Out of the Rubble: New Jersey's Bayshore Trail Rises Again

Posted 10/03/14 by Katie Harris in Building Trails

Photo courtesy Monmouth County Park System

All through October, RTC is celebrating New Jersey's trails and bike/ped scene! From the shore to the highlands, New Jersey is a beautiful state that is often overlooked. We’ll do our best to highlight the trails and open spaces that residents of the Garden State know and love.

It’s the Phoenix of rail-trails.

The Bayshore Trail—a section of the Henry Hudson Trail—runs two miles along the shoreline of the Sandy Hook Bay. Also known as the Atlantic Highlands segment, this is a trail that has seen it all.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the beloved trail was unidentifiable. Simply put, the trail was turned to rubble, with woodpiles in the place of boardwalks and standing water where the trail stood only days before. It was nothing like the trail that the community had cherished for years.

“Sandy changed the nature of the trail permanently,” says Maria Wojciechowski, executive director of Friends of the Monmouth County Park System, an organization that helps maintain the Bayshore Trail. “The trail was largely ripped apart, and some sections were turned to wetlands from the storm surge. It was destroyed,” she reports.

After citizens made sure their own homes were secured and their situations were under control, a lot of focus in the county went to the trail. Arguably, what makes this section of the Henry Hudson Trail so popular—its proximity to the waterfront and scenic views of Sandy Hook Bay—was also its downfall during Hurricane Sandy. But it was these memories of the once-great amenity that induced citizens—not long after the storm—to call for a revitalization effort.

The Monmouth County Park System, the agency that manages the trail, faced the daunting task of cleaning up everything under its jurisdiction affected by the storm. “We had more than 15,000 acres to take care of,” states Rich Pillar, landscape architect for the Monmouth County Park System. “But there was this groundswell of enthusiasm for this trail section, and people were using the trail even in its damaged state. They loved it that much,” he says.

“This trail is a people superhighway,” says Wojciechowski. “It was tough to keep people off of it, even though it was destroyed!”

The county publicly emphasized the closing of the trail due to safety concerns, and cleanup work, funded primarily by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief funds, began in earnest. But, just as things appeared to be on the right track, Mother Nature threw a curve ball in the form of a landslide that swept across—and wiped out—a major part of the trail. And shortly thereafter, a leak from a private outflow pipe adjacent to the trail halted repairs yet again. There was also pushback from adjacent landowners. The Bayshore Trail was being dealt one blow after another. “It seemed like every week, there was something else,” says Pillar.

But as the old adage goes: Fall down seven times, get up eight.

The community continued to demand the trail cleanup, and crews focused on getting the trail back in working order.

A major question posed by the county (an undercurrent of much of the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in the region) was how to rebuild with resilience as a priority. The answer for the Bayshore Trail was to reduce the number of structures. For example, a 600-foot-bridge section that was ripped out by the storm was re-imagined; the trail was detoured and the structure was shortened to 80 feet.

The rebuild is no simple task, and the Monmouth County Park System acts as the organizer for all the players that have a stake in the process, including FEMA, the county government and adjacent landowners. Currently, the trail is open but in primitive condition, and the county is ready to submit their permits for the final rebuild.

In the Spring of 2015, when trail restoration is complete, 20 benches funded through RTC’s Metropolitan Grants Program (with support by the Coca Cola Foundation) will be placed along the scenic trail at key viewing areas that overlook Sandy Hook, the Raritan Bay and the Manhattan Skyline.

It’s the trail that’s been served blow after blow and still has enough gumption to get back up again. Out of the rubble, the Bayshore Trail will rise again, better than new.

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