OLD RAIL LINES RECYCLED AS RECREATION TRAILS
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
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.