Trail advocate offers to lobby in Lacey

Published in the Asbury Park Press 8/02/01

National group eyes rail debate

LACEY -- An official for a national group that advocates converting abandoned rail lines to walking and bicycle trails has offered his group's help in the debate over the local rail right of way.

Tom Sexton, northeast regional director of the Washington, D.C.-based Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, toured the Central Railroad of New Jersey right of way Wednesday accompanied by leaders of the Lacey Rail Trail Committee.

Sexton, based in Harrisburg, Pa., is vacationing with his family at the Jersey Shore this week. He met with Donna A. Bahrle, chairwoman of the rail trail committee, and committee member Helen Henderson, who is also the wife of Democratic Township Committee candidate Jeffrey Henderson. Also accompanying Sexton was Al Stokley, representing the Central Jersey Rail Coalition and the Ocean County Historical Society.
"If they're willing to listen, we can help show the people of Lacey Township the economic benefits of such a trail to their community, and yes, how in fact such a trail can be an alternative to relieving their local traffic congestion in place of a new road," Sexton said.
"The adjacent landscape is beautiful," he said. "The right of way is accessible to and from local (strip) malls, shops, restaurants, lakes and parks."

Such "rail trails" are becoming commonplace, Sexton said.  "We can help show Lacey Township how this has been done," he said. "In towns like Lacey, across the country, it's proven to be a community asset."

Sexton's visit is more than just a courtesy. The ongoing debate over what the town ought to eventually do with its portion of the right of way is being closely monitored by the conservancy.

Hundreds of residents, including Assemblyman Christopher J. Connors, R-N.J., have signed a petition asking local officials to save the right of way for a planned 40-mile trail planned by the Ocean County Board of Freeholders and other municipalities.
But most on the Township Committee, as well as local business leaders, support the Planning Board's $2.1 million plan to build a road on the right of way.   While Sexton said he understands why there would be support for a new road, he said, "We can't build our way out of congestion."
But Sexton explained that because Lacey's right of way intersects with residential and commercial development, a rail trail would provide access on foot or bicycle to restaurants and stores now principally reached by motor vehicle.

Erik Larsen: (609) 978-4582, or at [email protected]

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