NJ Turnpike Tree Grants Benefitting Robbinsville

Turnpike trees blaze way for new trail in Robbinsville

By Kyle Kondor/mercerspace.com
September 2, 2014

ROBBINSVILLE - If you were to see someone jogging in Robbinsville Township, it’s likely that he wouldn’t be using the brand new 5-kilometer cross country course located behind the town’s high school.

After three-plus years of brainstorming, planning and building by the Robbinsville Township council, engineers and others, things are about to pick up at the trail, if the township has its way. The trail will be used primarily by the high school’s cross-country team when its season begins in the fall, but is public property and open to everyone, councilman Vince Calcagno said.

READ MORE ABOUT THE NJ TURNPIKE TREE GRANT ON NJ.COM

“The team basically had been running along the roads since they didn’t have a course to use,” he said. “But it’s not just meant to be used by the high school, it’s meant to be used by all.”

Calcagno also said there will be events at the trail this month, with details forthcoming on the township website.

The trail saw its first use in October 2013, when 100 runners used the trail during a benefit for injured Robbinsville Police lieutenant Scott Texidor. The township followed it up with an Earth Day Fun Run April 19 for Project Freedom. That day marked the official opening of the course, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The trail was made possible by reforestation funds granted to the township as a result of the widening of the New Jersey Turnpike in 2009. The town lost nearly 115 acres of forest in the widening, and was compensated with 12,000 trees—$3.6-million-worth—by the state Department of Environmental Protection and N.J. Turnpike Authority. The township used part of this tree fund to create the trail.

The trail begins and ends alongside Robbinsville High School’s front parking lot, at the end opposite the tennis courts, and extends three-plus miles around fields adjacent to the high school and Pond Road Middle School, as well as through Combs Farm. It is a combination of pavement, dirt and grass. No actual construction or paving was done; the new trail merely is the formal establishment of a 3.1-mile loop that uses existing paths.

Indigenous species of trees line the 10-foot-wide trail, covering up to 25 feet on each side. At this point, the township has only received two of the three tree allotments it’s owed. Another allotment of 5,600 trees will be delivered by the end of the summer, enabling the township to plant enough trees to cover 50 feet of land on either side of the trail.

“As time goes on, it’s going to begin to look like a much more dense forest,” Calcagno said.

Calcagno said he worked alongside township director of community and economic development Tim McGough, Mercer County Soil Conservation District director Bill Brash and township public works director Dino Colarocco to decide what to do with all of the trees the township received.

Aside from the trail project, the group has taken a portion of the trees they received and replanted them between the Turnpike and neighboring homes. Other projects have included planting trees on Robbinsville school grounds and planting cherry trees around the lakes in Town Center.

“We tried to put the trees to good use by doing things that we couldn’t afford before,” Calcagno said.

McGough said other townships that had the same opportunity turned down the trees because they were obligated to make sure that 95 percent of the trees remained alive after two years of caring for them.

“It was a shame that the Turnpike had to do what they did but at least we’re getting something out of it,” McGough said.

McGough also worked as the engineer in charge of building the 5-kilometer trail, and said the township currently is in the process of installing six 8-foot square kiosks along the trail. The kiosks will be a half-mile apart and work as resting stations, with the intention of appealing to senior citizens and other community residents.

“Mercer County doesn’t really have a state of the art cross country course,” McGough said. “We think the course we’re making can potentially be the premier course throughout the entire region.”

The trail does not have that reputation quite yet, but for those involved with its creation, they have no doubt it is well on its way to greater fame.

“The schools know about it, there’s been articles about it, and we’ve been promoting it through the charitable events,” Calcagno said. “So the word’s getting out there.”

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