The State We're In
Hit the trails … and help create new ones!
By Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, 1999-2021
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, which are co-hosting the first-ever NJ Trails & Greenways Summit on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 22 and 23.
The Summit is a free online event aimed at promoting and creating robust trail networks throughout the state for residents of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Everyone interested in New Jersey’s trails is welcome to attend.
“Trails are truly at the intersection of conservation and recreation, providing access to preserved places and scenic landscapes,” said NJDEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette. “This inaugural summit will allow trail planners, builders, and advocates to gather, share resources, and collaborate on a ‘future-focused trails vision’ that incorporates climate resilience and promotes environmental justice.”
“Trails are an increasingly important piece of the transportation network in New Jersey, providing safe corridors for walking and bicycling,” added NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “These networks connect neighborhoods and communities while also providing important resources for public health and wellbeing.”
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 percent of respondents believe that trails contribute significantly to the well-being of a community;
- 46 percent said they consider trails and open spaces to be important, an increase from the 37 percent who considered trails to be important prior to the pandemic;
- 78 percent 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. Complete Streets will be one of many topics discussed at the NJ Trails & Greenways Summit.
The Summit opens at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22, with keynote messages by Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and Shawn LaTourette. Workshops include “Making Connections: Exploring New Jersey’s Regional Trails,” “Finding the Money: How to Get Your Trails Project Done,” and “Building Trails for Everyone: Inclusive Planning.”
Thursday workshops include “Mapping New Jersey’s Trails: A First for New Jersey!” This workshop highlights the Department of Environmental Protection’s groundbreaking initiative to map all trails in New Jersey. Other Thursday sessions include “Trails, Transits, & Complete Streets” and “Transforming Towns through Trails,” which will explore how trail-based tourism can improve local economies.
The Summit is also expected to be the launching point for a new organization, the New Jersey Trails Action Network, which will advocate for and support trail projects.
To find more information or register for the New Jersey Trails & Greenways Summit, go to https://pheedloop.com/EVEBYCKEECSSW/site/home/.
And if you cannot make the Summit, make sure you hit the trails!
The event is being organized by a committee including the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Circuit Trails Coalition, East Coast Greenway Alliance, Lawrence Hopewell Trail, Monmouth County Parks System, New Jersey Trails Council, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Department of Travel & Tourism and Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
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.
And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, including trails, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at email@example.com.
About the Authors
John S. Watson, Jr.
Michele S. Byers
Executive Director, 1999-2021
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