Ocean County Seeks Grant For Barnegat Branch Trail

Works With South Toms River For Future Work

Barnegat Branch Trail (Photo courtesy of Ocean County)

TOMS RIVER – In anticipation of constructing a segment of the Barnegat Branch Trail that would run through South Toms River and serve as the trails northern terminus, Ocean County is applying for a grant from the state Department of Transportation.

“But, before we do any construction, we are closely working with South Toms River as the Borough negotiates the acquisition of an easement from the property owner which will allow for construction of this part of the trail,” said Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation. “We deeply appreciate this cooperative effort and are optimistic that we will be able to move forward with this phase of trail construction.”

South Toms River received a Transportation Alternatives Grant from the Federal Highway Administration in order to acquire an easement over the former property of the Central N.J. Railroad which runs parallel to Route 166. The borough is in the process of negotiating acquisition of an easement from the owner which will allow for construction of the bike trail. Subsequent to their acquisition, expected in 2017, an agreement between the Borough and the County would be executed allowing the County to construct this phase of the Barnegat Branch Trail.

“This section will connect the existing trail in Beachwood and terminate at South Main Street with an eventual connection to Herflicker Boulevard where pedestrians and bicyclists can continue into downtown Toms River or to the Toms River bus station,” Bartlett said. “This section serves as the most northern point of the 15.6 mile linear trail that starts in Barnegat Township.”

Barnegat Branch Trail (Photo courtesy of Ocean County)

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders is requesting $511,900 from the state Department of Transportation to construct the ninth phase of the Barnegat Branch Trail which is a regional trail and bikeway. The board is authorizing the request during its Feb. 1 public meeting.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said the trail continues to be popular with both residents and visitors.

“This serves as a great tourist attraction,” said Vicari, who serves as liaison to tourism and business development. “It’s great for runners, walkers, and bicyclists. Whether you are looking for passive recreation or a place for more active recreation, this is the perfect trail.”

“This park is unique to Ocean County and features areas that residents and visitors may not have been able to experience since they are deep in our natural woods,” Bartlett said. “Each time we add to it, the park grows in popularity.”

This phase covers just over half a mile and extends from Admiral Avenue to South Main Street in South Toms River. It includes the installation of a prefabricated bridge over the Jakes Branch of the Toms River.

“We are requesting 100 percent of the construction cost of this phase from the NJDOT,” Bartlett said. “If approved we could complete this section by the spring of 2018.”

Ocean County has completed the first six phases of the trail which includes 7 contiguous miles from Burr Street in Barnegat Township to Lacey Road in Lacey Township. In addition, almost 2.8 miles from Dudley Park at the Cedar Creek in Lacey Township to Hickory Lane in Berkeley Township have been completed. A quarter-mile section connecting Hebrew Park in Lacey Township to the Cedar Creek in Berkeley Township is under design and awaiting bid for construction.

“It was always the County’s intent to complete the trail in segments as we received clearance and funding to move ahead,” Bartlett said. “The County has already received four grants for the trail totaling $1,253,000.”

The Barnegat Branch trail follows the existing right of way of the former Barnegat Branch Division of the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

To get the trail under way, in October 2002, Ocean County purchased 8.8 miles of the old railroad in three towns – Berkeley, Ocean and Barnegat townships. This purchase was supplemented in 2004 when Lacey Township granted to Ocean County an easement over its 4.8-mile trail segment. Coupled with the existing bike path in Beachwood and the incorporation of a dedicated bike lane along Flint Road in South Toms River, the completed trail will span 15.6 miles from Barnegat Township to Toms River Township.

“The design of the Barnegat Branch Trail is sensitive to the changing landscape of central Ocean County,” Bartlett noted. “Trail visitors experience wooded areas in Barnegat and Waretown’s southern reach before transitioning into an active-use corridor that parallels Route 9 north of Waretown.

“Residential and commercial neighbors border much of the trail through Lacey Township before it returns to forest and then sand mining in Berkeley Township,” he said.

The primary surface finish of the trail is a stone dust surface. As work progresses, the trail will feature a number of trail facilities including comfort stations, trail signage and historical exhibits.

The facilities are being built in a style reminiscent of passenger and freight stations that once served Barnegat Township, the Forked River section of Lacey Township, the Pinewald section of Berkeley Township and Toms River.

Bartlett said that several Ocean County parks and county natural land areas are located within walking or bicycling distance of the Barnegat Branch Trail including Lochiel Creek in Barnegat Township, Berkeley Island County Park, Wells Mills County Park in Waretown and Enos Pond County Park in Lacey Township.

“This trail not only offers the user the opportunity to see nature at its best in Ocean County, it offers access to Ocean County’s premiere park sites,” Bartlett said. “It’s a perfect combination.”