“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” reads the immortal quote from Henry David Thoreau in his 1854 work, “Walden.”
And while residents of Cherry Hill aren’t required to possess the will of a Transcendentalist, anyone out for a simple walk in a quiet space can bask in the glow of nature thanks to the work of the township’s Environmental Board – which is marking the 10th anniversary of its trails program.
“(Township council) passed a tax of one-half of one percent on property valuation for open space … so the Environmental Committee said at the time ‘what should we buy?’ because once we have this, we can get state funds. They went about evaluating all the open space, then I came along and joined, and it was the board’s main task. They met monthly and just talked about stuff. I looked at what we were doing and I said, ‘why aren’t we doing anything now that we have the open space?’” said Lew Gorman, chairman of the board, when The Sun caught up with him at Croft Farm on Oct. 15.
When Gorman later ran for and won the chairmanship, he set out to change the attitude of the group from one which talked to one which acted.
“I talked to the township administrator and said ‘why don’t we put trails around here, I’ve been here almost 20 years and I haven’t been on these lands. We do have this here, 22 acres and another 22 acres across the street. I thought why don’t we go explore and put paths in certain places?’” he related.
Gorman’s biggest influence was Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods,” a 2005 work which chronicled what the latter termed “nature-deficit disorder,” particularly in children. He noted that many residents were willing to walk on the streets, but few risked becoming lost on the trails, which weren’t well marked.
“I talked to township administrators to see what we can do, and (the board) said, ‘why don’t we make this a formal program and have council actually approve it?’ Starting in about 2008, we developed a trails plan for Cherry Hill, and in October 2009, council approved it,” Gorman explained.
Primarily a volunteer-driven undertaking, members of “trail crews” have put in 3,000 hours of work this year alone, with two months still to go.
The CHEB engages in other community-linking efforts, for instance helping local churches design a trail project for volunteers, Boy Scout troop projects, even corporations who want custom-made team-building exercises which tie in with community service. It also lends its services to things like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, National Public Lands Day and National Public Trails Day.
Where does the money come from?
“The Federal Government has funds through the Federal Highway Administration, which they give to the states to develop trails. It’s called the ‘Recreational Trails Grant,’ and it goes to the state, and here in (New Jersey), it’s run by the Department of Environmental Protection. It’s just one person who runs the program,” Gorman said.
The CHEB receives three grants when in need: two worth $25K and one for $24K, which covers three years’ worth of upkeep. The CHEB received a pleasant surprise for upgrading access points to Evans Pond, petitioning the county for $25K but ending up with twice that amount toward construction of an observation platform. Gorman estimated costs each year run in the $5,000 range for various projects.
Cherry Hill boasts 11 trails at present, but Gorman said there are plans for expansion: “We’re trying to open up, within the next year, two or three more. We’ve just been so totally accepted by the community, and you can see the wear on the trails which is an indicator of so many people using it.”
Two of the 11 township trails are even included as stops on the New Jersey Audubon trail: Croft Farm and Barclay Farmstead.
Trail ambassadors are needed, and Gorman said volunteers are always welcome, since constant vigilance is key to keeping all routes safe and usable as much as possible.
“We’re not out on the trails all the time because we’ve got on the board about half retired and half still working. We’d like to get one per trail, but if there’s two who want to do it, we try to put them in touch with one another,” he said.
Though tasked with promoting these slices of heaven locally, Gorman is no stranger to places where natural beauty has a strong foothold, having received degrees from places like UMass Amherst and the University of Alaska Anchorage. He’s also worked for a number of years for the Fish and Wildlife Service as a marine biologist.
“Nature has more to offer than we think.”
For more information on the trails themselves, visit https://www.cherryhill-nj.com/399/Cherry-Hill-Trails.