Hitting the trails this weekend? You might be walking or biking on an abandoned railroad.
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State Farm

Along the Missouri River, there are 26 rambling trails where you can walk or bike through soft marshlands, towering bluffs, pleasing pastures, and thick forests.

Those trails make up the Katy Trail State Park — the longest public area in the United States that was formerly train tracks.

Built on the corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, there's also quite a bit of history to be found on any outdoor excursion in this state park. Most trails go past restored historic depots and former railroad towns. It's no surprise all 240 miles of this park were added to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame in 2008.


Katy Trail State Park. Photo by Kim Horgan, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

But trails like this weren't always so pleasant.

In the 1950s and '60s, there was dramatic decline in train use. By 1966, less than 2% of intercity commuters were using trains to get from place to place. That left a significant number of train lines defunct and a whole lot of miles of territory in disuse.

Aside from not looking too pretty, these rail lines, including what's now Katy Trail State Park, were just taking up unnecessary amounts of space without serving any purpose.

By the 1980s, "you see Congress starting to get concerned, because they were looking at the permanent loss of these rail lines," explains Amy Kapp, editor of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s magazine and blog.

Photo via succo/Pixabay.

So they amended the National Trail Systems Act to create the Railbanking Program. This allows people to preserve inactive corridors for future rail use while providing interim trail use — aka turning them into walking trails and bike paths.

But it’s often not easy for communities to launch large-scale trail projects on their own. They don't have the money and manpower, or they simply do not have any idea where to start.

That's why David Burwell and Peter Harnik founded the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy — an organization that's been helping to create outdoor paths for the public since 1986.

David Burwell and his wife (left) and Peter Harnik (right). Images courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

By helping convert old railways into public lands like the awesome Katy Trails, the conservancy is giving back to local communities by providing more places to go outside, which in turn may help people feel better physically and mentally. More walkable, bike-able trails also means there's more of America's natural beauty for people to enjoy.

Trail in Washington, D.C. Photo by Milo Bateman, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Over the last 30 years, RTC has been a great success.

When they opened their doors, there were 250 miles of known rail-trail. Today, there are over 22,774 miles available to communities all over the country and 2,035 known rails have been converted to trails.

It's really quite remarkable when you realize all those trails were once just miles and miles of unused land.

David Burwell passed away in February, but thanks to his passion and skill — and over 160,000 RTC members — his work will live on long after him.

Anacostia River Trail in Washington, D.C. Photo by Suzanne Matyas, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Currently, RTC is helping to build eight large-scale regional trail systems across the United States.

One particularly significant project is called the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Tourism Plan, or Active Plan for short.

Historic Battlefield Trail in Brownsville, Texas. Photo by Mark Lehmann, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

The Active Plan is based in Cameron County, Texas, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. A 428-mile trail network is on the docket to provide locals with safe travel routes and encourage exercise and outdoor recreation.

These outdoor trails could make life so much better for locals.

The Ortiz family on the Historic Battlefield Trail in Palo Alto, Texas. Photo by Mark Lehmann, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Being closer to trails could save Cameron County millions of dollars in medical bills.

The community's economy should see a huge uptick too. A plan is set to create 453 new jobs for locals and increase tourism revenue by $40 million. For a county with more than a third of its residents below the poverty line, that’s no inconsequential figure.

Ohio and Erie Canalway Towpath Trail. Photo by Bruce Ford, courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Rails-to-trails conversion starts on the community level — which means that there are lots of ways for people to get involved and maybe even help spearhead a project in their own community.

In fact, RTC's website is a great resource if anyone interested in jumpstarting more trails, providing an online toolbox that's filled with information on railbanking, acquiring and financing projects, planning and trail designs, and how to navigate the railroad and community guidelines.

In addition, RTC is also always looking for volunteers to help advocate for them and their work. After all, it is thanks to those volunteers that we have beautiful public trails weaving through different communities, linking them together, and bringing people back to nature  — they are the ones helping make  Burwell's dream a reality.

"My dream is that one day you could go across this entire country — old or young, handicapped or able — on flat, wide, off-road paths," he once told the RTC publication. "I want rail-trails to be America’s main street."

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."