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Kittatinny Valley State Park

Paulinskill Valley and Sussex Branch Trails

It is, except for the completion of a few bridges, now possible to hike a continuous distance of nearly 50 miles on public trails through Sussex and Warren counties. The 21.2 mile Sussex Branch Trail begins at Waterloo Road, one mile west of Route 206 in Byram, and intersects with the Paulinskill Valley Trail at Warbasse Junction turn just north of Newton before terminating further north in Branchville. Heading southwest through Fredon, Stillwater, and Blairstown, the 26 mile Paulinskill Trail ends near the Delaware River at the Columbia Lake Wildlife Management Area in Knowlton Township where it is possible to link with the Appalachian Trail and the huge network of trails in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The trails, part of the linear Kittatinny Valley State Park, are a legacy of some of the many railroads that once thrived in northwestern New Jersey and the principle, in practice, of adaptive use. Railbeds for the former Sussex Railroad (Sussex Branch) and NY Susquehanna and Western (Paulinskill Valley) railbeds provide cinder-based paths of modest grade for the pleasure of all ages, including the very young and the very old. Besides being easy for walkers, the "too-straight-to-be-real" are perfect for horseback or mountain bikes.

Along the way, the attentive will notice a progression of artifacts from the rail era, from station foundations, mileage and whistle markers, cattle passes, battery boxes, railroad bridges, creameries and ice houses that serviced the lines in their heyday. Not only remnants from the great railroads, but also signs from the mining and agriculture traditions of the region are apparent.

For the naturalist, the trails are a bonanza. Along the Paulinskill Valley Trail alone, hundreds of bird species of have been counted. The trails provide an excellent place for the observation of beaver, deer, mink, muskrat, otter, and other wildlife. And, because the railroad often acted as a super pollinator, spreading seed from unknown, far-away places, many unusual and non-native plant species are evident along the way.

Besides their value as recreational resources, the trails represent some of the best reforestation in the region. The Paulinskill River, once devastated from years of agriculture and railroad service is now a source for clean water, and the trail provides a buffer zone between the river and proposed development.


Habitat for more than 40 swans along the Sussex Branch trail near Newton.

When you read or listen to the current debate about strategies and public policies regarding open space in New Jersey, consider the story of the Paulinskill Valley Trail and the group of people whose tenacity and commitment was essential in making the 102 acre linear stretch available for public use. For all its merits, the problems and conflicts inherent in acquiring the property took nearly a decade to resolve.


When Len and Erica Frank moved here from Illinois in the 1950s (Len to take a job at Picatinny Arsenal and Erica teaching at Centenary College), their appreciation for the countryside of the Northwestern New Jersey was immediate. They told their kids "We won't ever again have to go anywhere to take a vacation!"


Len and Erica Frank have been walking together for 50 years; solemates to say the least. They met in 1947 as members of a University of Wisconsin outdoor club called Hoofers, whose faculty advisor was the son of a contemporary of conservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir.

The couple helped form a new Northwest New Jersey Sierra Club group, began leading hikes all over the area, and got into a number of projects including Tocks Island and trail establishment in the subsequent National Recreation Area. The former Susquehanna and Western railbed between Sparta Junction and the Delaware River had been purchased in 1962 by the city of Newark for $22 million as a water conduit connecting the proposed Tocks Island Dam reservoir with the Newark watershed in Pequannock, which in those years was threatened by drought. When the Tocks project stalled, the trail gained popularity among outdoor enthusiasts for hiking, biking, cross country skiing, horseback riding, and fishing. Until 1984, a rails to trails project gained support from members of the Sierra Club and the Resource Conservation Development Project, headed up by Erica, which funded a comprehensive report about the value of the proposed trail.

When New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection finally announced in 1985 their plans to purchase the trail, they were met by furious opposition led by landowners along the trail who, for good reason, wanted to repurchase the tract backyard by backyard, and who boasted support from most every relevant politician. After a public Green Acres meeting in Blairstown at which trail advocates were shouted down, a small group of them decided to form an ad hoc committee. Len, because of his Sierra Club background, became chairman of the Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee. It was the beginning of a seven year campaign for public ownership of the trail.

Green Acres clearly wanted the property. There was potential for one of the premier trail systems in the state, and those that had done a lot of walking knew how this right of way could hook up to other paths. The Committee got $1,000 seed money and went to work. "My principal has always been: take people out into wilderness or open space, and that will be the basis of their education and their involvement in conservation activities," explains Len. "Appreciation causes response in kind." The committee began conducting hikes on the Newark property. Frank adds, "I have no idea how many times I've walked the Paulinskill, but there was a time in that ten year period that we realized we had accompanied 1000 people on Paulinskill Trail hikes. We made lots of friends throughout the state and were supported by the Sierra club."

