The spring meeting of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail Task Force convened at 7 p.m. on March 14, 2007 at Bristol Myers Squibb Route 206 campus in Lawrenceville. The gathering was distinguished by the participation of a number of local organizations which are, independently or in conjunction with the LHT, involved in planning shared-use recreational trails in Mercer County.

Task Force chairwoman Becky Taylor welcomed the group and opened the session by inviting each organization to report on their current plans. Following these presentations, a round table discussion was moderated by Celeste Tracy and Helen Mahan, the principals of Community Trail Connection, a consulting group that works with trail organizations throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The evening concluded with a question and answer period moderated by LHT Co-President Eleanor Horne. All proceedings were videotaped by Dave Kelliher, who produced a short promotional video for LHT.

Summaries of the participants’ reports follow in order of presentation.

Lawrence Hopewell Trail

Jeri Bogan-Zielinski, Chair of the Design Route Committee, displayed an updated map of the LHT that indicated the 5.1 miles of completed trail and the unbuilt segments. She pointed out that design and permit work on the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association trail segment is ongoing, and that a new routing in Lawrence Township is now under study. Heading south through the Lawrenceville School, the LHT is now expected to exit the campus at the end of the athletic fields, cross Lewisville Road, and proceed on the Bristol Myers Squibb property to Princeton Pike. It will proceed along the Township right-of-way south to cross to the east side of Princeton Pike at the Lenox Avenue traffic light. It will continue through the Brandywine Property Group office park, first on-road and then on a new, 10′ wide asphalt path that will lead into a crushed stone path through the adjacent Brearly House property to the parking lot. From here, the LHT will proceed northward through the Brearly House property and Lawrence Township open space known as the Dyson Tract. Exiting onto Princeton Pike just north of the Fackler Road intersection, the LHT will cross Princeton Pike, follow the north side of Fackler Road to avoid turning traffic in the intersection, and then cross to the south side of Fackler Road and enter Mercer County’s Gatterdam Park. From here on towards Route 206, the route will skirt through the Park and Hammil farm property, as previously anticipated.

Mercer County Planning Office

Leslie Floyd, Assistant Planner, reported that the County has undertaken wetland and topographical base studies of the entire Mercer County Park Northwest – 1700 acres that include Curlis Lake Woods, Rosedale Park, open space along Old Mill Road, and the AT&T Pole Farm tract.

The LHT will serve as a spine for a complete network of smaller trails throughout these tracts, and design work on the LHT route between Keefe Road in Lawrence Township and the Rosedale Park picnic grove in Hopewell Township will begin once the base studies are complete.

Hopewell Township

Deputy Mayor David Sandahl reported that plans are progressing to continue the LHT from the Watershed Association property to Carter Road, utilizing township-owned open space. A link from the St. Michael’s property near Hopewell Borough to the LHT is also planned. Township Administrator Paul Pogorzelski explained that the Township is focusing on utilitarian value as it plans trail routes. He cited the LHT’s ability to connect families in the Princeton Farm development and in Pennington Borough to the Honey Brook organic farm as a case in point.

Pennington Borough

Councilwoman Eileen Heinzel thanked Bristol Myers Squibb for amending their general development plan to include extending the LHT to the border of their Hopewell Township and for helping to design a link trail that would extend to King George Road in Pennington Borough. Pennington and Hopewell Township have obtained NJDOT’s participation in a ‘safe crossing’ study that will produce design options for improving safety in the area of the Route 31-Delaware Avenue intersection. The goal is to eventually enable school children to cross Route 31 from Pennington Borough to the public schools, playing fields, and library on the west side of that busy highway. The Hopewell Valley Recreation Advisory Board are working on other trail links in the area, Heinzel noted that all plans require funding in order to be realized, and stated her hope that LHT would focus heavily on fund raising.

Lawrence Township

Councilwoman Pam Mount explained that the LHT segment being constructed this spring in Village Park out to Keefe Road will link to the future LHT in Mercer County Park Northwest. She also noted that the Dyson Tract on Princeton Pike formerly contained a tree nursery, so that the LHT will be able to take advantage of remnants of old nursery roads as it winds through mature hardwood forests. She also reported that Lawrence Township’s Pedestrian Task Force has focused on improving bike/pedestrian safety throughout the Township, and has paid particular attention to safety issues for children walking or biking to school. At the same time, Lawrence Greenway has promoted a network of open space linkages throughout the Township.

D&R Canal Commission

Ernest Hahn, Executive Director, reported that the State is in the final stages of negotiating a settlement with Conrail that will allow for the construction of the missing section of towpath in Trenton, from Old Rose Street to Mulberry Street. This will result in over 60 miles of continuous trail, from Frenchtown on the Delaware to New Brunswick, within the D&R Canal State Park. The State is also working on two links connecting to Bordentown along the abandoned section of the towpath from Trenton to the Crosswicks Creek.

