Momentous news for Rail Trail riders and fans here in New Jersey: the South end of the Henry Hudson Trail is going to be extended across Route 537 into Freehold Boro. And not only that, it will follow the rest of the right of way to near the former train station building on Jackson Street (pictured above). The County has acquired the necessary property including the big open space at the end by the old depot (partly seen above; see more in the gallery below) . So it looks like they’ll be making that area part of the park, which I have always thought would be a perfect use for that land. They’re even going to build a pedestrian bridge across Center Street. Previously, when I lived in Freehold in the 90’s and early 2000’s, there was an original small iron railroad bridge in place there, built in 1893. I was disappointed when they took it out some years ago—it would have been nice to have the trail cross it, but it was too low for modern traffic. I’m glad a new one will be built for trail traffic.
Future South End of the Henry Hudson Trail and Parkland at Old Freehold Station
Now Trail users will have a complete path from Big Brook Park in Marlboro all the way to The Boro, just two blocks from Market Yard and Downtown. When I ride there, which is often, I feel like I’m ‘taking the train’ from Marlboro to Freehold. And that’s the whole idea—to convert former rail and other corridors into a network of trails that connect communities, towns and eventually, the country. In fact, the Henry Hudson Trail has been designated part of the National Rail-Trail Network according to the County’s Extension Project document.
I was researching this railroad and trail since before it was constructed and open. in fact, I’ve been driving over the old crossings at different points along the line through different times in my life in Marlboro, Matawan and East Freehold. In 2005, I learned of the lease agreement between the Monmouth County Park System and New Jersey Transit, the owner of the right of way, to create a multi-use trail. When it finally opened in the Spring of 2006 I was elated to take my first ride from Freehold, but disappointed that there were missing sections. I had thought I’d be able to ride from Freehold straight through to Highlands.
Alas, not so. Well, you actually can, but there are a few places where you have to go on-road. I’m a railroad and rail trail purist…I want the whole corridor to be converted so that it’s all preserved and the experience is complete. And this trail has the available right of way and infrastructure to facilitate it. I’ve also been longing since then for the County to complete the other two missing sections; one between Routes 520 and 79 in Marlboro, and the other in Matawan from Stillwell Street to Matawan Station. From there, the whole Freehold Branch can be connected to the Seashore Branch section via the existing bridge over the Garden State Parkway.
Henry Hudson Trail Missing Sections
The County indicates in its Extension Project document that all of this is indeed the plan. It’s not clear if a connection to the Seashore Branch is part of this immediate project, but it seems that it will include the Marlboro section improvement. Funding has been received, an engineering firm has been awarded the contract, permits are being obtained and the construction documents are being drawn up.
So, this is like Christmas!…all my wishes (and those of many other trail users, I’m sure) are coming true for the Henry Hudson Trail. Once completed it will be one of the best rail trails in the country, adding to the goal of connecting the country by alternative transportation multi-use trail corridors. It’s already one of the best in my opinion, affording a beautiful arcing route through Monmouth County, from the Bayshore communities and wetlands through the farm and woodland interior.
It is truly a jewel of rail trails. If you haven’t experienced it yet, I personally recommend taking a hike or a bike on it.