Published: December 5, 2008

Competition Rises for Trails Grants


MIKE and Anne Kruimer were cycling along a well-traveled road in Woodbridge in 1992 when a car cut in front of Mrs. Kruimer and sent her flying. She broke her back, paralyzing her from the waist down, but it never stopped the couple from cycling. The Kruimers, now 54, continue to ride to places as far as Washington and Florida, though they now ride a tandem, and Mrs. Kruimer uses her hands rather than her feet to propel the wheels forward.

“She’s not getting a free ride,” Mr. Kruimer said.

What the accident did do, however, was to compel the Kruimers to join the East Coast Greenway Alliance, which is building a 3,000-mile bike-and-hiking trail from Calais, Me., to Key West, Fla., similar to the Appalachian Trail.

But where the Appalachian Trail takes cyclists and hikers away from congested areas, the East Coast Greenway winds its way through major cities along the East Coast. The group’s goal is to construct a trail entirely “off road.” For long stretches, they have reached that goal.

There are places on the route where cyclists and hikers are sent into the street — one of the most treacherous being in New Jersey. That spot, where the trail connects Jersey City and Newark, runs along Routes 1 and 9. In some places, there are sidewalks. In others, cyclists must ride on the shoulder of the road alongside car and truck traffic.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Mr. Kruimer said.

If money were no object, Mr. Kruimer said he would build a pedestrian bridge on that stretch, where the trail crosses the Hackensack River. But money is an object, particularly in today’s economy. While the federal government just gave the Greenway alliance a $25,000 grant, part of a $1 million grant package it doles out every year to New Jersey trail groups, it’s a far cry from the $10 million the alliance would need to construct a bridge. Instead, the group will use the money to install mile markers and informational kiosks along the route.

That is not to say trail groups aren’t grateful for the money. This year, 44 trail projects in New Jersey received a total of $746,739 in financing from the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program — grants for which they must contribute a 20 percent match. Another $300,000 was set aside for trails for off-road vehicles, like all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes.

“It’s a significant amount of money that these groups can apply for,” said Dana Loschiavo, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Environmental Protection, which helps administer the program.

Edward Goodell, executive director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, said, “It’s one of the bright spots among open space funding at the moment, given the economic situation the way it is.”

His organization received $25,000 to extend the trail around Echo Lake. The lake is in the Pequannock Watershed, which provides water for the City of Newark. The group wanted to improve the trail so city schoolchildren could be taken there to learn the source of their water.

But the trails grant program has become very competitive, as more and more municipalities jump on board to improve their trails, and vie for an ever-shrinking pot of open space money. And the state isn’t likely to step in, not when officials are in cost-cutting mode and recently considered closing some state parks altogether.

James Mallman, whose group, Watchable Wildlife, received $13,007 to help develop a series of interconnected water trails through Egg Island Wildlife Management Area and the Glades Wildlife Refuge, said New Jersey has some of the best bird-watching in the country; but it is getting tougher to finance projects to enhance that viewing experience.

“International conflicts, major hurricanes and natural disasters, and now fires,” Mr. Mallman said. “There’s always an issue that seems to take center stage.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company