|Photo: traillink.com (Erie Canalway Trail: Little Falls to Albany – Mohawk Hudson Bikeway, New York State)|
Rails-to-trails is a nationwide network of recreational multi-purpose public trails and paths created from former railroad corridors. The trails can be unpaved or paved. They are most often flat or follow a gentle grade, they traverse urban, suburban and rural America. They are ideal for many uses, such as bicycling, running, walking, cross-country skiing and equestrian use. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports that there are 20,000-plus miles of rail-trail throughout the country, and more than 9,000 miles of potential rail-trails waiting to be built.
There is a running event in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina called the Tobacco Road Marathon featuring both a Marathon and a Half-Marathon. What makes the event special is that over 20 miles of the Marathon is run on the American Tobacco Trail!
The American Tobacco Trail is a recreational rail-trail located on an abandoned railroad corridor of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Constructed in 1906, the original railroad traveled from Duncan to Durham near the New Hope River, transporting tobacco leaf from farming communities in Wake, Chatham and Durham counties for processing at the American Tobacco Company in Durham.Some history, according to the Tobacco Road Marathon website:
Construction of Jordan Lake in 1971 necessitated moving a section of the railroad corridor (from Bonsal to southern Durham County) several miles eastward, onto higher ground. Railroad traffic decreased after this time due to competition from interstate trucking. …. the tracks were removed in 1987
Local residents began using the rail corridor as an informal recreational trail, and in 1989, a group of citizens organized the nonprofit Triangle Rails To Trails Conservancy to promote the development of the corridor into a managed rail-trail. The N.C. Department of Transportation purchased the corridor from the railroad company in 1995 and subsequently leased the corridor to the counties to be developed and operated as a recreational trail open to the public.
It was officially named the American Tobacco Trail to reflect its historical roots, and planning and construction of the trail began. The trail is being built in sections, the first of which opened in 2001 in downtown Durham… .
(see also Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy)
I have run the Tobacco Road Marathon twice. Raleigh-Durham is an easy city to get to from New York. There are frequent non-stop flights, and the price is usually reasonable. The weather is comfortable, and it is easy to get around. The host hotel, Embassy Suites, Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle, is a very nice hotel with an airport shuttle. The expo, held at the Embassy Suites, is good for a small race.
The race organizers and volunteers do a good job at setting up the races, and of providing support (water, Gatorade, GU, medical and enthusiastic cheers) along the course. I like running on the flat, packed unpaved course. To me, the scenery is lovely. I don’t find it repetitive or boring. I think its cool to follow historical paths. Most days of the week, I’ll gladly trade the hoopla of the big city marathons for the serenity of a peaceful trail marathon.
I’ve run two other marathons that took place largely on Rails-to-trails: The Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, in upstate New York, and the Deadwood Mickelson Marathon in South Dakota. Both were beautiful and memorable. I think that I would like to run some more rail-to-trail marathons. Below are some links for websites for Marathons that are run on rails-to-trails. It is only a beginner list – feel free to comment below with more links.
Tobacco Road Marathon (North Carolina)
Rails-to-Trails Marathon (Wisconsin)
NCR Trail Marathon (Maryland)
B & A Trail Marathon (Maryland)
Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon (South Dakota)
Mohawk Hudson River Marathon (New York)