Explore by Glenda C. Booth

The 9/11 National Memorial Trail: Symbol of Pride and Resilience

By Glenda C. Booth

On the map, it’s an elongated triangle stretching 1,140 miles northwest from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, then northeast to New York City and then south, back to the nation’s capital.  It is the September 11th National Memorial Trail connecting sites associated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

“Make lemonade,” say the organizers.  (“When life gives you lemons . . . .”)  Something positive can come from the pain and tragedy, officials of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, maintain. The trail can help Americans heal from the horrific events that shocked people worldwide and in effect be a “national therapy.”

“The September 11th National Memorial Trail will not only be a multi-state, active recreational trail connecting the three historic sites, it will also honor the heroes of 9/11 and promote the values of freedom and resilience that have made America great,” contends the head organizer David Brickley, local attorney, former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and former head of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

On September 11, 2001, in a coordinated effort, al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed two into the New York City World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and one into the Pentagon in surprise suicide attacks.  The passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 stopped a fourth airplane from flying into the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C., by forcing a crash landing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The 9/11 Trail

The Alliance, a multi-state group formed in 2004, is working to designate portions of several existing trails and greenways as the 9/11 trail, used for non-motorized travel, primarily walking, hiking and biking. A map of the entire trail. Photo courtesy of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance.

The designation will honor the heroes and heroines of 9/11, first responders and their families.  Plaques along the way will tell the stories of those who died.  It will reflect “a spirit of national pride and true love of country,” says Brickley.  It will also include some trail spurs to honor Americans throughout history who have shown resilience and perseverance in the threat of adversity, such as the existing segment of the Mount Vernon trail south of Alexandria to Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, home of the nation’s first president, George Washington.

The Route A map of the recently negotiated segment of the 9/11 trail around the Pentagon and environs. Photo courtesy of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance.

Locally, the trail will start at the Pentagon in Arlington.  The group recently cemented an agreement to designate a segment around the Pentagon Memorial (see map), connecting it with the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile path from Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon, that has 2,000 users a day.  This section also includes a walking and cycling route around the Air Force Memorial, Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park, Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove and the Navy, Marine and Iwo Jima Memorials.

After crossing the Memorial Bridge, the 9/11 trail will go northwest and connect with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Trail which follows the Potomac River from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., through Maryland and West Virginia to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184 miles.

From Cumberland, the trail will follow the newly completed 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage north before veering east to Shanksville, site of Flight 93’s crash.  The Chesapeake and Ohio and the Great Allegheny Passage are part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. From Shanksville, the trail will continue to New York City’s World Trade Center. The leg between New York City and the Pentagon will follow the East Coast Greenway, a pathway being built as the urban equivalent of the Appalachian Trail.

With a grant from the state of Pennsylvania, the alliance is now identifying the specific routes for two portions, the 24-mile gap from the existing Great Allegheny Passage to the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and a gap from the Flight 93 memorial east to the Delaware Watergap.

 A Broad Coalition

Support for the 9/11 trail is broad, including the Virginia and Pennsylvania state legislatures, American Legion, Pentagon Memorial Fund, U.S. National Park Service, Flight 93 Federal Advisory Commission, East Coast Greenway Alliance, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Dominion Virginia Power, Vietnam Veterans of America, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and other non-profit organizations.

“Our partnership with the states, the National Park Service and other nonprofits has been phenomenal,” Brickley commented recently.


On September 15, 2001, just four days after the terrorist attacks, conservation and recreation leaders from across the U.S. met at the Mid-Atlantic Governors’ Conference on Greenways, Blueways and Green Infrastructure, just blocks from the Pentagon, a portion of which was left in shambles from American Airlines’ Flight 77’s crash into the building.  Brickley was then head of Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).  Despite the national trauma, conference attendees had decided to proceed with their meeting to demonstrate that terrorists could not disrupt Americans’ daily lives, even though some people could not attend because air travel had been suspended.  At the end of the conference, attendees agreed that a multi-use trail would be a perpetual and appropriate remembrance of people who were lost on 9/11.  Hence, its birth.

Brickley was the Director of DCR from 1998 to 2002, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1976 to 1998 and now practices law in Woodbridge.


For more information on trails, visit http://www.911memorialtrail.org/, http://www.nps.gov/pohe/index.htm, http://www.atatrail.org/, www.greenway.org and http://bikewashington.org/trails/vernon/index.php.

For information on 9/11 memorials, visit www.911memorial.org, http://www.911memorial.org/?gclid=CL72ubnnq7QCFQVnOgodEF0ATQ and http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm.

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