This blog was originally posted on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy blog in April. 

2016 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Youth Sojourn on the Circuit Trails along the Camden waterfront | Photo by Kyle McIntyre

From the Delaware River to the Jersey shore, opportunities to enjoy trails and linear parks abound in the Garden State. Unfortunately, many people need to drive to a trail before experiencing their benefits.

Connecting these outdoor spaces between communities is crucial to ensuring equitable access—for residents and visitors alike—to jobs, businesses, green space and other destinations that help define communities and enhance the regional economy.

That’s where the Circuit Trails come in.

Ben Franklin Bridge, part of the Circuit Trails nework | Photo by Kyle McIntyre

Since May 2012, a broad coalition of nonprofits, trail groups, foundations and agencies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey has been working to create an 800-mile interconnected trail network to provide new opportunities for recreation, commuting and commerce—and make New Jersey a more welcoming place to live, work and play. Today, more than 300+ miles are complete—and the number of Circuit Trails grows each year, thanks to the efforts of local communities who are investing in the strength and potential of the region.

In February, Burlington County marked a major milestone for this vision with its formal adoption of the Circuit Trails Resolution to help complete 500 miles of the developing network by 2025.

Now that Burlington has signed on, all nine New Jersey and Pennsylvania Circuit Trails counties are officially onboard with the resolution. It also marks the 100th township, county or municipality to adopt the resolution for a total of about 5.7 million residents!

Burlington to Camden Trail

Burlington to Camden Trail corridor | Photo by Betsy McBride

Transforming Burlington and Camden counties into one of New Jersey’s most walkable and bikeable areas is the Burlington to Camden Trail, a 10-mile developing multiuse trail that will link Merchantville and Moorestown to the Delaware River waterfront. Work on this trail is underway: many improvements have already been made, and funding is available for critical gaps.

For the past decade, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been working with local organizations and associations to bring this connection to fruition. Having recently submitted this trail project for grant funding, this network could soon have the resources to begin construction and become an integral part of Camden County’s infrastructure.

Throughout the planning process, RTC and partners on the ground have worked closely with stakeholders across the project footprint—including schools, businesses and local governments—to ensure community engagement and a focus on equity. Activities include speaking at town meetings, distributing surveys to community members, attending local events and implementing youth programs such as bike rides and watershed education trainings.

“We are looking forward to connecting the 2,000 households via a vibrant walking and biking trail."

—Liz Sewell, RTC trail development manager

130 Overpass from Merchantville | Rendering by Dennis Mbugua

Route 130 Bridge: A Vital Link

A major priority in the creation of the Burlington to Camden Trail is the revitalization of the Route 130 Bridge, a former railroad overpass located on a corridor connecting Merchantville to Pennsauken, Camden and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (which leads into Philadelphia). As one of the only walkable, bikeable travel options between Camden and Pennsauken, the larger corridor has been used informally for years—but without the benefit of safe, separated infrastructure. Developing it will provide a significant connection for this community.

The disused rail bed along Chestnut Street in Pennsauken is overgrown and trash strewn, posing a danger to nearby residents. Revitalizing the 130 overpass—currently an inactive and aging locomotive bridge—would result in a safe, maintained route connecting the Delaware Gardens (East Camden and West Pennsauken) and Merchantville neighborhoods for those walking and biking.

For the project to move forward, it was necessary to determine the existing condition of the bridge and the work required to transform the bridge into a bicycle/pedestrian crossing over a six-lane highway. The Camden County Board of Freeholders commissioned an engineering study completed this summer—a major step in the development process—which found the project to be viable and that there were no environmental issues related to its construction.

After more than a decade of work, this project is finally primed for action. With the engineering report complete, the county finally has the information necessary to direct federal funding into the Route 130 Bridge project—which is the most resource-intensive section of the Burlington to Camden Trail corridor.