The committee took their carpet bag full of maps, pictures, pamphlets and petitions to public events and places -- the Sussex Farm & Horse Show, Warren County Farmers Fair, Sussex Airport-- wherever they had to go to raise public awareness. They sold caps, mugs, t-shirts and committee memberships at $10 a year to supplement their treasury. They did whatever they had to do to prove that there was, in fact, strong local backing for the trail. But, although polls regularly indicated over 90% support for the trail, political support was painfully slow to come.

The prevailing political attitude of the time seemed to indicate no need for dedicated open space, that there was more than enough room for the "normal" course of development. At one point, in fact, a bill was presented to the state legislature that said Green Acres could no longer purchase land in Sussex County. But it was, -- in the face of a dissenting state senator, two state assemblymen, three Warren County freeholders, and scores of councilmen and planning board members, -- the Sussex County freeholders that finally came around. The Sussex resolution showed Green Acres the support they needed to bring the purchase to Governor Kean, who authorized it.

After evaluation of the property's value by Green Acres, the state's initial offer of $465,000 was abruptly turned down, and negotiations with the Newark Council began in earnest. Even at this point, the trail's fate seemed a matter of political whimsy. DEP emptied its pockets and found a total of $700,000 to make as a final offer for the property. Frank remembers "About ten of us went to the final meeting where the Council was to vote. We had a lobbyist, too. One of the key council members said that the property was worth a million dollars, and that that's what they should get. The final vote was, I think, seven to four. We lost it." But the timing of the council meeting was propitious, not long after the new Whitman administration had been elected. The Trail Committee had done their political homework and convinced Warren County legislator Chuck Haytaian of the trail's benefits. It so happened that Haytaian had just become state Speaker of the House. Len continues, "Finally, one guy gets up and says he'd like to change his vote in support of Mr. Haytaian. The trail was ours."

Since Paulinskill Trail became part of the New Jersey State Park system in 1992, the Committee has remained active. Ad hoc no more, the group holds monthly meetings and continues to be a force for environmental and open space issues in New Jersey.

For more information write: Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee, POB 7076, Hackettstown, NJ 07840.

