The clever way Indiana is resurrecting its old, rusting railroads.

When I was a kid, I went on a lot of nature walks with my mom.

We lived in the country in Central Texas and had a little plot of woods all to ourselves. We walked around big, ancient oaks and twisted, gnarly mesquite trees. Sometimes, we'd find a tree covered in big, ropey mustang grapevines and I'd climb up into the trees, pretending I was in the Swiss Family Robinson.

Other times, we went looking for animals. My favorites were the green anole lizards that lived on trees and flashed their red neck flaps at you.


Technically, it's called a dewlap, thank you very much. Photo from R. Colin Blenis/Wikimedia Commons.

There were also tiny black-and-white beetles with rock-hard shells that lived on fallen logs. If you touched them, they played dead until they thought you were gone. And sometimes we even saw deer.

Nature walks are a good way for families to bond. And they're pretty healthy too.

Science shows that spending just a little time outside (walking, looking at the trees, or even catching Pokemon!) can be good for you — it reduces blood pressure and improves mental health. There are even studies that suggest spending time in nature together can help families get along.

But here's the problem: Not everyone has access to nature, even (and especially) in rural areas.


Does this count as nature? Not really. Scott Olsen/Getty Images.

It's easy to imagine how someone living in downtown Chicago might struggle to find nature. But living outside a city doesn't guarantee access to trails and forests, either.

For example, imagine living in farm country. Though you're definitely not in the city, miles and miles of corn fields are just as much an artificial creation as any apartment building (plus the farmers probably wouldn't be happy with you trying to picnic in the middle of their fields).

This is actually a significant problem, so two researchers (University of Illinois professor Ramona Oswald and doctoral student Dina Izenstark) recently examined the lack of nature access in rural America. They found that although a lot of parents may know how great a nature walk can be for both your mood and your body, long distances or costs keep them from getting their families into nature.

“The moms in this study know about health and what to do to be healthy,” Oswald said in a press release. “It’s not a lack of education. It has to do with barriers and access to resources."

But what if we could erase these barriers? Enter the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit that's giving people access to nature in a cool way: by reviving old railway lines.

Photo via Rails-to-Trails Conservancy/Eric Oberg, used with permission.

You see, the United States is criss-crossed with old railway lines.

Photo via iStock.

Many of them are still in use, but many have been abandoned.


Photo via iStock.

But just because they're abandoned doesn't mean they can't still be useful.

These abandoned lines can have new life breathed into them. Take the Cardinal Greenway in central and eastern Indiana.

Way back in 1993, the nonprofit Cardinal Greenways bought 60 miles of abandoned railroad in eastern Indiana and, after teaming up with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for logistical help, began the hard work of turning it into a nature trail. (Rails-to-Trails support projects all across the United States.)

Photo from Cardinal Greenways, used with permission.

Tearing up a big metal railroad to make a nature trail might seem like a lot of work. But the railroad is already set up for nature walking success.

Most railroad tracks are already built up off the ground (so they don't flood), and they can support a lot of weight. Even better, trees don't grow on railroad tracks, so there's less vegetation to cut back to make a trail.

Cardinal Greenways' first 10-mile stretch opened in 1998.

They also added updated features like new bridges, benches, and informational signs.

Photo from Cardinal Greenways, used with permission.

There is also a playground and exercise equipment. You can even borrow a bike. It's free, too. Cardinal Greenways relies on volunteers and donations to maintain and expand the trail.

Today, the Cardinal Greenway runs for 62 miles, winding through more than 10 small towns as well as nature preserves and parks.

Photo from Cardinal Greenways, used with permission.

Families can walk or bicycle it, giving them easy access to nature and a safe place to exercise, no matter whether they're urban or rural.

A lot of different places have hit on replacing old railway lines with nature trails. Chicagoans might recognize the Bloomingdale Trail, for instance.

Photo from Victor Grigas/Wikimedia Commons.

The Bloomingdale Trail is a greenway that runs for about three miles in Northwest Chicago. You might never guess it used to be an old elevated train line.

In fact, your favorite running trail may have started its life as a railroad track. The Gloucester Township Trail in New Jersey, the Shelby Farms Greenline in Tennessee, and Mississippi's Tanglefoot Trail all started as old train lines, too.

Projects like this give both urban and rural families access to nature — using resources we already have.

Nature walks with my mom are some of my fondest childhood memories, and I'm sure those walks are part of the reason I'm still in love with nature today.

It's awesome to see projects like this making sure everyone has access to those memories like I did.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

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The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."