New Jersey’s trails have many benefits for Garden State residents

By Michele S. Byers

Are you ready to get out and hike this fall? New Jersey has hundreds of miles of public trails: long and short, rural and urban, pedestrian and multi-use. Many are scenic, with especially stunning views and fall colors. Other trails double as transportation routes for walking or biking to work, shopping and other activities.

Among the Garden State’s outstanding trails are a 74-mile segment of the famous Appalachian Trail; the 77-mile Delaware & Raritan Canal Trail; the 53-mile Batona Trail in the Pine Barrens; and the 20-mile Lawrence Hopewell Trail.

New Jersey’s trails are being celebrated this month by the state Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection.

“Trails are truly at the intersection of conservation and recreation, providing access to preserved places and scenic landscapes,” DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said.

“Trails are an increasingly important piece of the transportation network in New Jersey, providing safe corridors for walking and bicycling,” said New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.  “These networks connect neighborhoods and communities while also providing important resources for public health and well-being.”

The popularity of trails boomed last year during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Quickly, people discovered how essential trails, open spaces and access to nature are to their physical, mental and spiritual health. Even after the state reopened, trail use remained high.

Studies show that for every $1 invested in trails for physical activity, $2.94 is returned in medical benefits from improved health. And promoting “active transportation” – that is, human-powered activities like walking and bicycling – helps to reduce emissions and boost public health.

A survey conducted last year by the Rails to Trails Conservancy found that:

• 75% of respondents believe trails contribute significantly to the well-being of a community;

• 46% said they consider trails and open spaces to be important, an increase from the 37% who considered trails to be important prior to the pandemic;

• 78% said it is very important to have access to places to walk and bike that are completely separated from vehicle traffic.

New Jersey is a national leader in the “Complete Streets” program, which encourages the design or redesign of streets for safe access by all users – pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.

To find a trail near you, go to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org; the New Jersey Trails Association at www.njtrails.org; or the state’s Trail Tracker site at www.spstrailtracker.nj.gov

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at info@njconservation.org