The Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee
ABANDONED BY THE NEW YORK Susquehanna and Western RR in 1962, the trail was purchased by the City of Newark for a possible future water conduit to connect the proposed Tocks Island Dam reservoir with the Pequannock Watershed.
The cinder base trail traverses two counties for twentyseven miles, has an average width of sixty-six feet, and a total area of approximately 102 acres.
Numerous historic artifacts can still be seen along the trail including six foundations of the original nine creameries and ice houses that serviced the railroad, numerous station foundations, eight railroad bridges, cattle passes, battery boxes, whistle and mileage markers.
Fishing access is provided by six river bridges where roads cross the trail. The trail parallels the river for much of its length and provides canoeists with access to the Paulinskill River.
The trail interconnects with:
• The Columbia Lakes Management Area in Knowlton
• The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian Trail
• The Lackawanna Cut Off and the Lehigh and New England right-of-way
• The Sussex Branch right-of-way, which is managed by the Kittatinny Valley State Park
In a number of areas, the trail provides a buffer zone between the Paulin skill River and threatened development. The trail is an integral part of the Paulinskill Watershed and important for the protection of the river.
The trail connects ten townships: Knowlton, Blairstown, Blairstown Township, Frelinghuysen Township, Fredon Township, Stillwater, Hampton, Lafayette and Sparta.
Since 1962 the trail has been used by outdoor enthusiasts as a multipurpose trail. Users include hikers, bikers, horse-back riders, cross country skiers, joggers, fishermen, hunters, and canoeists. Since the trail is mainly level, the right-of-way also provides opportunities for use by the very young, the handicapped, and the elderly.
Wildlife such as otter, beaver, muskrat, mink, and deer can be seen from the trail as well as many species of birds which visit the area or nest along the way. In addition to a wide variety of trees and shrubs, many wild flowers and ferns grow along the side of the trail including several rare and endangered plant species.
Thirty-five recreational and environmental organizations have supported the public acquisition of the property for use as an all-weather, year-round trail. Through the efforts of the Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee the trail was purchased by New Jersey Green Acres, and became a state park on October 3, 1992.
Past President, Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee
THE LONG-TIME-A-COMIN' TRAIL
By Bill Weiler
How does an abandoned railroad bed become a state park? Easy you say? Read and learn how long it can take and how difficult and protracted the task proved to be.
The right-of-way was a natural for a trail. It extended from near Columbia on the Delaware in Warren County through Blairstown and followed the Paulinskill to within three miles of Newton and ended in Sparta Junction in Sussex County. Its total length is twenty-seven miles. It passes through farmlands, woods and small hamlets.
The New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad was abandoned in August 1962. The tracks and ties were removed, and in 1963 the right-of-way was purchased by the City of Newark. The city planned to use the right-of-way to lay a water pipeline from the proposed Tocks Island Reservoir to their watershed area near West Milford. When the plans for the reservoir fell through, Newark put the right-of-way up for sale.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a public meeting in Blairstown on June 13,1985 to announce their intention of purchasing the site. What a commotion that caused! Local community members came out in droves. The most vocal ones were anti-trail and were mad as hornets. There were a fair number of pro-trail people present, but we were not prepared for anything like the storm we encountered. Such strong opposition set us all including the DEP back on our heels. Landowners with property adjacent to the trail had organized, calling themselves the "Railroad Right-of-Way Repurchase Association." They also had the backing of many other local landowners, some of them long-time citizens of Warren County. They seemed to have the support of just about every local politician including the state senator, two state assemblymen, the three freeholders from Warren County, and all the politicians from the bordering towns - mayors, councilmen, and planning board members. (For Sussex County freeholders, see later note).
Our task, obviously, was to prove that strong local backing, especially political backing, did exist in the trail's home district. Under Len Frank's leadership an ad hoc committee began meeting at the Frank's residence. Len had been a long-time leader in the local Sierra Club chapter and was well qualified to co-ordinate this effort.
Wondering what we could do, we decided our first step would be to begin leading hikes on the trail. We maintained booths at the county fairs in Sussex and Warren and at the Sussex Air Show. Roberta Bramhall made up large displays with huge maps of the trail accented by many photographs.
We became organized as the Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee, soliciting memberships at $10.00 a year and with this money, printed a pamphlet to help promote our cause. Our progress was still painfully slow. Several elections went by but produced no political backing for our trail. We had been naive enough to believe that perhaps the elections would produce a surprise, but they never did.
Then came a break. In the summer of 1986, the Sussex Voice issued a Reader's Poll on the trail. The Voice was a new monthly magazine, and although we had no way of knowing it, their poll eventually would help lead us to victory.
The poll was printed just in time for the Sussex Fair in August 1986. The poll consisted of nine questions. Copies were printed out and used at our booth and the Voice booth at the fair. We promoted the poll vigorously and as a result we got 650 responses of which 90.6% were in favor of the trail. A second readers' poll in 1987 gave us 968 responses with 92.5% in favor. In 1988, the Voice advised us that they would not repeat the poll for a third year. We made hasty arrangements to publish our own poll under the sponsorship of the County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs. This resulted in 614 responses with 97% in favor of the trail.
Public backing for the trail had been amply demonstrated, but the politicians looked the other way. We wrote to some and contacted a few more without results. We began to think that all our work was for nothing. Little did we know that someone was out there watching all of this and was ready to do something about it.
Wally Wirths of Wantage in Sussex County contacted the Sussex Freeholders, Joseph Del Bagno, Victor Marotta and Michael LaRose, and told them about the trail and the results of the polls. They paid attention. Freeholder LaRose hiked along a portion of the trail and reported to them that it was "a hidden gem" and must be saved. The three freeholders promptly drew up and signed a resolution that the state should buy the trail. This was the political support that Governor Kean needed to see and shortly thereafter he authorized the DEP to purchase the trail.