By Alison Mitchell, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
When it’s time to “hit the trail,” where do you like to go?
For many people, trails are a recreational amenity – great places to hike, bike, walk their dogs, observe nature and admire scenic views. For others, urban and suburban trails provide a way to commute to work or school, shop at local businesses and visit restaurants.
With their many purposes, trails are an incredible asset in New Jersey and beyond. And thanks to efforts to build new trails and connect existing ones, New Jersey’s trail networks are constantly expanding.
Accelerating the momentum is the mission of the New Jersey Trails Action Network, a new organization that advocates for trails and greenways, and works with state agencies to coordinate the development of a connected network of trails for recreation and transportation.
“It’s a really exciting time to be looking at these opportunities,” said Tim Brill, project manager for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and one of the organizers of the group. “Trails and greenways can be a lot of things to a lot of people – they’re a destination for some and simply a way to get from point A to point B for others.”
The New Jersey Trails Action Network embraces trails and greenways of all types – whether on land or water, and in urban, suburban, rural and backcountry settings.
June 4 is National Trails Day, a wonderful time to celebrate the variety of trails in New Jersey and explore trails near you.
This state we’re in is fortunate to have many trail systems, but not all are linked to one another. The New Jersey Trails Action Network envisions a future where hikers and bicyclists can use connected trails to travel to the next neighborhood, the next town, the next county, another region of the state, or even neighboring states.
Trails can be anything from narrow dirt footpaths to wide, paved multi-use trails. Some trails run through parks and are completely off-road, while others use road shoulders and sidewalks. New Jersey has many “rail trails” built on the sites of abandoned train lines, which generally means they’re wide and level.
Among the considerations for agencies and organizations building new trails is ensuring the projects are inclusive, with trails accessible to people with disabilities, as well as convenient to underserved populations in urban neighborhoods.
Here are a few highlights of New Jersey’s trail networks:
• Camden LINK Trail – Camden County is constructing a 35-mile trail starting at the Ben Franklin Bridge, traversing 17 municipalities and ending in Winslow Township. When complete, the LINK Trail will connect with the Philadelphia trail system at one end and Atlantic County’s trail system at the other. Eventually, when all connections are made, it will be possible for a bicyclist to pedal from Philly to Ocean City or Cape May! The LINK will be part of the 850-mile Circuit Trail network that will provide a 100 percent accessible, almost exclusively off-road and paved trail system in the nine-county Philadelphia metro region, including Mercer, Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties in New Jersey.
• The Delaware River Heritage Trail is envisioned as a 60-mile-long loop on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the Delaware River between Trenton and Camden/Philadelphia, highlighting the area’s historic, cultural and natural resources. When completed, the Delaware River Heritage Trail is expected to be a destination for a whole new group of “heritage tourists.”
• The Essex-Hudson Greenway will turn nearly nine miles of abandoned railroad corridor into a 100-foot-wide linear park with a hiking and biking path, benches and gardens. The Greenway will pass through the Meadowlands and parts of eight developed and populous municipalities – including New Jersey’s two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City. It will provide much-needed recreation, transportation and access to nature.
• The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile pedestrian and bicycle route between Maine and Florida, connecting 15 states. It uses a combination of off-road trails and public roads, and organizers are constantly adding new off-road sections. Its route through New Jersey utilizes the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park towpath, the state’s longest off-road trail at 70 miles. Unlike the wilderness-oriented Appalachian Trail, the East Coast Greenway goes through 450 cities and towns, making it easily accessible to millions of people.
Celebrate National Trails Day by hitting a trail near you or volunteering to help improve one! To find a National Trails Day event, go to the American Hiking Society website at https://americanhiking.org/national-trails-day/find-an-event/ and search for New Jersey.
If you want to strike out on your own, there are a bunch of trail websites and apps that can help, including Trail Link (www.traillink.com), All Trails (www.alltrails.com/), the NY-NJ Trail Conference (www.nynjtc.org/), and Trail Tracker for NJ State Parks (www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/parks_by_location.html ). The NY-NJ Trail Conference site is especially helpful for people with mobility issues, as it allows users to filter for hike difficulty, length and wheelchair accessibility.
Another great resource is a new interactive map spearheaded by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection – https://gisdata-njdep.opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/statewide-trails-in-new-jersey/explore?location=40.129534%2C-74.555300%2C8.88.
To learn more about protecting New Jersey’s land and natural resources – including great places to enjoy trails and greenways – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.