Gas pipelines are big news in New Jersey right now, around Princeton, and in surounding communities. Apparently stimulated by a glut of fracked gas from western Pennsylvania, various companies are rushing to find new ways to bring their product to market. That means lots and lots of new pipelines in New Jersey, which is arousing the ire of local residents on all sides of the political spectrum. Despite this opposition, these pipelines are getting their permits and are getting built. In the last few weeks, for example, several miles of new pipeline has been laid in northern Princeton, the so-called ‘Skillman Loop‘. On the principle of “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, we should seize the opportunity to create new walking and biking trails on these new pipeline routes, to get the greatest value possible out of this process for local residents.
As seen in the photo at top, there is a precedent in the Princeton area for creating trails on a pipeline right-of-way. The trail shown runs along the south side of the D&R canal, on top of a buried pipeline. (If you look at the photo carefully, you can see a short yellow pylon, indicating the presence of a buried gas pipeline). In fact, Princeton currently has miles and miles of buried gas pipelines. The recently-compiled ‘Princeton Bike Map‘ shows their routes as dashed lines. Pipelines run through some of the most scenic parts of Princeton, including adjacent to the D&R Canal State Park, and through the Institute Woods. For the most part, local residents are not even aware that they exist. The photo below shows the new apartments at ‘Copperwood‘ on Bunn Drive, which rent starting at $2,230 a month. A gas pipeline runs, literally, right beneath the front yard:
Nearby, the pipeline right-of-way runs through Herrentown Woods, a large tract of preserved open space. The forest canopy opens up to walkers on the trails where the pipeline runs below. Unfortunately, unlike with the pipeline by the canal, there is no trail here. The right-of-way is complete overgrown. If there was a trail, it would be an ideal way to connect from Herrentown Woods through to the nearby Autumn Hills Reservation, another large park that is hard to access without a car. But that would just be the start. If there were trails on all the pipeline rights-of-way, it would offer walkers and cyclists a way to hike and bike around much of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, completely separated from cars and other traffic. Here is a map of all the existing pipelines in New Jersey. Imagine if all those red lines were inter-county trails…
In a few instances, trails advocates are alive to the possibility of adding trails on gas pipeline rights-of-way. The Lawrence-Hopewell Trail is one of our best local trails, and the plans for its future expansion include building on a pipeline right-of-way, to connect Province Line Road in western Princeton through to paths on the Educational Testing Service campus. But it’s hard to raise funds and get permits to retrofit a trail onto an existing right-of-way. The point when it is easiest is when the pipeline is being constructed. At that point, construction is happening anyway, and the pipeline company might even kick in for the trail. Have a new trail may not assuage many pipeline opponents, but it would be a substantial benefit to local communities to increase access to nature, and to upgrade bike-walk connections between our towns.