Monday, October 3, 2011

Feeding our inner Forrest Gumps on the East Coast Greenway

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our random jaunts on the Appalachian Trail, all the while forgetting about the mammoth Maine-to-Florida path that passes within yards of my front door. Yes, there's a north to south walk and bikeway that's mapped right through suburbia and the heart of some of New Jersey's largest cities.

The East Coast Greenway was conceived in 1991 as an urban sister of sorts to the AT, enabling walkers, runners and users of non-mechanized vehicles to enjoy a safe excursion. By linking many local trails, the ECG gives users the path to experience local attractions for a day or maybe even an extended jaunt through a given state or region along the way. A fair amount of the route is already established, but the alliance managing the Greenway is still working to settle links that will bring users out of overly trafficked or heavily-used areas. As it stands, certain urban portions may not be as safe as desired for inexperienced cyclists or wheelchair users to traverse.

Remember that part of Forest Gump where the title character decides to start running one day -- and ends up on a two year journey? Ivan and I indulged that concept a little Saturday morning as we were walking back to my place after breakfast. Seeing the Greenway blaze on a utility pole, he suggested that we follow the path and see where it goes. A mile and a half later, we'd walked through my neighborhood to a nearby river, crossed a large county park and forged on to the main drag in the next town. Along the way, we both wondered whether we could walk the entire New Jersey section of the path in a weekend. I'd seen some flyers about a 50-miles-in-a-day Greenway event last spring, but that was for cyclists and didn't cover the stretch between Trenton and Edison. What about walkers and hikers? What would we do, and how long would it take? If the path goes through towns and cities, we wouldn't have to carry much in the way of food and water, and we could find hotel rooms for the overnights. Heck, we could even stay at my place one night if we planned properly.

Checking out the New Jersey trail map, we discovered the state section is 78 miles long, from Trenton to New York City, but a portion of that actually routes you onto the PATH train from Newark to Jersey City. Additional alternates will take you up to 93 miles, ending at the George Washington Bridge. I can only guess that the rail portion is there until they can figure a route that gets you between the cities without sticking you onto impossibly congested roadways, but still, it seems kind of silly that a path puts you on a train, even if it's a PATH light rail. Rails to trails, indeed!

Still, though, taking to the ECG for a weekend or more is an intriguing concept for us. What kinds of Hidden New Jersey could be nestled along the way? Stay tuned... this idea may have legs.

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