Murphy Administration improves planning, access to New Jersey’s recreational trails with innovative data analytics
NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in partnership with the Trails Task Force of the New Jersey Geospatial Forum, Wednesday announced the release of the first phase of a statewide inventory of public trails in New Jersey.
This first-of-its-kind dataset, using information provided by government agencies and nonprofits, will advance the capabilities of the DEP and other government agencies, trail planners, and advocates to improve, expand and better connect the state’s extensive network of trails, improving access for all of New Jersey’s residents.
“As the most densely populated state, we know the restorative value of connecting with nature by hiking or bicycling a trail,” DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette said. “We are blessed in New Jersey to have some 3,700 miles of trails interlacing our forests, coastal marshes, stream corridors, mountains and urban areas. With this new information tool, the DEP and its partners can ensure better connectivity of our trails, improve public safety, enhance access for our state’s residents, and plan for the protection and expansion of first-class trail networks for future generations to enjoy.”
Among many benefits, this data will help planners and advocates identify areas of focus for New Jersey, prioritizing projects and acquisitions that will link to larger trails to create a statewide network of trails and greenways. The data will also help advance goals of the New Jersey Trails Plan including creating a list of “Top Ten” trail priorities, and having a trail accessible to every resident, with a particular focus on Overburdened Communities.
“Planners will have much easier access to information that will help advance New Jersey’s environmental justice and equity priorities,” said Olivia Glenn, the DEP’s Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity. “With this information, planners can strategically and concertedly analyze existing trails, prioritize planned trails, and assess the availability of mass transportation options for all user groups, particularly those living in overburdened communities, to access and enjoy New Jersey’s great network of trails.”
The dataset, accessible by PC and smartphones, can be helpful for the public to find places to hike. Web links and/or contact information is provided for the trail manager. The DEP strongly recommends that hikers use these resources to get more detailed maps and information, as well as current conditions or advisories. Hikers should always research and understand trails and terrain before venturing out. Hikers should also be prepared for emergency situations.
The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry offers a mobile-friendly Trail Tracker interactive trail map that provides useful information on hiking on state parks, forests, and recreation areas. Always be sure to download a pdf version before venturing into areas with uncertain cellular service.
Many partners contributed to the development of the trails dataset, including federal, state, county, and municipal governments, non-profit organizations, metropolitan planning organizations, commissions, and various educational institutions. Key partners include the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New York-New Jersey Trails Conference, the New Jersey Office of Information Technology, the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, and the New Jersey Highlands Council.
Starting in 2023, the DEP will update the data annually, in time for National Trails Day in the first week of June. The DEP also plans to integrate the data into a user-friendly web application in the future.
“This initial dataset should be viewed as the first phase of a ‘living’ dataset,” said Brandee Chapman, DEP’s State Trails Coordinator and co-chair of the New Jersey Trails Task Force. “The Trails Task Force is currently developing a process to maintain, fill in data gaps, and make the dataset more robust over time. We are grateful to the many partners we have worked with over the years to create this dataset and enhance an already impressive network of trails. We look forward to collaborating with them in the coming years to further improve on this work.”
“Trails are vitally important in providing access to the outdoors and connecting people with nature,” said Tanya Nolte, GIS Manager for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and co-chair of the New Jersey Trails Task Force. “It’s gratifying to see the work of the Taskforce result in this first public release of a statewide trails dataset. I look forward to its incorporation into Conservation Blueprint, a freely available online mapping tool; the depiction of trails statewide will make it easier to identify priority lands for conservation, including places where new trails can be connected to existing networks.”
“The creation of this dataset has been a long-standing goal for the New Jersey Trails Council and was identified as a major priority for the New Jersey Trails Plan,” said Bill Foelsch, Chair of the New Jersey Trails Council. “It is wonderful to see this goal become a reality!”
“This dataset supports Complete Streets Initiatives and will help enhance the safety for bicyclists and pedestrians”, said Andrew Swords of NJDOT’s Division of Statewide Planning. “By being able to see all of the locations where trails cross public roads throughout the State, we can do a full analysis showing current conditions of safety features like crosswalks, signage, and signals, and prioritize areas in need of enhancement or attention.”
The dataset may be accessed by clicking here.