Hahn also noted that Princeton Township, with funding from Princeton University, has designed a pedestrian-activated road-crossing signal that is potentially applicable to LHT crossings. The signal is already in place where Alexander Road bisects the D&R towpath, and signals are also planned for Washington Road and Harrison Street.

Princeton Township

Mayor Phyllis Marchand explained that a network of all-purpose bike/pedestrian pathways is included in the Circulation and Open Space/Recreation Elements of the Township master plan, and that the pathway constructed last fall on Rosedale Road near ETS is part of that system. She reported on two other trails that are planned for the area near the LHT; one would run along Quaker Road and provide access to the historic Updike Farm recently preserved by the Princeton Historical Society and to the D&R Canal towpath. The second is a path starting at Quaker Road near the Washington Oaks property that will connect to Rosedale Road and will be funded by the D&R Greenway Land Trust. This path will include a multi-purpose bridge over the Stony Brook.

East Coast Greenway

Charles Carmalt reported for this multi-state organization, noting that New Jersey has the highest percentage of proposed trail completed. Ultimately, 2,900 miles of trail will enable bicyclists to pedal city-to-city from Calais, Maine, to Key West, FL. The D&R Canal towpath is part of the Greenway route. Carmalt noted that the NJ Greenway chapter is designating interim on-road routes for off-road sections that will be constructed in the future, so that bicyclists can find and use the sections that are ready now.

West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance

Ken Carlson reported that former members of the West Windsor Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force have recently incorporated as a private non-profit corporation, the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. Their mission is to make West Windsor more bicycle and pedestrian oriented. One focus is to improve bicycle and pedestrian connectivity to neighboring towns. Home of the Princeton Junction NJ Transit station, West Windsor is a hub for area commuters. The Alliance stresses the need to provide non-motorized commuting options, and has achieved provisional NJDOT support for including a bike path paralleling the “Dinky” tracts from the station across Route 1 to the D&R towpath in the Millstone Bypass project EIS. The group is also constructing recreational footpaths along the Millstone River, with the help of volunteer crews.

Ewing Township Environmental Commission

Vice Chair Pete Boughton reported that the Environmental Commission is collaborating with Lawrence Township representatives to work towards creation of a shared-use trail along the Johnson Trolley line, running from Spruce Street extension to the iron bridge near the Rider University campus in Lawrence. Ultimately, this trail could continue northward and cross over Route 95 to join the LHT in Lawrenceville. The Commission is also working towards the development of trails on a property near the Delaware River.

Crossroads of the American Revolution

Executive Director Cate Litvack explained that her organization is newly funded and still organizing. They are interested in promoting open space and trails throughout New Jersey that will educate the public to the historical significance of buildings, sites, and routes that were integral to conduct of the Revolutionary War in New Jersey. She cited the Patriots Path in Morris County, a popular footpath that links several communities, and noted that a trail that follows the route of troops led by Gen. Washington and Gen. Rochembaud would be desirable and would lead through Mercer County.

Hopewell Borough

Bob Lewis, Borough Councilman and representative to the Hopewell Valley Recreation Commission, noted that Hopewell School’s parking lot is a de facto hub for bicyclists who drive to the area in order to cycle through the Sourlands. Hopewell foresees the new YMCA to be built on the newly preserved St. Michael’s property in Hopewell Township, and plans trails from the Borough’s Main Street neighborhoods to that location, and over the ridge to connect with the LHT somewhere between the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and the old Whisky House on Pennington-Rocky Hill Road.

Round Table Discussion

This discussion was facilitated by Celeste Tracy and Helen Mahan of Community Trail Connections. They began by noting that each group representing a particular trail interest in Mercer County area was marked by strong grass roots initiative, and that the desire to collaborate among trail interests seemed outstanding. They noted that commuting trends are moving towards greater use of non-motorized transportation and public transit, increasing the need for shared-use trail development. Several topics were addressed with an eye to identifying issues common to all the groups and highlighting unique situations among the groups. To begin, groups commented on their vision.

Vision

Shared elements included safe routes for school or recreation, support for healthy exercise and family activity, provision of connections between community facilities, and education about/enjoyment of natural areas and significant historic sites.

Elements that were expressed by one or two organizations included handicapped access (LHT), commuting routes (West Windsor), encouraging non-motorized transportation/environmental concerns (Princeton Township), building relationships between communities (LHT).

