Restoring the MWA’s Educational Trail
When I think of hiking, two types of experiences come to mind. There’s the adrenaline-inducing climb to the top of a mountain, with the dizzying and expansive views from a rocky outcropping. And then, there’s the leisurely stroll through the woods, an activity less about exertion and more about the peace that comes from letting your attention wander throughout your surroundings.
The Musconetcong River Watershed is blessed with many hikes of that first kind: the Musconetcong Gorge, Point Mountain, Allamuchy Mountain State Park, and Mahlon Dickerson Reservation all take advantage of the NJ Highland Region’s steep, rocky slopes. The second kind of hike is somewhat less common, which is natural given the watershed’s narrow shape. In this area, that would require an extensive tract of public land adjacent to the river. Fortunately, a series of land purchases by the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife has made that possible in the little hamlet of Asbury—home of the MWA’s office.
About a dozen years ago, an Eagle Scout blazed a trail along the Musconetcong River, connecting the River Resource Center nearly to the bridge joining Shurts Rd. Unfortunately, some of the tributaries feeding into the river didn’t get proper footbridges, and the path became overgrown through the years. It wasn’t until the last few years that the MWA was able to give this trail the attention it deserves.
A large number of partners have each chipped in with their time and expertise to accomplish a remarkable transformation on the MWA’s Educational Trail. While the “many hands” didn’t quite make light work, they did make it a little less heavy. Major funding for this trail began with the William Penn Foundation in the form of northwest New Jersey’s “Great Waters” initiative. In order to live up to its name as “Educational,” an Eagle Scout and an AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassador designed and installed interpretive signs along the main network of trails near the MWA’s River Resource Center. That Eagle Scout also replaced three critical bridges to ensure walkability in this area. In terms of regular maintenance, MWA staff and volunteers kept up with mowing and other trail-clearing tasks.
All of that work took place prior to 2022, but this year featured a surge in progress. A large grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, along with funding from the National Park Foundation, allowed for the purchase of much-needed materials and the formation of a Student Conservation Association trail crew. This crew, composed of high-school students from Phillipsburg, as well as a crew member from the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, worked for four weeks this August to rejuvenate the original trail as well as create nearly a half-mile of new trail on the other side of Shurts Rd. Later in the fall, the Delaware River Climate Corps helped with the construction and installation of three more foot bridges.
The areas adjacent to the trail have been spruced up as well, with the planting of over 200 trees and shrubs done by the New Jersey Youth Corps and Delaware River Climate Corps. These planting projects are a true investment in the future of the trail, as the plants are on their way to stabilizing the river bank, reducing invasive species presence, shading the river and trail, and providing valuable wildlife benefits.
This crucial work, along with many other regular maintenance tasks, has been anchored by Frank Nanna, who was hired as the MWA’s groundskeeper in 2022. Through Frank’s efforts, the trail has been kept safer from hazards such as holes, fallen trees, and encroaching brush.
The MWA Educational Trail now has nearly 2 miles of paths ready for walking, fishing, or birdwatching—whether that’s a visit on your own time or part of an interpretive walk led by the MWA. After all, the trail is now more accessible and enriching than it has been at any point in the last decade. The future holds just as much, if not more, promise. In the near-term, another half-mile of trail will be fully accessible pending the completion of two more footbridges that require a bit more engineering. The MWA is also working with the Ramapough Culture and Land Foundation to design and install bilingual wayfinding signs as part of an ongoing process of recognition and respect for our Indigenous neighbors. Over the next year, the MWA plans to expand the trail to a full 3.4-mile loop with a path along the Hunterdon County side of the river as well. So, if you’re ready for that leisurely kind of hike, come experience this restored trail and all it has to offer.
Ryan Jiorle is the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Musconetcong Watershed Association, where he manages the MWA's education programs, volunteer activities, and outdoor recreation events.