Arriving at the D&R Canal’s Turning Basin parking lot by 6:45 a.m., I was on time to shuttle walkers at 7:00 to the Princeton Junction train station for our 7:27 train ride to Trenton. I ended up solo. Everything went according to plan except finding a legit public parking spot at the Junction. The station area was a patchwork of lots. The first challenge of the day was to find where to park in the midst of intimidating tow signs. I eventually managed to find the NJ Transit daily lot and contributed my $5 for daily parking. FYI - others parked unauthorized in various lots and I think avoided tickets and towing – probably because this was a Sunday ride. They guessed wisely.
Looking around before the train came (maybe a few minutes early?), there seemed to be a dozen or so people that looked to be heading for the walk. A few I knew from previous FreeWalker events. We followed the same strategy which took us to Trenton in about 15 minutes.
Trenton’s Transit Center must have been built recently and looked like a nice new facility. In fact, this whole area of the city looked pretty good. Expecting only about 15-20 walkers, I was surprised that double that number (about 35) had turned out, despite the cold Sunday morning. At least 1/3 of the group had walked with us before at other FreeWalker events.
We got off at about 8:15 a.m. crossing to Clinton then left down State Street all the way to the bridge and a right a Calhoun St. The area on State St., near the Delaware, was impressive with old state government building across from historic row houses. We picked up D&R Canal/East Coast Greenway signs from there to begin our trip on the trail.
The trail follows several blocks where water either goes under the street or is visible in a cement channel, with some park-like trim along the side. At one point we passed near the notable War Memorial monument. The ECGA had provided a new alternative route but we missed some mark or direction along the way and ended up following the old established route following Rt 206 for a half-mile into the Polish section. Then, eventually back to where the canal surfaces and the towpath begins at the outskirts of an old industrial area of Trenton.
The towpath and canal are in an open expanse, more or less paralleling the Route 1 highway at this point for a few miles. This is one of those urban/suburban boundaries where a natural esthetic mixes with pure industrial highway starkness. Eventually, we got to a more pastoral canal and towpath where you can begin to imagine how the canal was once used to tow iron and steel toward New York by mule. It’s still very hard to imagine in this day of machines, trucks and trains. No doubt the canal kept a lot of people employed in the process and helped generate wealth in the area.
The towpath can become monotonous over a few miles and we began to eagerly look for the next big milestone, which was the big footbridge over Route 1. This was probably the biggest new pedestrian bridge I have seen. David Asher had told me earlier that the project took a while and most of the time was spent on building the two supports on both sides of the wide highway. Then, somehow a huge pre-fab bridge was dropped by the side of the road and somehow picked up and put over the highway. That had my imagination going for all the engineering and precision that it must have taken to do this.
Once crossing over the footbridge, we were on our last few miles to Princeton. It seemed that trail got busier with runners and cyclists the closer we got to Princeton. Mike Kumier, NJ ECGA Coordinator met up with us a couple miles from the end of the walk near Princeton with his wife and grand daughters. Mike has a way of lightening the mood that gave us a boost of energy.
I ended up sweeping the back of the group and we got to our final destination at Alexander Road at about 12:30 p.m. There were a few walkers still hanging out and it appeared that most had finished right on time at about 12:00 noon. About the only negative for this walk was the lack of porta-johns until Princeton. Perhaps it's just off season now.
The day started probably in the high 30’s and ended sunny in the mid-fifties around noon. Everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy the experience, but most of us were tired to various degrees. It’s not unusual this early time of year and with colder weather to be more exhausted for a walk like this than say a day in May. So, walkers take heart. You are not alone. With a large group participating already, I look forward to next week’s walk which should be more scenic but also longer and more challenging.