Saturday, February 1, 2020

Ride: The Field Club Trail

A short stretch of multi-use trail built on an old rail like runs through central Omaha, Nebraska.  Linking Leavenworth and Vinton Streets, the Field Club Trail was built in the same way as many of the best urban bike routes: on top of an abandoned railroad right of way.

In the 1880s, Omaha was still reaping the benefits of being the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States, and it was during this time that the Belt Line Railway was built around what was then the outskirts of the city.  The history of how the line was built is colorful, and when it was done it was a 15 mile path that started in South Omaha, proceeded through downtown, looped around North Omaha, and made its way south again through what is now the center of the city.  After being built, businesses and factories grew up along it, and passengers used it to get between parts of the city and to link up with trains to other cities.

Like all of the smaller railways that were built in this timeframe, the Belt Line was slowly absorbed into larger rail conglomerates.  By the 1920s, passenger service had finished, and freight service was on the decline by the 1960s and 1970s.  By the 1980s, the line had been abandoned.

Today, much of the Belt Line right of way has been taken over by parking lots, buildings, and trees.  But the western part of the loop between South Omaha and Central Omaha has been converted into the 1.75 mile Field Club Trail.  In the north, the path starts at the intersection of 40th and Leavenworth Streets.  It heads generally straight south from there, passing through the Field Club neighborhood and ending where it links up with the South Omaha Trail near Interstate 80.  The whole route is paved and passes under all of the major streets, but the southern half has several level crossings over residential streets.  The path is flat and easy to ride, and it makes a great route for traveling between South and Central Omaha.  While the north end of the path dead-ends at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the south end links up with the South Omaha trail, which in turns links up with the Keystone Trail.  With some creativity on the north end, these connections can be used to create a nice loop, or they can be used as part of a longer out-and-back that hits a variety of spots around the city.

You can find out more about the Omaha Belt Line on its Wikipedia page, and you can take a look at where it goes at the Wireless Bike Map.

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