Cross Country Bike Trail with Big Rural Benefits

The Great American Rail-Trail is a mega bike trail that will connect nearly 3,700 miles of rail trails and other multi-use trails to form a path across the country from Washington, D.C., to Washington State. The preferred route of the nation’s first cross-country, multi-use trail is detailed in a comprehensive report released by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and the route is presented here in an interactive map

This massive project is noteworthy for several reasons: (1) With everyone from LeBron James to your grandpa pushing bike use, the fitness benefits are obvious. (2) Bike trails boost local economies–especially in small towns. (3) This could be a great way for thousands to see America’s countryside at a slow pace and with a ground-level view.

The High Trestle Bridge gets lit up at night.

These benefits are already occurring in localized ways. In parts of the country, the farm population has shrunk and small towns suffer. The bicycle has opened up a promising avenue for some communities. Families with babies in tow and bike clubs with weird names file along rural paths–many carved from railroad lines. A perfect example of this is the High Trestle Trail in central Iowa. Restaurants, smoothie stands, and nearby Main Street shops benefit from the traffic, and the path crosses the Des Moines River on a 13-story high renovated rail bridge. The structure was turned into a work of art and an educational outlet–the frames represent nearby coal mining of the past, and stations along the bridge include maps and descriptions of the area’s development.

Many parts of the country provide wonderful bike trail opportunities, and some states organize annual rides to celebrate rural life. The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai) has been active since the mid-seventies. The ride involves an average of 15,000 to 25,000 folks migrating across the state for a week-long Odyssey through farmland and small towns. For many, sitting on top of a bike seat is about as close as they ever get to agriculture, but the event provides opportunities for many to smell the good earth (and the not-so-good manure), to see the amazing productivity of the land, and to meet people along the way–from vendors at pie stands to farmers gathered on Main Street to fellow riders from all over the world.

The following links lead to past blogs about Ragbrai:

** Your Momma, Andy of Mayberry, and 35,000 Bikers–a Harlan man opened up his basement to 25 bikers as a tornado roared through at 3:00 a.m., and a Tipton woman left a note on her door to bikers, “I’m at the church serving food. Go right in. Shower on your left. Fresh pie on the kitchen table.”

**  Is This Heaven? Biking through Farm Country Mixes the Field of Dreams with Dante’s Inferno–riders chomp on sweet corn, inhale slices of blueberry pie, and invade towns with no stoplights but plenty of hospitality. But the week can be challenging–cold rain, blast-furnace heat, blown tires, and the occasional accidental meeting of flesh and pavement. 

** Check here for a collection of Ragbrai photos from the Des Moines Register.

by dan gogerty (map from and the bridge collage from

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