A brilliant purple crocus peeping from a soggy cover of last fall’s leaves. A robin prospecting for worms on a sunny early morning. The sound of kids playing outside after a long winter indoors. These are all beautiful signs of spring, but they remind me of a stinging criticism I received in the early days of the planning of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT).
When a group of lay citizens joined forces in 2002 to create the LHT there was a chorus of people who said it would never, could never become a reality, After all, we knew nothing about building a trail — much less one that traversed corporate campuses, preserved open space, a main street district, neighborhoods, and an elite private school. If that were not enough, we did not own or control an inch of the land on which we planned to build the 22-mile trail. Perhaps the most strident and persistent voice of opposition proclaimed at every turn, “what’s the point, it is a trail to nowhere.”
We listened to the criticisms and developed plans to overcome them. We absolutely refused to be deterred. With the help of township and Mercer county officials, corporate support, and thousands of volunteer hours, today the 22-mile LHT is 89 percent completed and is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people each year. (See U.S. 1’s coverage of the LHT in the June 27, 2018, issue.)
The one criticism we rejected out of hand was “what’s the point, it is a trail to nowhere.”
From the first day the LHT was conceived, we thought of it as a trail that would connect the towns of Lawrence and Hopewell; connect neighborhoods; connect workers to their jobs; connect children to schools, parks, and playing fields. We envisioned a trail that would bring people to the fine restaurants and eateries along or near the restored Main Street in Lawrence without getting into their cars. We foresaw a trail that would bring families to the Watershed Institute to enjoy the Butterfly Festival and to Mercer Meadows, one of the finest parks in the region. We saw the trail as the route to the 1761 Brearley House in Lawrence and the mid-19th century Mount Rose Distillery in Hopewell. A trail to all these wonderful community assets certainly is not “a trail to nowhere!”
In 2012 the LHT joined the Circuit Coalition. Our 22-mile loop became a part of Circuit Trails — 800+ miles of interconnected trails that run from south of Philadelphia to the LHT, now the northeastern-most point. When completed the Circuit Trails will traverse some of the most historic and beautiful parts of the eastern United States.
Not only that, imagine this: you will be able to get on your bike on the LHT at any point, ride to the D&R Canal and connect to the East Coast Greenway, which runs from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida — 3,000 miles of trail that connects 15 states and 450 cities and towns — the country’s longest biking route. The LHT is certainly not “a trail to nowhere.”
Maybe the early criticism is on my mind because there are more and more families out on the trail for a bike ride or small groups of senior citizens enjoying an afternoon walk. Maybe it is the sight of the high school track team out for a cross country sprint. They may not know that their favorite mile or two of the trail is a part of a vast trail system. These people do not care whether or not the LHT is “a trail to nowhere.” For them and thousands of others the LHT is a trail to where they want to go.
Trails like these are not only recreational spaces for people to use after work for exercise. They are also transportation networks that can get people to and from work, the grocery store, and school. In a state like New Jersey that is plagued by traffic congestion and transit woes, trail networks can fill in for those shorter trips that people can easily walk or bike to in a way that’s safer and more enjoyable than walking varied stretches of sidewalk or navigating the road on bike. Trails like the LHT, the Circuit, and the East Coast Greenway should be developed and treated as alternative routes to roadway networks and developed throughout the state.
Try the trail for yourself and see whether it is the trail to where you want to go. The LHT now offers monthly second Saturday walks. The next is scheduled for May 11 at 9:30 a.m. Visit www.lhtrail.org.
Eleanor V. Horne
Co-President, LHT; Member, Circuit Coalition Steering Committee