Monday, January 7, 2013

The Columbia Trail


Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. One of NJ's rail lines that became a trail is the Columbia Trail in rural northwestern New Jersey. It was created from portions of the former Central Railroad of New Jersey High Bridge Branch.

The trail runs from High Bridge, in Hunterdon County, to Flanders, in Morris County. The trail is 16.2 miles (26.1 km).

The Columbia Trail is relatively flat and since it was a rail bed it consists mostly of fine crushed stone. It provides passive recreation to the surrounding communities through hiking, biking, and cross country skiing.

In Morris County, it parallels the South Branch of the Raritan River. At the northern terminus is Long Valley where the nearby Patriots' Path.

A notable portion of the Columbia Trail is the Ken Lockwood Gorge, between Califon and High Bridge (2½ miles north of High Bridge). The South Branch of the Raritan River parallels the trail through the gorge, and this is a scenic walk along this small river. The fast-flowing river is very popular for fly fishing. There is a 60-foot (18 m) trestle that carries the trail over the river in the gorge.

There is little evidence of the trail's railroad past, but a  small section of track is preserved in Califon and a small and rarely open museum dedicated to the rail line history is located in the preserved train station in the town center.

The original rail line accommodated passengers, but was known more for its shipments of iron ore from the mines in Morris County. A spectacular train wreck occurred on April 18, 1885 when Engine #112 (known as "The Columbia") and 45 cars plummeted off a 60' wooden trestle into the South Branch of the Raritan River. The wooden trestle was replaced by steel piers in 1930 and is now known as the Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge. The last passenger excursion occurred in 1935 and the last freight train ran on April 1, 1976.

In the mid 1990's, the Columbia Gas Company of West Virginia constructed a gas line under the rail bed. The surface rights were then transferred to the Hunterdon County Division of Parks and Recreation for use as a recreational trail.

along the South Branch Raritan River through Ken Lockwood Gorge.

Parking and Trail Access
To reach the west, or High Bridge, end of the trail from I-78, take the exit for State Route 31 North. Turn right on West Main Street. After crossing under the railroad tracks, turn left. Trailhead parking is on the left just past the borough hall.

To reach the east, or Long Valley, end of the trail, from I-287, take the exit for US 206/202 North. Bear left to remain on US 206. Turn left onto SR 24. Follow SR 24 by turning right onto Schooleys Mountain Road. The trailhead parking lot is on your left.


MORE INFO
http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/depts/parks/ParkAreas/ColumbiaTrail/info.htm
http://www.traillink.com/trail/columbia-trail.aspx

Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org

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