by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Imagine every New Jersey resident living within walking distance of a park or trail – and being able to link to other trails, parks and natural areas without getting in a car. For this vision to become a reality, this state we’re in needs to add more connections between open spaces, weaving its web of “greenways” across the state. Unlike a spider’s web, it won’t happen overnight.
But a major strand in that web – a section of the D & R Canal State Park running through our state’s capital – will soon be completed.
The D&R Canal State Park’s 70 miles of linear trails and parklands include some of central New Jersey’s most popular destinations for jogging, bicycling, fishing, hiking, canoeing and horseback riding. The park also connects up forests, trails, meadows, wildlife and more.
The “D&R” stands for Delaware & Raritan, bringing to mind a bygone area of wooden bridges, mule teams and water-powered mills. One hundred seventy-five years after it officially opened in 1834, the canal is full of historic sites.
The D&R Canal was built during the early days of the industrial revolution to provide an efficient and safe route for transporting raw materials between Philadelphia and New York.
Most of the early work constructing the D&R Canal system was done by hand, beginning in 1830. The main canal ran from New Brunswick to Bordentown. A 22-mile long feeder canal beginning at Bull’s Island in the Delaware River supplied the canal system with water, and was also used by cargo vessels.
The canal was in use for almost a century and, in its heyday, 80-percent of its cargo was coal from Pennsylvania on its way to New York. Business being business, however, canals couldn’t compete with the speedy railroads, and by late 19th century the D&R was no longer profitable. When the canal closed in 1932, the state turned it into a water supply system – a purpose it still serves today for more than 1 million people.
The canal and its remaining historic structures made the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and became a state park a year later. Today it includes almost 34 miles of land along the D&R Canal proper, running from New Brunswick to Trenton, and just under 30 miles following the feeder canal along the Delaware River from Bull’s Island to Trenton.
But there has been a “missing link” for decades. A 1.5-mile section in Trenton was buried during the construction of Route 1, and pedestrians and cyclists have been forced to use city streets to bridge the gap.
Today the state is working with Conrail to complete this missing piece between Old Rose and Mulberry streets. The new trail segment will utilize an abandoned railroad bridge to cross over Route 1, then parallel the northbound lanes of Route 1. From there, marked crossings will guide trail users to the sidewalk on Mulberry Street and under the Route 1 overpass to connect with the existing path.
The result will be an unbroken 70-mile open space corridor for recreation, connecting New Brunswick to Bull’s Island along the Delaware River. What a terrific resource for the residents living near the canal – and for everyone in New Jersey!
You can learn more about the D&R Canal and experience it for yourself on Thursday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Prallsville Mill in Stockton. The Delaware River Mill Society, D&R Canal Watch and D&R Canal State Park are sponsoring “The Delaware and Raritan Canal – Yesterday, Today Tomorrow” to culminate their celebration of the Canal’s 175th anniversary. Reserve your place by calling 1-609-924-2683 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at email@example.com, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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