Comments

Larry Sutton
20 Jun 2014, 14:38
Will there ever be an opportunity to hike on the Lackawanna Cutoff?
gary peter muccino
04 Jan 2013, 05:46
We moved to Lafayette about a year ago.Very active outdoor and anxious to get involved in hicking group.Any advice would help...gary muccino 973 896 6476 thank you
doreen
13 Jul 2012, 05:02
Interested in hiking trials
Joey Donuts
13 Feb 2012, 14:54
To all those asking about access for horse riding:\r\n\r\nPick up after your horse. If I did a bathroom break in your barn, you'd be unhappy. I'm unhappy when I have to walk through your horsedroppings.\r\n\r\nHiker Joey D.
Kevin
16 Oct 2011, 06:43
I was wondering if there were any ATV trails. If so where in Warren or Sussex County and how much? Where do you park?\r\nThank you, Kevin
GiGi Hein
17 Mar 2011, 19:54
I found a Kindle on the trail in Andover on 206 that goes to the back of Kittatinny airport. I called Kindle support and will return it but wanted to post here in case whoever lost it checks. \r\ngigi
Carl Knoch
03 Dec 2010, 08:01
Interactive Google maps of the Paulinskill and Sussex Brach trails can be found at www.trailink.com.
Howard M. Hirsch
18 Aug 2010, 03:37
It's been mentioned you can enter the Paulinskill Rail Trail on the east end near Sparta Junction. Can anybody tell me where I can park my car (legally of course) and enter the trail. \r\n\r\nThank you.
A birder
01 Jul 2010, 11:05
Article states "Along the Paulinskill Valley Trail alone, 560 species of birds, representing 20% of the known species in state, have been counted." According to the New Jersey Bird Records Committee, "As of July 2009, 465 species of natural origin (including extinct species) have been recorded in New Jersey."
Barbara Edmunds
21 May 2010, 05:12
I'm looking for a map and where to park to be able to ride horses from the Sussex area of the park. Thanks
Cathy Simpson
16 Apr 2010, 14:46
I would love a map of the Paulinskill Valley Rail Trails....have been hiking the trails for a couple of years now and want to make sure I have covered them all. Mail to Cathy Simpson\r\n61 Parson Rd., Newton, N.J. 07860
Linda Presto
11 Nov 2009, 08:43
Hi! Where's the best place to begin a trail in Sussex County? I live in Andover. And where can I get a trail map? would really appreciate your help! thanks!!!!
Walter Markey
24 Oct 2009, 16:46
If you are able to email me a map of the Paulinskill Dam area it would be appreciated.\r\n
Judy Postas
22 Oct 2009, 06:14
I am looking for a hiking map of the Paulinskill Valley Trail, can your refer me or provide ?\r\nThanks in advance.\r\nJudy Postas\r\n12 Mabie Street, Franklin, NJ 07416-1546\r\n(973) 827-4518
Anne Marie Sickafoose
08 Oct 2009, 08:04
I can you please send me a map of the Paulinski Trail, my address is\r\n\r\nAnne Marie Sickafoose\r\n4B Brookline Court\r\nPrinceton, NJ 08540\r\n\r\nThanks,\r\nAnne
Shelly Lueck
19 Sep 2009, 15:49
Hi I am new to the rail trails and I live in Flanders NJ I was wondering what trail would be the best for a novice bike rider and her husband to try out. thanks\r\n
pete
25 Aug 2009, 18:50
We are looking for ATV and/or Dirtbike Trials at the park. Are there any and if so, how much is it and where are they located please. Also, park hours.\r\nIf none, could you please advise us of anything? We can't seem to find riding trails for the quads and dirt bikes. Thanks much, Pete
Cathee
26 Jun 2009, 10:11
Where can I pick up the trail in the Blairstown/Stillwater area. I am coming from Clifton, NJ
kelly best
13 Jun 2009, 05:47
Hello I am looking to meet some people who take their horses on the trails we are new to the area and have heard wonderful things also if I could get a map mailed to me I would greatly appreciate.\r\n\r\n86 morning glory road\r\nWarren nj 07059
Laura
14 May 2009, 17:09
Very much would like to know the mileage from Footbridge Park to the Stillwater Valley Horse Farm (big red barns). I've ridden this a few times but don't know the mileage. Please help! Thanks, Laura Belvidere, NJ
william tully
30 Apr 2009, 16:04
i would like a map of any trails in sussex county that i can go riding on my utility atv.thank you for the info
Dean Talcott
09 Feb 2009, 09:38
I would like a copy of a map for the Kittatinny Valley State Park.\r\nThank you.\r\nDean Talcott \r\n4 Brohm Place\r\nFanwood, NJ\r\n07023
susan aldrich
03 Feb 2009, 18:50
There is a tree that has fallen across the sussex branch off of mud cut road and before you get to the village. It is making it difficult to navigate on Horseback.
Skylands Visitor
21 Jan 2009, 20:12
You can get a trail map at Kittatinny SP headquarters. http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/kittval.html
Alan & Barbara Brown
19 Jan 2009, 18:07
I would like to know how to get a trail map for the Paulinskill Valley Trails, especially in the Sparta/Lafayette area off of Warbasse Junction Rd.\r\nPhone 973-300-1217 or home@stressfreecooking.com\r\nWe are enjoying cross country skiing but a trail map would help. We are new in the area.\r\n\r\nMany, Many Thanks!
Alan & Barbara Brown
19 Jan 2009, 18:07
I would like to know how to get a trail map for the Paulinskill Valley Trails, especially in the Sparta/Lafayette area off of Warbasse Junction Rd.\r\nPhone 973-300-1217 or home@stressfreecooking.com\r\nWe are enjoying cross country skiing but a trail map would help. We are new in the area.\r\n\r\nMany, Many Thanks!
Amanda Iwanicki
11 Nov 2008, 05:08
Hello, my father and I hike on the trails weekly, but havent been able to find the trail maps, if so, can i have one mailed to my home address?? \r\n1 birch drive, newton, nj 07860\r\n\r\nThank you, if not, please let me know.
Little
30 Aug 2008, 12:52
Do you have dirt trails? What are the requirements for bringing up ATVs?
Anna and Philip
02 Aug 2008, 10:04
We are novice hikers and would like to find family groups of hikers to join; we have a 7.5 yr old. Any contacts you can provide or they may contact us. We appreciate it. Thank you.
ALENA COSTA
23 Jul 2008, 12:12
HI,\r\nCAN YOU PLEASE MAIL ME A MAP OF THE PAULINSKILL TRAIL: ALENA COSTA, 8 JOHN WILTON STREET, FRANKLIN NJ 07416\r\n\r\nTHANK YOU:)
Howard Gooblar
11 Jun 2008, 11:10
I hope to attend a fly-fishing class this Saturday June 14 at Kittatiny State Park. Could you give me directions to the place of the class from Andover?\r\nthank you \r\nHoward Gooblar
Rich Alai
23 May 2008, 06:54
My wife and I are seasonal campers in Sussex County and just came across this website. We will begin biking the sussex trail this weekend. Do you have any sggestions as to where to start from? We are located near Kittatinney State Park.\r\nThanks, Rich and Mo
Fernando Gomez
08 May 2008, 11:23
Some years ago I contacted your office to inquire if hunting were permitted on that portion of the State park which lies off of Rte 94 between Blairstown and Frelingheusen(?) and you ansered that hunting was permitted. The Fish and Game Compendium requires written permission when there are abandoned and boarded up building in the area. Would you be so kind as to send me written permission to hunt on that property. \r\n\r\nMany thanks
CARMINE PETRONE
25 Jan 2008, 04:45
MOVED TO AREA TWO YEARS AGO, MYSELF AND WIFE HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR A OUTDOOR / HIKING CLUB. LIVE IN THE LAKE HOPATCONG AREA ANY INFO YOU COULD PROVIDE WOULD BE GREAT THANKYOU CARMINE PETRONE 973 470 5679
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