Florence Township officials recently announced that it is the recipient of grant money to fund a project planned to transform abandoned property into a pathway for residents to enjoy.
The announcement came from township officials on May 30 when the municipality said it received $562,000 in federal funding from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) for the conversion of the former Griffin Pipe Railroad into a community greenway and pathway.
Officials said that overgrown grass and weeds along the railroad will become a pathway and green space for patrons to traverse on through the area by foot or bike.
The trail is planned to link the westernmost properties of the township to the area of Spruce Street where Conrail Corporation still owns the railroad tracks. Township officials said their hope is to connect a trail that will run from Railroad Avenue to the Spruce Street terminus.
Officials also said that the new trail system is aimed to serve employees, school students and people who wish to exercise by running, walking and biking along the path. If completed, the pathway would allow residents to travel along 5th Street toward the township’s main business section on Broad Street as well.
The grant, combined with contributions of $375,000 from the developer of the former Griffin site, IPT Acquisitions, will help fund the project to transform the section of the rail line that runs down East 5th Street from Spruce Street to West Front Street to take a dilapidated old railroad system and turn it into a newly landscaped pathway.
IPT received approval from the township planning board December 2018 to construct a 528,000-square-foot warehouse on a portion of the property along West Front Street and agreed to donate 22 acres of township property for open space and municipal purposes.
Township Mayor Craig Wilkie said that the railroad track was used to supply scrap metal that went to the Griffin Pipe factory and that the tracks had existed since the 1800s. After multiple exchanges of ownership for the property throughout the years, Wilkie said that the tracks became unnecessary for a recent purchaser of the land.
The Florence Township mayor reported that during the construction of the roundabout on Cedar Lane two years ago, the township reached out to New Jersey Transit to take out part of the railroad tracks, which they agreed to.
After further discussion about the use of the remaining property, the municipality made plans to contribute it to an ongoing “Rails to Trails” project in the area.
“The ‘Rails to Trails’ project had been talked about for years,” Wilkie said. “It’s a nice way to get people back and forth throughout the communities.”
Although there had been discussion to put in sidewalks on properties during public works projects going on in the township, Wilkie said that the established land would have forced the municipality remove topography, which the township was not in favor of.
“We would like to put in sidewalks in when we are doing the roads because it’s safer transportation for people, but the neighborhood around here is well-established and they don’t have sidewalks. They have trees, so you would be taking down the trees to put the sidewalks,” he said. “So, last year when we were doing work on a section of 5th Street, I said, ‘Let’s not put sidewalk in there. We know we are going to put a pathway in – let’s do that.’”
Given the recent funding for the project, municipal official said the pathway is planned to be completed by 2020 and aimed to benefit the overall wellbeing of the community.
“The best part about it is that [the site] is going to look a lot nicer and it’s going to be accessible to the community,” Wilkie said. “It’s going to give people the ability to be outside.”