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401 Grand St. Paterson, NJ 07505 | (973) 881-4000
"Rich History, Bright Future"

Highlands Rail Trail


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The Passaic County Highlands Rail Trail is a proposed contiguous recreational trail that will provide a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly pathway through the adaptive reuse of the former New York & Greenwood Lake Railway right-of-way in the Highlands communities of northern Passaic County. 

The project will offer pedestrians and cyclists an alternative route to access local businesses and recreational areas along the constrained Ringwood Avenue/ Greenwood Lake Turnpike corridor. Additionally, it will make use of interpretative elements to help bring local history alive for residents and visitors alike. The availability of alternative forms of transportation and the preservation of area history are goals of paramount importance to Passaic County.

The final Highlands Rail Trail Feasibility Study outlines the vision for this passive recreational trail that will guide future trail development. The final report was developed during the Spring and Summer of 2017 through a series of public meetings and refinement of trail concepts with planning and engineering staff. 

Important Documents

History

The New York & Greenwood Lake Railway operated between Jersey City/Hoboken and Greenwood Lake in West Milford beginning in 1867. During its time in operation, the rail line was used to transport ice from Greenwood Lake to the urban areas to the southeast, as well as transport tourists to the Lake’s resort hotels. The line also served commuters from the area to jobs in Hoboken. The Ringwood Branch spur of the railway connected the Peter’s Mine area in Ringwood to the Ringwood Junction station, providing industrial operations to the south with access to iron.

 Within the feasibility study area, the NY&GL Railroad was serviced by stations at Wanaque, Midvale, Ringwood Junction, Erskine, Ringwood, and Monks. While the stations themselves have been removed, evidence of the existence of these buildings exist to this day.

With the advent of accessibility to Greenwood Lake by car and the struggle of the iron mines, the rail line north of Ringwood Junction was abandoned in 1939, making the Wanaque Midvale station the end of the line. In 1943, the NY&GL railroad property was purchased by Erie Railroad. The railroad was abandoned in stages following the merger between Erie Railroad and Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (which became the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad) and was fully abandoned by the mid-1960’s.

Regional Significance

The focus area for this study is the region in the “Highlands” of Passaic County where the former New York & Greenwood Lake Railway once operated.  This area encompasses the Borough of Pompton Lakes, the Borough of Wanaque, the Borough of Bloomingdale, the Borough of Ringwood, and the Township of West Milford. 

The Highlands Rail Trail will provide this portion of Passaic County with opportunities to connect important public institutions such as parks, schools and services with commercial and retail centers, as well as the natural landscape of Wanaque Reservoir. Future development of the rail trail to the south in Pompton Lakes may result in the connection to the Morris Canal Greenway, which is planned to terminate in the Borough. This potential linking of trails would result in a continuous bicycle and pedestrian pathway spanning the entire length of Passaic County. Additionally, potential trail extensions in the north could provide linkage to existing NY/NJ Trails Conference trails, which could allow users to access New York State. 

In addition to enhancing opportunities for tourism and economic development, the proposed Highlands Rail Trail will support healthy lifestyles, expand access to open space and recreational amenities, and renew the connection between the community and its history.
Implementation

Securing the right-of-way and installing the trail infrastructure will be an important step in making the Highlands Rail Trail a reality. It is also important to recognize, however, that funding beyond the trail development will also be critical for the long-term operation and maintenance. Development of this trail should incorporate both costs.

While portions of the proposed Highlands Rail Trail are currently walkable, additional investments will be needed to secure access agreements with appropriate entities and ensure long-term maintenance, install signage, landscaping and the appropriate improvements necessary to make the Rail Trail a success. 

The sections of the proposed Rail Trail owned by the North Jersey District Water Supply Company (NJDWSC) are also walkable and are surrounded by natural wooded areas and scenic views of the Wanaque Reservoir. These areas offer views of cultural and historical sites to tie the County’s historical heritage together using the Highlands Rail Trail as a common thread. As it was historically with the New York and Greenwood Lake Railroad, the modern Rail Trail will pass through downtown economic centers, near schools, parks, and other public facilities, allowing citizens to enjoy their public investments through the use of a sustainable pedestrian and bicycling amenity. 

Phased development of the Rail Trail will reduce upfront costs, and increase the feasibility of the trail’s creation and implementation of the site facilities. Furthermore, it is likely that development of the trail will take place as segments and funding become available. The southerly section of the Rail Trail (Phase I) is currently under engineering design in an effort to secure grant fudning to complete the first sectino of trail from Union Avenue to Orechio Drive in Wanaque.