Big Spring State Forest Picnic Area
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McDade Recreational Trail
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Columbia Trail

The 15 miles (24 km) trail is on the bed where the former Central Railroad of New Jersey High Bridge Branch lay once. Its surface is made of crushed stone and it extends from High Bridge all the way to Washington Township. The railroad in this area had been constructed to specifically serve the Taylor Wharton Iron and Steel Company as well as other foundries within Wharton or High Bridge.

These foundries were supplied with iron ore and coal from mines in Morris County and the Taylor Wharton Iron and Steel Company is the oldest, as per the history of the United States. Passengers also used this railroad until 1935 after which Conrail who were the new owners of the railroad declared it redundant in 1976.

Columbia Gas Company bought the trail’s right-of-way in mid 1990s after the rails were dismantled in 1980 and laid an underground gas pipeline along the length of this right-of-way. Ownership of the right of way therefore remains under the gas company while maintenance and operation of the trail is under the Hunterdon County Division of Parks and Recreation and Morris County Park Commission on a lease agreement.

By 2004 bridges and the trail were re-established and the trail is now for recreation purposes for the community living around here. Columbia Trail passes through Ken Lockwood Gorge, a wonder to behold. Here you can observe dramatic rock formations and rapid water on the steep slopes. This is the same place where a train wreck occurred in April 18th 1885.

This took place on the Ken Lockwood Gorge trestle when a train named Columbia Engine used to transport iron ore, derailed and crashed into the river beneath. There is a hardwood forest surrounding this place whose wildflowers brighten the area in spring. In autumn, it is a colorful setting that appeals to everyone who beholds it.

Wildlife thrives at this gorge too and some of the animals you are likely to find here include raccoons, foxes, the white-tailed deer, chipmunks, coyotes and squirrels as well. You might also be lucky enough to trace black bears but they are quite rare compared to other animals which are seen frequently. The railroad station that is now restored and the 170 structures in the little borough have been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

The mills in this area are famous for having furnished the agricultural industry in central New Jersey that was thriving at the time with peach baskets which were basically slat baskets made of wood. There are various activities to engage in for visitors, these include; cross country skiing, fishing, horseback riding, walking, biking and riding.

It makes a perfect outdoor experience for dog walkers too who love to bring their pets along. The South Branch of the Raritan River gives the trail wonderful scenery which follows the meandering river along the way. You can also access Schooley’s Montain Park and County Route 513 while on Columbia Trail from the northern region of Long Valley. As you proceed to the border of Washington and Mt. Olive Townships, you will find a rail line that serves Wharton, which is still active and is operated by Morristown and Erie Railway.

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