Cherry Hill resident Larry Rutan made it his mission in 2020 to walk every trail in the township, one of which he found lacking.
“I walked all of them and I noticed that this one (Bowling Green), which is pretty close to where I live,” he recalled. “This one was the worst. It was just one little loop around this little field here.”
The original field – known as the Red Trail – was a short loop, created so the township wouldn’t have to mow an entire lawn. Inspired to do better, Rutan began expanding a deer trail and clearing it out on his own time. With his grandsons, he made a new path for the trail, noted as Blue Trail on the current map.
The work was extensive and Rutan had looked at other trails in the area for inspiration. One day, neighbor Ronan Kelly was walking by and noticed him working on the trail.
“I thought he must work for the sewer companies,” Kelly remembered. “We had never met before.”
When Rutan explained he was creating the Blue Trail, Kelly hopped on board and helped create the Yellow and Green trails. Together, they made a bridge for the stream that flows through those trails and added sign posts. The work took about five or six months, and it wasn’t long after that it caught the attention of the Cherry Hill Environmental Board (CHEB).
“(I found out about it) because one of my members does an inspection of all our trails each year,” said CHEB chair Lew Gorman. “We had plans to do that, what they did.”
Together with the board, Rutan and Kelly went around the trails and made a few changes, and now they have been legitimized by the township. Gorman noted the case was an exception because the duo had done their research, and encouraged residents interested in making a trail to contact him and the board about potential trails.
“Some people go out in the month of July, look at an area, and say, ‘Oh, what a good place for a trail,’ but what they don’t know is it could be a floodplain, and from November to May it’s a muddy mess,” Gorman explained.
“You wouldn’t want to put a trail there.”
He noted that a trail area could also flood due to poor stormwater infrastructure that wouldn’t be visible until after recent storms.
Kelly – who has become the official trail ambassador for Bowling Green – noted that since he and Rutan created the trails in 2020, they have also done a lot of restorative work. What began as a community project has continued to be something many community members have contributed to.
Kelly and Rutan, the environmental club at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School (Kelly’s employer) and other volunteers have worked to restore the native landscape by removing and uprooting invasive species like Irish garlic. They have also taken down invasive Wisteria trees and replanted with about 18 species of native flowers. There are at least 250 plugs of native flowers that were planted in the past few years.
“We’ve got lobelia, boneset, bee balm, fleabane … We’ve got all sorts of native ferns and all sorts of things,” said Kelly. “It kind of starts going in March.”
The volunteers also picked up approximately 25 bags of trash from the area. Kelly pointed out that having trails in place has kept the area cleaner overall, since the trails are used more frequently.
Along the Bowling Green Trail, a bridge has been put in and some neighbors donated furniture – like a couch where people can sit and admire the scenery – and trash bins. Today, the trail consists of four routes, the longest being the green section at 0.44 miles.
The trail was commemorated on Aug. 6 with a new kiosk built by 15-year-old Cherry Hill East student Leah Hutchinson as part of her Girl Scout gold award project. Her work – Mindful Motion – was also inspired by the trails she walked during the pandemic and includes leading workshops for mindfulness strategies and building a website with information and resources about green space benefits.
“The more that people use this, the safer it is,” Kelly observed. “The more it’s used, the more comfortable people get with it. This is a community project. Because it’s a community project, when people come back here and enjoy it, they don’t trash it, because they take ownership of it; it’s theirs.
“This isn’t something somebody did for them, this is something they did for themselves.”
Kelly hopes to further expand the trail and possibly connect it to others in Cherry Hill.
To learn more about township trails, or volunteer for a trail crew, visit https://www.chnj.gov/399/Cherry-Hill-Trails.