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The Record (Bergen County, NJ) - September 20, 1992 issue

By JILL SCHENSUL, Record Staff Writer

A familiar sound of the late 19th century in America was the clank of railroad track being laid. The railroad boom continued until, by 1916, this country had the largest railroad system in the world, with more than 250,000 miles of track. But cars, buses, and airplanes have squeezed the railroads out of their position of preeminence. Today, railroad companies are abandoning more than 3,000 miles of track per year. For the past several decades, the push has been on to turn those tracks into trails.

"It's a very interesting and different recreational facility," said Brian Schmult, chairman of New Jersey Rail-Trails. "Compare it to a traditional park, which is just one area, you can't get anywhere, and you've got to buy a lot of land."

Since rail-trails are long, narrow, and devoid of car traffic, they're perfect for running, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and bicycling. They also link homes, businesses, and parks and highlight routes of regional historical significance. They also preserve a valuable transportation corridor for possible future rail use.

Turning railroad tracks into recreational areas can be a complicated process, since government as well as private investors own railroad land. The national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was created in 1985 to offer technical assistance, education, and advocacy and to keep tabs on railroad corridors available for conversion.

There is the potential for a legal and technical morass, but rail-trail projects have come to fruition. The conservancy is planning the first national Rail-Trail Celebration for Oct. 3, to highlight the opening of the country's 500th rail-trail in Massachusetts, , and to announce plans for a national network of rail-trails.

The conservancy's main event will be on the new, 11-mile Minuteman Trail, which runs through Lexington, Arlington, and Bedford, Mass., and follows part of the route marched by British soldiers during the Revolution.

In New Jersey, hikes and other events are being planned for the 26-mile Paulinskill Trail, which runs from Sparta Junction to Columbia; the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, going from Ewing to Milford and New Brunswick to Trenton; the West Essex Greenway, Little Falls to Verona; and other trails.

In all, New Jersey has about 150 miles of rail-trails, Schmult said. Among the nearly 20 trails are: the 3-mile Berkshire Valley Management Area Trail in Lake Hopatcong; the 5-mile Black River Wildlife Management Area Trail in Chester Township; 3-mile Capoolong Creek Wildlife Management Area from Pittstown to Landsdown; 3.6-mile Edgar Felix Memorial Bikeway, Manasquan to Allaire State Park; 5-mile Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area Trail, Ogdensburg to Franklin; 6-mile Henry Hudson Trail, Aberdeen to Atlantic Highlands; 1.3-mile Linwood Bikepath in Linwood; 1.5-mile Monroe Township Bikepath in Williamstown; 12-mile (seven of them on railway) Patriots Path, Morristown to Mendham Township; 4-mile Pequest Wildlife Management Area Trail in Pequest; the 2.6-mile (so far) Sussex Branch Railroad Trail; and the 2-mile Traction Line Recreation Trail in Morristown.

For information on state trails, write for a list and map to New Jersey Rail-Trails, P.O. Box 23, Pluckemin, N.J. 07978; 1-(908) 249-3669. The guides are $3. Also contact NJRT for information on the celebration events Oct. 3 and 4.

Hot off the press is RTC's "500 Great Rail-Trails," with details on location, end points, length, surface material, and other aspects of trails in 43 states. It is $9.95 for non-members of RTC, $7.95 for members. For information on the book or membership contact the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 1400 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; 1-(202) 797-5400.