Monday, October 11, 2010

On the Lenape Trail

Today is the Lenape34 trail hike. An organization called the FreeWalkers organized the "walk" of 34 miles on the Lenape Trail. It will go from 7 a.m. to about 7 p.m. The group hopes to call attention to the trail's revitalization effort.

I really wanted to participate, but it's a working day. I hoped to sneak away early and catch them along the trail but that wasn't possible. (read more about the hike and the trail)

The Lenape Trail has a 30 year history. Back in 1980, Al Kent, who had been a trail coordinator in Morris County but lived in West Orange, decided to try to establish the trail using existing paths.

The trail would use parkland, sidewalks along streets and some new pathways that were on lands used for power lines.

The name for the trail comes from the Native Americans who once lived and passed through part of Essex County and had actually had trails in the area some of which became roadways in colonial times. The Lenape's own trails ran through modern day Yanticaw, Branch Brook, South Mountain and other county parks.

The Lenape's own name for themselves (an autonym) is sometimes spelled Lennape or Lenapi, means "the people." They are also known as the Lenni Lenape (the "true people") or as the Delaware Indians. The latter is an English settler name for them. (The Delaware River was named after Lord De La Warr, the governor of the Jamestown settlement.) They used the same name above for almost all the natives living along the Delaware River and its tributaries.

I had connected with Kent and other volunteers back in the early 1980s when I was involved with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). The group is an American nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that works with communities to preserve unused rail corridors by transforming them into rail trails within the United States of America.

The part of Essex County that I live in had just gotten some of that railbed property and was trying to decide how to use it best.

Unfortunately, because of a combination of community bureaucracy and homeowners along the proposed trails who feared the traffic, some of those sections are now forever lost as passive recreation space.

The mission of RTC is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors.

Today RTC is on a multi-year mission to map all rail trails with GPS devices. The 13,500 miles (21,700 km) of open and operating trails are the first priorities of this project with trails under construction or in the development phase coming next.

Recently, Nutley resident Steve Marano has been working to revitalize the trail. He has recruited volunteers who attended a trail maintenance workshop in late August. They walked along the path and have freshened the trail markers (blazes) that occur about every 50 to 100 feet. The trail blazes are on trees and on erected posts (bollards) on streets.

The amazing Al Kent, now 84, had been continuing to maintain the trail on his own all these years.

The volunteers hope to add hundreds of more durable and visible miniature aluminum signs to label the Lenape Trail. They have a $3,500 grant from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Essex County has offered to help by placing maps of the trail in kiosks in county parks and installing poles where the Lenape signs can be placed. It's a wise decision to do so as it showcases a part of New Jersey that is often seen more as urban sprawl than a trailwalking opportunity.

The Lenape Trail is a trail connecting Newark, New Jersey with Roseland, New Jersey. It was established in 1982.

It is the fifth longest trail in the state behind the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the completed section of the Highlands Trail in the state and the Batona Trail.

The Lenape trail traverses cities like Newark and its suburbs, but also the Watchung Mountains and the Passaic Meadows.

The rocky, steep slopes of the Watchung Mountains and the flood-prone nature of the Passaic Meadows has kept those two areas less developed than the rest of this part of the state.

Trails often intersect and overlap and the Lenape Trail is no exception. The Lenape Trail is part of the larger 156-mile Liberty Water Gap Trail, created by Kent in 2000.

It incorporates the West Essex Trail which is the Lenape Trail's only true "rail-to-trail" section that survived from those efforts we made in the 30 years ago.

The Lenape Trail also connects with the 14 mile Morris County Patriots Path trail system which runs from Bernardsville to Morristown.

The trail is one of 7 Northern NJ pathways that make up the Liberty Water Gap Trail. When the LWGT is completed, it will cover 130 miles from the Hudson River to the Delaware River. Hopefully, events like the Lenape34 walk will motivate groups to fill in the gaps in the trail system in their own neighborhoods.

Nutley's Yanticaw Park is a new section of the trail. The route connects 19 parks which makes up the majority (70%)of the trail. The remaining sections pass through more suburban settings.

Though this makes the trail less of a "wilderness" hike, it also offers walkers many historical and cultural sites to visit. Those include Ferry Street in the Ironbound section of Newark, Penn Station (access to buses and trains also allows walkers to pick up and leave the trail if a 34 mile "through hike" is too much for them), Military Park, The New Jersey Historical Society, NJPAC, the Newark Museum, Sydenham House (Newark's oldest house) and the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Moving out of Newark, there is Kingsland Manor in Nutley, Kips Castle in Montclair, parts of the Morris Canal and the Riker Hill fossil site.

The Lenape Trail is scheduled to expand to the new Riverfront Park and branches off to alternative routes to Turtle Back Zoo and South Mountain Reservation.

Another group working to help the trail is the NY NJ Trail Conference. NYNJTC is a volunteer organization which works with parks to maintain the trails, and publish maps and guides to the metropolitan area's public footpaths.


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