Ocean County Freeholders and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority are asking you to join them at an upcoming meeting to help identify potential walking and biking linkages for the next phase of the Barnegat Branch Trail project.

The meeting seeking public input is scheduled for September 26 from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Berkeley Township branch of the Ocean County Library, on 30 Station Road.

The Barnegat Branch trail follows the existing right of way of the former Barnegat Branch Division of the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

In October of 2002, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders purchased 8.8 miles of the old railroad property in three towns - Berkeley, Ocean, and Barnegat townships to get the project started.

This purchase was supplemented in 2004 when Lacey Township granted to Ocean County an easement over its 4.8-mile trail segment.

"We are looking for public input on bicycle and pedestrian connections to and from the Northern section of the Barnegat Branch Trail between Berkeley Township and Toms River, with local and regional destinations," Ocean County Freeholder Virginia "Ginny" Haines, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Planning Department, said. "Community members, especially those who rely on walking or bicycling, offer unique and specific perspectives on the transportation networks that they use every day."

This two-year study, conducted by Michael Baker International, is putting together a plan to provide safe and healthy travel alternatives and encourage people to walk and bike along the trail while giving it some economic growth in an environmentally friendly way.

"Public feedback on potential trail connections has been important in guiding this study and producing recommendations that are most likely to improve safety and accessibility," Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry Little said. "Connections should accommodate safe, healthy, and efficient means of travel to schools, parks, libraries, historical sites, and other destinations near the trail."

The completed trail will span nearly 16-miles from Barnegat to Toms River coupled with the existing bike path in Beachwood and the planned trail along the historic railroad property parallel to Route 166 in South Toms River.

"The design of the Barnegat Branch Trail is sensitive to the changing landscape of central Ocean County," Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director John Bartlett Jr., who serves as liaison to the trail and the County's Department of Parks and Recreation previously stated. "Trail visitors experience wooded areas in Barnegat and Waretown's southern reach before transitioning into an active-use corridor that parallels Route 9 north of Waretown."

Ocean County has completed six phases of the trail, which includes seven miles from Burr Street in Barnegat to Lacey Road in Lacey.

In addition, about 2.8 miles from Dudley Park at the Cedar Creek in Lacey to Hickory Lane in Berkeley have been finished.

"It was always the County's intent to complete the trail in segments as we received clearance and funding to move ahead," Bartlett previously stated. "The County has already received four grants for the trail totaling $1,253,000.00. Residential and commercial neighbors border much of the trail through Lacey Township before it returns to forest and then borders an old sand mine in a portion of Berkeley Township."

The Barnegat Branch Trail will provide a walking and bicycling backbone through Ocean County and opportunities to provide connectivity between the County's communities.

"As the Barnegat Branch Trail continues to grow in popularity with visitors and residents, this study will help make sure that they have input in trail connections," Little said. "We encourage those who have suggestions to attend the public meeting and help us in the study to use the trail to its full potential."

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