NJ Travel Travelogues

Rail Trails

It’s definitely a movement. The poster child for the Rails-To-Trails program is no doubt NYC’s High Line, but all over abandoned rail lines are being weeded, paved, gravelled and generally re-surfaced to be the next wave of urban, suburban and rural recreation.

As photo essays go, these trails are not the best. The tend to go through a virtual tunnel in the woods, and scenic vistas are in short supply. When there is one, it generally includes a power-line cut. The beauty is in the details, and what your inner detective can deduce from clues like piles of lumber, telephone poles and pieces of abandoned hardware.

But they’re easy walking. Trains can’t really handle more than a 4-5% grade, so these trails are about as flat as you can imagine a trail getting. They’re also wide enough to fit a freight car, so walking two abreast is no big deal.

Last week, we ventured out to Califon, NJ to visit the Columbia Trail. As we learned from the guide at the local museum, up until the 1960s Califon was the US Capital of peach baskets. A huge vertical conglomerate hauled in lumber from their own forests, cut, milled, steamed, shaped, cured and shipped peach baskets to everywhere.

Their own spur line inhaled raw materials and exhaled finished baskets until all of a sudden they didn’t.

The rail trail here goes from the former railway station in Califon, through the Ken Lockwood Gorge, and over to the next town of High Bridge, about a 5-mile round trip.

The highlight is the high trestle over the Raritan River, site of a famous crash when the old bridge collapsed, sending an entire locomotive down to the river below. We decided to follow suit, and clambered down the grade next to the foundation to the rocky shore below, to follow the washed-out road back to the starting point.

After a while, it turned into a country neighborhood, with cute homes of ancient vintage.

Following along the river, lots of great birds. One blue heron, sick and tired of paparazzi like us, flew up into a tree.

We saw this, which might be a Purple Gallinule.

And this, which I think is a Common Merganser GREEN HERON:

Zoom in a little to see the trail, marked as a grey line towards the south-west.
[googleMap name=”Columbia Trail” width=”450″]Columbia Trail, Califon, NJ[/googleMap]

West Essex Trail

I stumbled across this a couple of years ago when I was on my way up Rt. 23 through Cedar Grove, NJ. The railroad bridge over the highway looked a little odd, probably because there were things growing on it. There was also a new concrete stairway under construction.

I parked in a nearby lot and clambered up the grade to find a new trail. A little research showed that it’s a nearly three mile long line stretching from Verona over into Passaic County.

We ventured up and parked near the Cedar Grove pool and found the trail head out back. Like the Columbia, the views are pretty close up and not necessarily photogenic. Still, some points of interest.

The old railroad ties were simply pulled up and tossed over the side.

Many households that back up to these trails have cut paths, trails or bridges from their back yards up to the trail. This enterprising family used the discarded ties, banked them with heavy stones and back-filled to make a nice set of steps.

This trail also features a bridge over a river gorge. And like the others, it offers a “suicide fence,” preventing you from trying to bungee jump too short a distance or from getting a good photo. Here F. gives it a whirl anyway.

The view is nice in either direction from up here.

We got back at the time of the afternoon when the light is best. This family of deer cooperated by posing for me.

Google again displays the trail as a grey line.
[googleMap name=”West Essex Trail” description=”Parking Here” width=”450″]West Essex Trail, Cedar Grove, NJ[/googleMap]

Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he's also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

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