2012-07-25 / Front Page

Middlesex County Greenway: not-so-secret recreation destination

Official opening of long-awaited rail-to-trail is expected in September
BY KATHY CHANG Staff Writer

Exercising patience may be the hardest thing to do when it comes to the longawaited Middlesex County Greenway project.

It has been a project spanning decades, and county officials are close to officially opening the Middlesex County Greenway, the first rails-to-trails greenway in the county.

The greenway evolved by converting the abandoned Lehigh Valley Railroad into a 3.5-mile linear county park trail from Crows Mill Road in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge to Middlesex Avenue in Metuchen.

Bob Takash, president of the nonprofit Edison Greenways Group, which has played a major role in the preservation of open space in the Edison area, said there were talks in 1991 of turning the area into a back road to get the trucks off the main thoroughfares.

This did not sit well with local conservationists. They banded together to form the Edison Greenways Group, and their efforts succeeded with the December 2002 transfer of the railroad property, which had been abandoned since the 1950s, to the county for use as parkland. The railroad was a coal route from Pennsylvania in the 1900s.

“A lot of people think the trail is open,” Takash said. “The fact of the matter is, we can’t wait either. It’s almost done. Final signage has to go in, and the contractor is working on constructing a stairway leading toward the trail on Main Street in Metuchen. When it is 100 percent completed, the county will officially open the trail sometime in September.”

People are not waiting. Any given weekend, the trail sees walkers, runners and bikers. There is one orange sign at the front of the trail in Metuchen that tells visitors the park is not open. David Flood and his wife Bobbie Keers- Flood, of Metuchen, were enjoying their walk with poles on the trail on July 21.

“We love it,” said David. “We walk both sides. It’s a great use of what was useless property … we have been waiting for 20- plus years.”

Bobbie said they have been using the trail since November before the entire trail was paved. They said they did notice the sign near the Middlesex Avenue entrance in Metuchen about the trail being closed, but they have not seen any other signs.

“We just love it … we are out here every weekend,” she said.

Jing Liu, of Metuchen, was strolling with her young child along the trail.

“I have been using the trail since the springtime,” she said. “It is quiet, neat, and I like seeing the smiles on other people’s faces.”

Takash said they are not discouraging people from using the trail, but they want to caution people that the trail is not officially open.

In recent weeks, some residents brought up issues of flooding near the PSEG Edison Training Center on Pierson Avenue along Route 1 after the pedestrian bridge, the stagnant water that attracts mosquitoes along the rail line, as well as parts of the trail that don’t have adequate lighting.

Takash said all the concerns are being addressed as the contractor finalizes the work on the trail.

The Edison Greenways Group was founded in 1991 with a grant from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. They work with township, county, state and federal organizations to raise awareness about open space preservation, environmental matters, and bicycle and pedestrian issues.

He said the trail is policed by all three communities of Edison, Metuchen and Woodbridge.

“Interlocal agreement contracts were signed by all three communities,” he said.

Takash said when the greenway officially opens, they hope it becomes a destination spot. The greenway became the 12,000th mile of rail trail in the United States as recorded by the national organization Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, based in Washington, D.C.

Takash said once the trail is open, it will always be a work in progress, with improvements constantly being made.

“We are in discussions of expanding the greenway another two miles, passing the Dismal Swamp, the Triple C Ranch in Edison, and into South Plainfield,” he said. “This trail takes you past the Garden State Parkway, Route 9, the turnpike and major roadways.”

The trail has eight to 10 access points, which are all marked by street signs. Parking is along the area, whether it is along the street or in a parking lot.

Takash said one neat thing they are working on is making the site available on a global positioning system (GPS).

“This trail is all about connections,” he said. “A section of our trail from Dudash Park on May Street to Pierson Avenue goes along the East Coast Greenway that runs 3,000 miles from Maine to Key West, Florida. We are [considering] a connection from Roosevelt Park in Edison, past the Metro Park train station toward Merrill Park in Iselin and maybe a connection into Raritan Center.”

Takash said their trail can connect up north from Union County toward the George Washington Bridge and down south to Monmouth County’s Henry Hudson Trail toward Sandy Hook beach.

Also, he said part of the trail is right behind Herbert Hoover Middle School in Edison.

“I want to see the trail as part of one of their classes,” he said. “One of their projects can be how many steps make up a mile on the greenway. They can split the project up into sections of the trail. It can be a learning process.”

Takash noted that Girl Scout and Boy Scout groups can have projects on the trail and that local garden clubs are interested in doing plantings along the trail.

“Everyone is very anxious,” he said. “This trail is open all year-round — from nature walks to cross country skiing in the winter.”

Takash said their group was inspired by a story 15 years ago in San Antonio, Texas, where officials cleaned up a polluted river and built up the area into the San Antonio River Walk. Visitors can take gondola boat rides along the river and shop and eat.

“It is a popular tourist attraction, not only for locals,” he said. “It was so popular that the statistics found that in the first five years that it opened, it had a larger attendance than Disneyland in Anaheim, California.” In fact, the River Walk’s website touts that it is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Texas.

Takash said there is no reason why the Middlesex Greenway can’t have the same success as San Antonio’s.

“This is something we have never had before in this area,” he said. “It’s just we have been waiting so long for this to come into fruition.”

For more information, visit the website at edisongreenways.org or visit the Middlesex Greenway on Facebook.

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