COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio is in the spotlight today, unveiling part of an ambitious coast-to-coast multi-use trail made up of segments that, for the most part, used to be rail lines.
The Great American Rail-Trail will connect 3,600 miles of trails across 12 states and Washington, D.C.. Today, local and regional leaders are in Columbus as part of a series of cascading events to roll out the trail's cross-country route throughout the day.
Eric Oberg, Midwest director of trail development for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, said Ohio has one of 12 "gateway trails" along the route that will bring this national vision to life.
"Eventually, when it's completely finished, more than 300 miles will go through Ohio, and one of the beautiful things about Ohio is much of that trail is already on the ground," he said. "We have amazing trail resources in Ohio. The gateway trail in Ohio, that's the Ohio to Erie Trail."
The Ohio to Erie Trail cuts diagonally across the state from the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie in Cleveland, and two-thirds of it will be used to connect to the entire Great American Rail-Trail.
Three decades ago, Oberg said, there were just 500 miles of rail-trail in the United States, and the cross-country route has been in the works for quite some time. However, he noted, it isn't going to be easy to connect all of it, and it's going to take time.
"The trail movement has developed more than 22,000 miles of rail trail in the last 30 years. Does that mean we're going to finish the Great American Rail-Trail in the next 30 years? I don't think anyone can say that absolutely, but I think we've positioned ourselves to say that's an achievable goal."
Oberg said he believes the Great American Rail-Trail could become a national treasure. He said such a massive undertaking would not be possible without federal and state grant programs, and collaboration from local trail partners and communities.
"They're all local trails," he said. "At the core, they are about the people that live around them and on them, and use them every day - but, stitched together, they make this national experience."
The Columbus event will be aired live on Facebook starting at 12:30 p.m., along with events in Washington, D.C., Montana and Washington state. More information is online at railstotrails.org