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Exploring America’s Urban Tracks-Turned-Trails

City-dwellers often need to escape the concrete jungle to reconnect with the soothing sound of rustling leaves and the hum of a flowing waterfall. But when that weekend keeps you close to the condo, take a look at your local rails-to-trails for some surprising tranquility.

Mark and I live an hour from Northwest Arkansas and we enjoy loading the dogs in the Mazda to go hiking. There are more than 200 miles of scenic hiking and mountain biking trails in the area and they are great. Our love of a good footpath has led us to check out urban trails during our travels. It’s fun to find trails in the middle of cities like Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and New York City, so I wanted to share some of my favorites and one I’m looking forward to trying. 

Bloomingdale Trail  - Chicago, IL

The Bloomingdale Trails  is my favorite urban trail because Chicago is my favorite city. My family has lived in Chi-town on-and-off for 22-years. When visiting this past July we stumbled onto a gem right in the middle of the city. The Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606, was for many years an abandoned elevated rail track on the northwest side of Chicago. Now it’s a green space peppered with art installations; perfect for biking, walking, and jogging (with lanes going both directions). It is manicured with flowers, shrubs, and trees and is even lit up at night.

Mark and I Ubered from my parent’s condo in the West Loop to get to the trail, which runs through Bucktown and Wicker Park. On our trek, we saw people of all ages using the trail. It was delightful to see this thoughtfully designed space well used and enjoyed.

The High Line - New York, New York

If you have been to New York City, you know Central Park is the number one place to go if you need a green space fix. It is more than 770 acres and is a breathtaking retreat in an otherwise urban sprawl. The High Line, should be your number two place to visit.

Watch the Saturday Night Live intro (2016) and when Kenan Thompson comes on screen he’s walking on the The High Line.

It was finished in 2014 and is another rails to trails project (trendy these days). It is built on a historic freight train line that went into disuse in 1980. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues and is about a mile and a half long. You might think the trail is a bit short, especially if you are a fitness buff, but it is packed with things to see and do. And, you can run up and down unlimited times for free. It has art along the way, a beautiful landscape full of trees, bushes, flowers, garden zones and eleven access points that lead you straight into delightful places like Chelsea Market. The High Line even features fun events, like the Haunted High Line for Halloween.

 The Atlanta BeltLine - Atlanta, GA

This is the longest urban trail in the list. It is a 22-mile project that aims to connect forty-five different neighborhoods in and around Atlanta. Just like may of the other trials in urban areas, unused railroads are what make up this trail system. Four portions of the trail are currently open with six new or renovated parks spawning off different places in the trail; however, the completion of the entire trail system is not projected to be finished until 2030. 

Even though The BeltLine has a ways to go until completion, don’t let that deter you. The BeltLine offers a race series called The Atlanta BeltLine Race Series and ongoing art exhibits through Art on the Atlanta BeltLine. Affordable housing is also being promoted along The BeltLine to support and promote communities connected to the trail.

MKT Trail - Columbia, MO

Mark, Buster and I lived in Columbia, Missouri for two years and while we were there we took full advantage of the trails that were available. You might not think of Columbia as an urban area, but it has a population of more than 147,000 when the University of Missouri is in session. It has a thriving downtown area and a huge fitness community. 

The trails system in Columbia is vast and the MKT is the premier trail. It was voted second in the nation by  USA Today’s 10Best Readers Choice Awards in 2016. It is nine miles long and has six major access points. The MKT trail was also a rails-to-trails project using a track that was abandoned in 1977. It links up to the Katy Trail at mile marker 169. The Katy trail is a larger trail that runs from St. Charles in eastern Missouri to Sedalia in western Missouri and is over 200 miles long. The best part of this urban trail is that you can run, walk, or bike the entire nine miles without ever crossing an intersection.

So, next time you are in a metropolis, don’t forget to pack your tennis shoes and check out some of the hidden green spaces you might not have known were around.

Share your favorite urban trails in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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