Potential Physical Linkages Between Local Trails

Princeton Township: the new Great Road bike pathway leading towards Cherry Valley Road has potential to become linked to trails in Hopewell Township. The planned trail between Quaker Road and Rosedale Road will provide another link from the LHT at ETS. The current bike lane on Mercer Road reaches almost to the Lawrence Township bike lane on Princeton Pike; however, these lanes are too narrow in many places for safe riding or family use.

West Windsor: NJDOT will include a study of a trail between the Princeton Junction NJTransit station and the D&R Canal towpath in the EIS that will be prepared for future highway construction around Route 1 and Washington Road.

D&R Canal Commission: The Princeton Medical Center has agreed to provide a trail on their new Plainsboro property that will enable people to reach the D&R Canal towpath from there.

Hopewell Township: As the newly-acquired St. Michaels’ tract is envisioned as a hub for community trails, they hope to be able to route a trail from there over the ridge to the LHT near the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.

Potential Thematic Linkages Between Local Trails

Historic Sites: Many of the planned trails provide access to historical sites, and these opportunities can be presented in a unified manner.

Commercial Promotion: Local shops, bistros, ice cream stands etc. can be promoted as part of the trail experience.

Recreation Opportunities: In several areas, shared-use trials will provide access to municipal athletic fields, school playgrounds, undeveloped natural areas, or networks of footpaths. The concept of using trails both as stand-alone recreation and also in tandem with other recreational activities can be a universal promotional theme.

Concerns & Challenges

Cost: All agreed on the scarcity of local government funding for trails in the face of high property taxes and declining state and federal funds for trails.

Permanent Maintenance: The need to keep trails free of brush and debris, to construct and maintain signage, and to supervise use will require significant staff and volunteer resources. In some communities, keeping ATVs off shared-use trails has required a lot of effort.

Difficulty of siting trails: Finding available property to locate trails and to create links between trails is a challenge. West Windsor succeeded in obtaining permission from PSE&G to use an electric power line right-of-way for a shared-use trail; if this is successful, perhaps other utility right-of-ways can be used.

Environmental regulations governing trail construction: Regulations concerning wetlands and other environmental concerns increase the cost and complexity of trail development, and these issues must be considered in routing, design, and construction.

Litigation and liability: Potential liability issues and litigious nature of our culture may require financial and professional resources.

Volunteers: Given the difficulties all non-profits face in recruiting, training, and retaining volunteers, trails groups will need to be creative in maintaining trained and reliable volunteer crews. Can we share volunteer resources, by collaborating on projects?

Competing Community Values: Advocates for preservation of plant or animal habitats may object to construction of a trail in any given location. A Lawrence Township resident attended the meeting specifically to object to the proposed LHT route near Village Park in Lawrenceville, as it would potentially disrupt a plot of bloodroot plants located adjacent to Keefe Road.

Potential Strategies for Success

County Bike/Ped Task Force: Ken Carlson reported that County Executive Brian Hughes has adopted the idea of creating a Mercer County task force that would involve County staff and representatives of local organizations in planning and promoting shared-use trails. This group might sponsor the update and reprinting of the Mercer County bike map that is now out-of-print.

Including trail plans in municipal master plans: Each municipal master plan contains transportation and recreation elements; trail plans can be included in each of these sections to assure that future development will accommodate trail development.

County Funding: Dedicating some portion of an existing revenue stream (such as the sales tax) to a shared-use trail fund might help with construction costs.

Enlisting private developers: In certain circumstances, municipalities can require developers to provide off-site improvements as a condition for their project. Developers can also be required to construct trails in new sub-divisions.

Public Outreach: Events, education programs, and public relations activities can identify and reach potential trail users and build a vocal constituency for trail planning and construction.

Comment Period

Mike Suber (Princeton Bicycle Advisory Committee): The Princeton Bicycle Advisory committee survey indicated that 40% of Princeton School System grade school students are driven to school because of lack of sidewalks and crossing guards, heavy traffic, inconvenient bus schedules. The percent of New Jersey traffic deaths involving pedestrians-21%–is twice the national average.

Fairfax Hutter: The LHT route from Village Park to Keefe Road in Lawrenceville will destroy a uniquely large bed of bloodroot plants that grow near the road.

Bob Hunsicker (Friends of Carson Road Woods): The LHT loop does not facilitate any useful point-to-point access.

Wrap Up

Becky Taylor thanked all for attending. Among our next steps is dissemination of this report and establishment of a communications system, support for the Mercer County Bike/Pedestrian Task Force, and creation of specific maps and descriptions of each group’s trail plans for use by the D&R Canal Commission. The Commission has regulatory authority for much of the development within this region, and frequently requires developers to provide off-site “off sets” as a condition of their project. Funding a trail project might be an appropriate off set in some circumstances, according to Ernest Hahn, D&R Canal Commission Executive Director.