When the Barnegat Branch Trail was first conceived, Ocean County Freeholder James Lacey knew that the path — along an old railroad right-of-way — would have its challenges.
Among the biggest of those challenges is the next phase to be built: Phase V through the southern part of Lacey Township. With four water crossings — the South and North branches of Oyster Creek, Middle Creek, and Cedar Lake — and Homeland Security concerns around the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station —it was going to take negotiating and planning to keep a contiguous path in place and maintain a nature trail feel at the same time.
Months of planning and negotiations with Excelon over access across existing Oyster Creek trestles finally resulted in a plan for a trail that will allow bicyclists and walkers unique views of Oyster Creek and more importantly, of Cedar Lake, where the path will cross the middle of the lake.
The plans met with the approval of the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, who nodded in response to the presentation by County Engineer Frank Scarantino.
Phase V, which begins at Bay Parkway in Waretown and covers 2-1/2 miles to just south of Lacey Road, follows the existing rail bed that once provided a pathway for trains running down the coastline.
"We tried to avoid removing trees as much as possible," Scarantino said, so the rail bed provides a perfect path. Scarantino noted the rail bed has a 50-foot right-of-way and the trail is designed to run down the middle of the rail bed.
"We've had room to let the trail meander a bit," he said.
The trestles over Oyster Creek are in disrepair, officials noted, but "they were designed for 88-ton locomotives; there's more than enough reserve strength" to handle the weight of bicycles and pedestrians, Scarantino said.
The trestle over Middle Creek is completely gone, with just pilings remaining. The solution is a prefabricated bridge that will span the 40-foot distance, Freeholder John Bartlett said.
And the portion across Cedar Lake already is used by fishermen, so it will not need a great deal of work, Scarantino said.
Where the trail crosses roads, it has been designed to cross at existing crosswalks wherever possible, Scarantino said.
The northern end terminates a block south of Lacey Road, Bartlett said, at the request of Lacey Township officials. But it will end near the back edge of the parking lot at United Methodist Church, which will give access to bicyclists in particular who want to continue their ride north.
Once Phase V is completed, it will create a contiguous stretch of trail that covers 7 miles from Lacey to Barnegat.
"Make no mistake, it is being used," Lacey said.
The freeholders are expected to approve a request from Scarantino to seek bids for the construction next week. Work could begin as early as the fall.