Get on the Circuit for National Trails Day
5/26/2016 Volume XLIX, No. 20
The first Saturday in June is National Trails Day, a great day to celebrate trails across America. On June 4, how about celebrating by hiking, biking, horseback riding, dog walking, birdwatching, geocaching or enjoying nature on a trail?
According to the American Hiking Society, the United States has some 200,000 miles of trails. The idea of celebrating these trails – and transforming them from a collection of local pathways to true interconnected networks - evolved in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The first National Trails Day was held in 1993.
This year marks the 24th annual National Trails Day, and the good news is that our New Jersey trail networks are thriving and growing.
One exciting new trail network is the Circuit, which began in the Philadelphia-Camden metropolitan area and is expanding into nine New Jersey and Pennsylvania counties.
The Circuit is unique in connecting urban, suburban and rural communities in one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Eventually the Circuit will be a 750-mile network of bicycle and pedestrian trails, providing people with access to parks, communities and jobs.
When the Circuit is finished in about two decades, more than half of the region’s population – about 3.2 million people – will live within a mile of a Circuit trail!
Currently, the Circuit has about 300 miles of trails, but many more are in progress – including a critical section of ramps and walkways that will make the Ben Franklin Bridge fully accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and wheelchairs for the first time. Right now, pedestrian travel between Camden and Philadelphia is hampered by a steep set of stairs on the New Jersey side.
The Circuit idea was born several years ago by groups with a shared vision of trails and public accessibility in the Philly-Camden area. The Circuit Trails Coalition had its first success in 2010, when it received a $23 million federal transportation grant. That, in turn, led to a $10 million grant from the William Penn Foundation … the first of many from the Philadelphia-based charitable foundation.
The Circuit includes trails in four New Jersey counties - Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Mercer – and five in Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware.
Among the New Jersey trails are the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail in Mercer County, which will total 22 miles when completed; the 69-mile Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail, which stretches from New Brunswick to Trenton to Frenchtown along a V-shaped route; the Cooper River Trail in Pennsauken; the Pemberton Rail Trail in Burlington County; and the Monroe Township Bikeway in Gloucester County.
In Pennsylvania, trails along the Circuit include the famous 135-mile Schuylkill River Trail, named the best urban trails in America in 2015 by USA Today; the 14-mile Chester Valley Trail, and the 14-mile Pennypack Trail.
“Hundreds of miles of happy” is how the Circuit describes itself. And happy is what people tend to be when they’re outdoors, experiencing nature, breathing fresh air and enjoying a respite from the stresses of everyday living. That’s no joke: medical studies show that outdoor exercise improves both physical and mental health.
This year, get happy on the Circuit trails on National Trails Day, June 4!
For more information about the Circuit – including maps and trail descriptions – visit the website at www.cicuittrails.org. And check out the spring/summer edition of Rails to Trails magazine, which has a big feature article on the Circuit - www.railstotrails.org/magazine.
And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.