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I also realized that I know very little about building rail-trails either. You'd think that since I'm such a huge fan of them, I'd know more, but...
One of the first factors to consider has absolutely nothing to do with the physical labor involved w/ building a rail trail. It's the paperwork, the community relations, the permits, etc. Community members must be notified, meetings held, people convinced of the worthiness. That would be way harder than swinging a pulaski.
Then, before the trail can be built, the old railroad ties & tracks haveto be removed, the routes has to be surveyed and graded. Vegetation needs to be thinned or removed. Remember, all of this has to be done before one bit of trail gets built.
Oh, did I mention finding the land, purchasing the land, obtaining the easements, zoning, safety regulations, contracting w/ a trail building company, building bridges, repairing bridges, meeting environmental standards, avoiding or replacing wetlands...
Yikes!! When I think about it, it's amazing that we have so many of the best trails that we do. It also makes me appreciate those trails even more.
My thanks go out to the trail organizations, builders, fund-raisers, planners, and, of course, users. Next time you ride a trail, try to remember how special it is and all the work that went into planning and implementing the trail construction.