One of my favorite nonprofit organizations is the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. For over 25 years they have been at the forefront of the movement to turn abandoned railroad corridors into multi-use trails for walking, hiking and cycling. There are now over 20,000 miles of converted rail lines scattered across the United States. Some of these trails are only a few miles long, while others, like the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri, seem to go on forever (well, 225 miles to be exact). Finding these trails on your own would be a nightmare! Fortunately, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has published a series of six guidebooks that cover the trails in over 25 states.
The Rails-Trails: Midwest Guidebook covers 113 trails in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Like the other books in this series, this guidebook is loaded with maps! The book is divided into sections by state, and there is a map at the beginning of each section to show you where the trails are located, then another map and description for each trail. Each entry has information about the trailheads, parking, directions, public restrooms, trail length and trail roughness (based on a scale of one to three).
While I have not been able to ride on every trail in this book, I have been on enough of them to draw some general conclusions about the quality of the information provided. As far as I can tell, both the maps and descriptions are excellent! You should have not trouble finding any of the trailheads or a place to park, and all the maps are drawn to scale.
As much as I like this book, I do have major concerns about what is missing, i.e., information that could save your life! Let me explain using the example of the section dealing with the Robert McClory Bike Path in Lake County, Illinois (a trail I’ve used several hundred times). The information about this trail sounds like it was written by the local Chamber of Commerce—it talks about the history of the trail and the beautiful scenery on the southern part of the trail, including the golf courses, woodlands and neighborhood gardens. Unfortunately, it fails to mention that the northern end of this trail runs through one of the highest crime areas in Illinois—it is not uncommon for cyclists to get robbed on this trail (and sometimes beaten as well). It would have also been helpful if they would have mentioned that the locals call this trail The Glass Highway, due to the overabundance of broken glass (mainly from broken beer bottles). Because I live near this trail I still often use it, but only on an old bike with Kevlar belted tires and inner-tubes filled with Slime. On several occasions I’ve met cyclists on this trail who were scared out of their wits and trying to find a different way home.
The Rails-Trails Guidebooks vary in price from $15.95 to $18.95 and are available from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Online Store.