Getting outdoors: The 3,000 mile, 15-state biking greenway
March 26th 2020
Among other things, 2020 may easily become the year that Americans rediscovered the great outdoors.
With large events canceled in most states for health reasons, and people told to refrain from gathering together in restaurants, bars, or even the workplace, we’re staying home . . . going stir-crazy . . . often using exercise bikes . . . and then heading for the parks and open spaces to breathe in fresh air and inspiration.
Greenways are a great example of that type of destination. A greenway is a corridor of land that is reserved for recreational or environmental use. And the East Coast Greenway is the granddaddy of them all.
The East Coast Greenway connects 15 states, 450 cities and towns, and 3,000 miles of people-powered trails from Maine to Florida —the country’s longest biking and walking route.
The riding experiences you’ll encounter on this incredible journey are as varied and unique as the states themselves, each contributing a bit of their own culture and charisma to their section of the East Coast Greenway.
One marvelous aspect of this greenway is the structure of it. It’s got its own website, its own ambassadors and sponsors, and consistently presented maps that show clearly where to go and what you’re getting into. Here’s the example for Maine.
Not only that, the GPS-adept among us can download .gpx files for use with map.me and other route-tracking software. Is there any way these folks could have made the travel planning easier?
Without further ado, here are some brief glimpses into what you’ll experience in the 14 other states of this greenway. State links take you directly to the corresponding route-planning page.
A quick photo tour of the East Coast Greenway
New Hampshire is a state in transition. They contribute 17 miles to the bigger picture, but have an even bigger vision about what they want the New Hampshire experience to be.
Massachusetts has a well-developed coalition contributing to the greenway, and already has 11 trails knit together for 57 off-road miles of their 138-mile East Coast Greenway spine.
Rhode Island combines seven trails in their segment, managing to get 32.5 out of 48 miles as protected pathways.
Connecticut has knitted together a whopping 18 local trails through historic mill towns and charming communities to provide 98 protected miles of a 200-mile greenway spine.
The Greenway’s route through New York passes through one of the largest cities in the world–with 18 protected miles on a 34-mile spine. Visitors and locals often agree that traveling through New York on safe, green, recreational paths may be the best way to see Manhattan.
There’s more to New Jersey than the outskirts of New York. In these 98 spine miles (54 protected), you’ll travel through the bustling urban areas of Trenton, New Brunswick, Newark, and Jersey City but also a surprising share of quiet, traffic-free paths, including the D&R Canal Towpath.
And just like that, you’re out of the city. Sometimes. Pennsylvania has a 60-mile spine segment, 26 of which are off-road in a combination of 15 semi-separate trails, some very rural and some urban–just like Pennsylvania as a whole. The state is very much committed to more extensive integration, and an economic study has identified that completing the East Coast Greenway would carry a $3 billion (with a B!) benefit for Philadelphia alone.
Breeze along the Northern Delaware Greenway into Wilmington to the scenic Riverwalk in downtown Wilmington. Follow the Riverwalk to the DuPont Environmental Education Center on the Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge, which marks the beginning of the beautiful Jack A. Markell Trail, opened in the fall of 2018. The trail takes you to historic New Castle by way of a boardwalk over wetlands, across the Christina River on an arched bridge just for cyclists and pedestrians, and along a mix of forest, underpasses, and a former rail corridor.
Greenway highlights in Maryland include the scenic Jones Falls Trail into Baltimore, the rural Torrey C. Brown trail north of Baltimore, and the B&A Trail leading delightfully to the port city of Annapolis. Of a 171-mile Greenway spine, 62 are protected.
OK, so it’s not a state, but Washington DC is an important connector between Maryland and Virginia. Of its 8-mile spine, 6 are protected. The Greenway route through our nation’s capital is scenic, passing monuments on the National Mall before crossing the Potomac River to Virginia.
In Virginia, something unusual happens. After traveling down to Richmond, using the Mount Vernon trail, among others, the Greenway splits in two; the official spine route continues directly south to North Carolina, while the other travels southeast on the Southern Historical Route through Jamestown and Williamsburg. Of the 283 spine route miles, 57 are protected.
North Carolina brings the split back together, but not until Wilmington. The official spine route of 365 miles (97 protected) travels directly south through Raleigh, while the other route navigates various towns along the coast.
South Carolina combines ten short but scenic trails into 50 protected miles of 264 Greenway spine miles navigating down the coastline past Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Beaufort.
Georgia’s contribution to the network is …. well … aspirational at this point. Basically, it’s 10% protected trail and 90% riding in the margins of US-17 with cars speeding by. We’d love to highlight any articulated or visualized plans to improve this situation, and the intent is certainly there, but we have nothing to share so far, except for “mobile biking techniques” further in this article.
And just like that, we’re in Florida, which contributes a whopping 22 trails to the Greenway, for a total protected miles of 251 in a spine of 595 miles.
The Greenway enters the state at Fernandina Beach, then makes its way through 13 counties before reaching Key West, the southernmost mainland point of the United States. Travel is largely along the coast through seaside villages, America’s earliest historic sites, vast nature preserves, and major cities that include Jacksonville and Miami.
Mobile biking: How do we do this?
At a certain point of “I want to do this!” brainstorming, three logistical obstacles come to mind:
- It’s linear, starting in one place a finishing somewhere else. How does that work?
- A 3,000 mile trip will take a while! You’ll probably have to break it up.
- It might even be intermittent, if some sections–like Georgia?–are beyond your comfort level.
However you do this, your bike will need to travel, and so will you, either by car or plane. Here are four ways to travel with a bike:
- Combine riding with car support. Put the bike(s) on a car, and one person continues to drive and ferry riders as needed while the others bike. This excludes someone from the cycling, unless you rotate the support role, but is a convenient way to address both the gaps and the to/from travel.
- Use a folding bike. Put it on a plane, put it in a taxi, put it anywhere to get anywhere. You’ve just got to endure riding 20″ wheels for days, including on gravel roads. Memorable.
- Use a Ritchey Break-Away. A Ritchey Break-Away frame can be disassembled to fit in an airline-acceptable suitcase. Then you reassemble into a bike in about 40 minutes. If you want to skip any section of the ride, you can combine the disassemble/reassemble process with a taxi or Uber.
- Use a full-size folding bike. Unlike a typical folding bike, this is–and rides like–a full-sized MTB or road bike. Unlike a Ritchey Break-Away bike, you break it down by folding it in half in about 30 seconds. Intermittent travel with a fold-away bike like a fold-away bike is as easy as folding it in half, calling an Uber/Lyft, and putting it in the trunk or back seat.
To/from destination travel with a fold-away bike like a CHANGE bike is a bit trickier than with a folding bike or Ritchey Break-Away, as it is more suited to car, bus, or train travel—although some collapsible, larger hard shell cases exist.
One easy answer is to separate bike and rider travel. I’ve shipped my folded bike directly to my first hotel by a specialty shipper like BikeFlights and then flown without it–that’s even easier than carrying a folded bike!
Whatever method you use to have your biking adventures, consider a greenway in your adventure plans. If you’re not on the East Coast, look in Parade Magazine for a listing of a greenway in every state, including yours!
Now let’s get biking!
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.