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21-mile Sussex Branch makes for scenic afternoon
haven't rumbled on the Sussex Branch of the old Erie-Lackawanna
Railroad in decades.
been replaced by bicyclists, cross-country skiers, walkers and
other nature lovers who revel in a 21-mile trail that follows
almost all of the old railway bed from Byram to Branchville.
by the state and jealously protected by trail lovers who report
flooding, gaps and other pitfalls, the Sussex Branch Trail's dense
covering of trees affords the illusion of being in the middle
of a forest even when roads are just feet away.
are around but glimpsed less frequently than deer, bunnies, groundhogs
and other critters. Everyone who uses the trail seems to have
a favorite section, or a fun story.
Sodano of Byram recalled picking wild blueberries on the trail
with her son and hearing a bear, hidden behind brush, also munching
Barrett of Newton said she loves the three B's -- birding, butterflies
and botany -- so on clear days in the spring and fall, she stakes
out a spot behind Jefferson Lake near the trail's starting point
off Waterloo Road.
Briggs uses snowshoes on the trail in wintertime. When the snow
and ice clears, she rides "Edel," a horse named after
the rides, Briggs and Edel pass bicyclists, walkers, runners and
other sight-seers -- along with deer, fawns, turkeys and the occasional
are mostly respectful of everyone's right to the trail,"
said Briggs, who lives in Stillwater and is a longtime fan of
both the Sussex Branch Trail and the 27-mile Paulinskill Valley
Trail, which intersects with the Sussex Branch in Lafayette.
Rails changed hands
Sussex Branch Trail is the former right-of-way of the Sussex Railroad,
which later became the Sussex Branch of the Delaware Lackawanna
& Western Railroad, and eventually the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad.
route was originally cleared in 1851 to move iron ore from the
Andover Mine to the Morris Canal, according to the state Department
of Environmental Protection.
Paulinskill Valley Trail was part of the right-of-way of the New
York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad and was used to transport
products and Pennsylvania coal to eastern New Jersey and New York
City, according to DEP.
trails are administered by rangers at the 2,000-acre Kittatinny
Valley State Park. They evolved after railway service on both
lines ceased in the 1960s.
the mid-1990s, the state had bought up all of the land, except
for a mile-long stretch in Newton.
similar efforts were taking place across the nation.
rail lines weren't getting used. People started walking on them.
It just kind of merged into that use," said Katie Magers,
media relations coordinator for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
in Washington, D.C.
to trails conversions began building up steam four decades ago,
around the time trains chugged their last on the Sussex and Paulinskill
said the conservancy was founded in the 1980s to lobby for revitalizing
onetime rail beds that were deteriorating and overgrown with weeds.
Its efforts, in conjunction with state and local governments and
dedicated volunteers, produced impressive results.
are now 1,359 converted rail trails in the U.S. covering 13,150
miles, Magers said. There are plans to open up another 14,000
miles. The Katy Trail in Missouri, at 225 miles, is the longest
of the onetime rail trails, she said.
doesn't end once a trail opens, Magers said.
The Sussex and Paulinskill trails, for example, require significant
maintenance -- from removing downed trees and filling in eroded
sections to mowing grass and installing signs directing users
away from public property.
of the Sussex Branch Trail in Byram, for example, are just a few
feet from Route 206 but run about 40 feet below the highway, resulting
in chronic flooding.
out there every day, doing something," DEP spokeswoman Dana
much of its 21 miles, the Sussex Branch Trail is shrouded by trees.
Rocky Gott, superintendent of Kittatiny Valley State Park, likened
it to walking through a tunnel.
trail's starting point is just outside Morris County, about a
mile to the west of Route 206 in Allamuchy Mountain State Park.
The first two miles, which run to Cranbury Lake, offers some of
the best views from the trail.
2-mile trip from Cranbury Lake to the Andover border is the least
pleasant part of the journey, with eroded sections that could
easily trip up an inattentive cyclist. In places, the trail is
only a few inches wide.
Goodspeed, a mother of two in Hackettstown who included the Sussex
Branch Trail in her recently-published book, "Family-Friendly
New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania," recommended that parents
steer young children away from that section.
the trail nears its Route 206 crossing, though, it widens and
is much better maintained, offering views for several miles that
rival the sights in Allamuchy.
trail crosses Stickles Pond Road and Yates Avenue before being
interrupted in Newton, a mile-long stretch of the former railroad
that the state didn't acquire.
users here, mostly cyclists, take Hicks Avenue to Old Branchville
Road in order to reconnect with the trail.
from the Olde Lafayette Village shopping center, which is in front
of the trail on Route 15, to the unmarked trail ending in Branchville
takes about one half-hour at an easy pace.
last two miles are reminiscent of the narrow stretch alongside
Route 206 and involve fighting potential wipeouts and a brief
rocky patch that can be difficult to navigate.
sticking with the trail to the end are rewarded with striking
views of the secret parts of Sussex County.
Carey of Roxbury was making her first visit to the Sussex Branch
Trail one clear morning in August during which the humidity had
finally broken and temperatures were in the mid-70s.
30, was hoping to travel the length of the trail on her Trek 4500
a native of Pittsburgh who moved to the Ledgewood section four
years ago, said she learned about the Sussex Branch Trail because
"friends were talking it up."
herself as "a great rails to trails fan," Carey said
she enjoyed biking on the Black River Trail but found the steep
grades of the Mahlon Dickinson Reservation in Jefferson too unpleasant.
like to have something scenic, but level and easy," Casey
said before taking off on her journey that morning.
Sodano was walking on the trail that morning with her neighbor,
making only her third walk on the trail, said she was enjoying
it much better than taking a stroll on the streets.
Sodano said she had been walking the section between Cranberry
Lake and Waterloo Road for 36 years, back when that part of the
trail was privately owned.
said she walks there 3 times per week in the winter, fall and
spring, but usually not in the summer due to horse flies.
flies didn't seem to be an issue this morning, though.
horse flies don't like it cool," she said.
best thing about the trail, she added, is that it's "beautiful
Jennings can be reached at (973) 428-6667 or email@example.com