park County

Written by on March 17, 2023

A coast-to-coast trail is being built from Washington State to Washington D.C. and Wyoming is expected to be included in a nationwide patchwork of hiking a biking trails.

A directional hiking sign on a nature trail. The sign is posted in front of a forest background (stock image).

The Great American Rail Trail will run across the country, stretching 3,700 miles, with a 500-mile continuous stretching across the Cowboy State. Rail trails are non-motorized paths that are built beside old railroad beds.  They’re usually made out of crushed rock or pavement so they are wheelchair accessible.

Mac Watson from Mac In The Morning interviewed Kevin Belle, spokesperson for Rails To Trails headquartered outside of Washington D.C., to find out how this project will impact Park County. The full interview is below.

So why is it called, “The Great American Rail Trail?” Kevin explains, “[Rails and Trails] call it the Great American Rail Trail because we wanted to follow rail corridors as much as possible because  those are pretty flat.  That allows the most amount of people to use it.  [The trail] is accessible for all ages and abilities.”  But there is also a bigger goal: to open up small towns to tourism along the same lines the railroads might have gone through and don’t provide those services anymore. “Or small towns that really need to see those economic  development  opportunities, diversifying economies all around the country.” A pretty large task.

Wyoming is a big state and so are the expectations for this project. “We went to Wyoming first when we first put a stake in the ground on this project because we knew it would be challenging from a mountainous perspective,” says Mr. Belle.  There is about 20 miles [of project] completed on the ground now.  We know that Wyoming certainly has some challenging aspects to it but also a lot of opportunities to it as well.  This is a huge outdoor/recreation opportunity for northwest Wyoming. The preferred route [Rails and Trails] have identified would go through Yellowstone National Park. {Rails and Trails] is looking at an on-road, detour route for an interim period that would cut through and go around the park because [Rails and Trails] knows that many people want to experience [Yellowstone], but we know a lot of traffic goes through the park as well in busy times,” according to Kevin.  Wyoming doesn’t have the density of old rail lines like some states back east, so the Rails and Trails people will have to come up with creative ways to connect old rail lines with new paths.

As far as the biggest trail section that is being currently working on in Wyoming is in Casper. “There’s roughly 10 miles on the Casper rail trail. Our big initiative right now is to connect a trial between Casper and Douglas, which is about 40 miles or so. It’s a place for people to go out on their morning walks or bike rides but also 40 miles is a great day trip or an overnight trip for folks to experience a longer opportunity.”  The hope is,” Kevin says, ” is that it will be wheelchair accessible,” and the trail system will go through or be close to campgrounds and small towns with hotels and motels  for travelers who want to make an adventure out of their hiking and biking.

Besides the typography issue of physically scaling mountains and connect huge swaths of flatlands, funding is another one of the fundamental challenges for this project.  Kevin notes that tapping into the newly-created $50 million dollar Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, signed into law by Governor Mark Gordon this legislative session, could help a lot. Besides the trust funds, money could also be raised locally by smaller towns and municipalities as well.

As far as a timetable or a end date on the completion of the coast-to-coast pathways, Kevin says it will be a decade or more.  “We already know that there is 2,000 miles on the ground, but there’s new miles of trails coming online everyday, every year that we know people are enjoying.”


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