A new path will wind its way through Robbinsville township, once volunteers finish making it

By Jessica Oates

Members of the Sierra Club and other volunteers have dedicated their time during the past four years to building a hiking trail through eastern Mercer County, piecing together a longer trail that runs from North to South New Jersey. After a short hiatus during the hot summer weather, the group is ready to continue their work. It needs additional helping hands to complete its mission.

Volunteers work whenever they are available, usually on weekends, and were due to resume clearing a three-mile section of land in Robbinsville Sept. 21. The segment starts below the Assunpink Creek and extends almost to Mercer Lake, near where the Robbinsville and West Windsor borders meet. Sierra Club member Robert Sokol, a Robbinsville resident, said this segment of the trail will connect the whole state from north to south. The exact path of the trail is still to be determined, though.

“There is really no name for it now because it’s a combination of smaller trails made throughout the state. It’s a big effort,” he said. “The other volunteers and myself would appreciate all of the help we can get to expedite the construction of this particular stretch.”

The project has no funding, and is the result of volunteer time and effort. Sokol said volunteers take hand tools and cut out underbrush, usually nothing larger than small trees.

The volunteers are both expanding trails to standard dimensions and clearing out new trails. The trail terrain depends on the land, but they are usually just dirt, or if they are located in a grassy area, then they are grass.

“The trail is what you would call a crude trail, it won’t have gravel or anything like that, though we hope to develop some scenic overlooks where you can take in the vista of the marshlands,” Sokol said.

Sokol, who is retired, said that he became involved in the project as part of a Sierra Club initiative. There is a core group of volunteers who have been involved over the past few years, he said, but there are also people who come and go. He hopes that some new volunteers will reinvigorate the group.

Robbinsville resident Terry Stimpsel, a retired teacher and current Sierra Club member, said the part of the trail that will run through Robbinsville is one of the most challenging to work on.

“Down South where it is less dense, you might have to work with a single property owner at a time, but here, everything is segmented.”

She identified Dave Matek as the driving force behind the project.

“I knew Dave from the Sierra Club. He has been working on this dream for some time,” she said.

“At first we all just thought it was a pipe dream, but along with the volunteers, Dave took the initiative to make this a reality. He identifies gaps in the Central Jersey segment of the trail for us to work on. He explores all of the options to make sure that we build the trail along the best route possible.”

Stinsel said that some areas of the trail are more attractive than others, and looks forward to a future project of mapping out points of interest in a brochure for hikers. Right now though, the main focus is connecting pieces of the train in Central New Jersey.

“We are looking for enthusiastic volunteers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty,” said Stinsel.

When asked what drew him to such a big undertaking, Mattek said, “I’m an outdoors kind of guy, and I wanted to make some kind of contribution to other people who enjoy the outdoors. We are all working together to try to make something enjoyable for others. In 2008 we began to expand deer trails into something a person could walk through, but we are improving upon that now. Now, we are working to make the trail a standard four feet wide by seven feet tall, so that even when trees and brush fall during storms, people can still navigate the trail.”

Mattek encourages any and all people interested in helping to volunteer.

“Basically anybody can do it. It’s a lot of work, but people of all strengths and skills will be able to help out as long as they want to.”

Interested parties may contact Rob Sokol at (609) 918-1149 for more information on how to volunteer.