Nicolette White, August 26, 2022
DELANCO - Oftentimes, environmental factors such as uneven paths and overgrown plants make it difficult for wheelchair-bound or mobility-challenged people to navigate trails. It’s also not uncommon for disabled people to be left out of the design process for trails and public parks.
But the new $5 million Rancocas Greenway Trail is 100 percent wheelchair-accessible.
The trail is Burlington County’s newest regional pathway, offering a mix of outdoor recreation, scenic views along the Rancocas Creek, and over 30 new wheelchair ramps to make the trail handicap accessible. The four-mile trail, running through Delran, Riverside, and Delanco, is the first segment of a larger 30-mile planned path that will follow the length of the Rancocas, from where it meets the Delaware River to its headwaters near the Burlington-Ocean counties border.
“The opportunity to make our parklands as equitable as possible for our residents is a primary goal,” Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel, liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation and Parks, said.
While the Pinelands are beloved by many in South Jersey, Matt Johnson, coordinator of Burlington County’s Open Space Acquisition and Park Development Program, believes the Rancocas Greenway Trail offers the opportunity to make nature available for everyone.
“The state has done a great job at preserving the Pinelands and hundreds of thousands of acres in a portion of the county, but it’s not readily accessible for the public on a daily basis,” Johnson said.
“So we wanted to try to provide that opportunity where you’re living, so whether it’s before work, or after school, you could get to the parks. This trail is part of these initial big steps, but we have a lot more that’s planned to make those interconnections. As part of that, we’re trying to make the county more walkable and bikeable; it’s the right thing to do. As commissioner Eckel said, it’s important to give people mobility options.”
The county also added about a mile of new sidewalks within Delran, Riverside and Delanco and built 39 handicapped-accessible ramps in all three towns.
“When we develop these trails, one of the requirements for the federal funds is that you have to provide an accessible route. That’s exactly what we want to do anyway,” Johnson said. “So we develop a 10-foot wide asphalt trail that’s handicapped-accessible and it’s not too steep, and there isn’t a severe cross pitch. That’s available for wheelchairs, bikes, pedestrians.”
The $5 million cost to build and design the new trail was almost entirely funded by grants from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Alternatives Program, administered through the New Jersey Department of Transportation Local Aid Office. Burlington County also received a $300,000 grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Regional Trails Project.
The new trail begins at Amico Island Park, the 55-acre peninsula located at the meeting point of the Rancocas Creek and Delaware River in Delran; the trail goes east through Riverside and across the Delanco-Riverside bridge. The path then travels beneath the River Line light rail bridge and snakes through Delanco to Pennington Park, a 150-acre space with views of the Rancocas Creek, interior trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, dog parks and a community garden.
About 2.7 miles of the trail is made up of 10-foot wide asphalt path situated “off-road” in municipal right of ways that pedestrians and bicyclists share. The remainder of the trail consists of designated “on-road” routes along roads with designated bike lanes and sidewalks for pedestrians. Pedestrian and bicycle bridges were also built over streams near Whomsley Field and the River Line bridge, and there were striping and signage improvements along the entire 4-mile path.
Park rangers and staff patrol trails to monitor natural obstructions such as uneven pavements and overgrown brush and identify maintenance issues.
Prior to the design process, planners reach out to people with physical or sensory challenges to inform their design decisions and make public spaces more accessible.
“We’ve been involved with, for example, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, has been working on mobility issues, particularly in the recreational arena,” Johnson said. For a couple of years, he said, planners worked with the community through virtual meetings to decide, for example, how far apart to space benches.
Eckel added that making public spaces accessible for all people can benefit the entire community.
“Those sorts of design elements are made with intention of having as many people as possible to be able to use the space, so we’re not just doing it to do it, we’re doing it to actually have people use the space and …to connect the towns together and have them be accessible outside of vehicles, but also that then makes more people access our businesses,” Johnson said.
“So if you want to go from one town to another by riding your bike or taking your wheelchair or walking your stroller, you can then go visit a different bakery or see what other shops are in different towns.”
The Rancocas Greenway Trail is one of several new trail projects taken up by Burlington County, which already has 1,000 acres of developed parkland and 50-plus miles of interconnecting trails.
Last summer, a new 5.5-mile section of the Delaware River Heritage Trail opened between Bordentown and Roebling in Florence Township. Once the trail is fully complete, it will loop around both sides of the Delaware River and connect to the Rancocas Greenway.
The county has also finished construction of a trail around Arney’s Mount in Springfield that sits at the highest point in Burlington County, 240 feet above sea level. A ceremony to celebrate the opening of this trail will be held this fall.
The grand opening of the Rancocas Greenway Trail, initially set for Aug. 22, will now take place on Sept. 1, at 4:30 p.m. in Pennington Park hosted by the Burlington County Commissioners.
All three paths are part of the planned 800-mile Circuit Trails network that is expected to connect four New Jersey counties and five Pennsylvania counties in the Greater Philadelphia region.