A new way to discover New Jersey: Riding the rails (literally)
LOWER TWP. — Acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 2000, the Garrett Family Preserve at Cape Island Creek offers an uncommon look at migrant birds, plants and flowers and their pollinators, and numerous fish species in its saltwater tidal marshes.
Throughout, there are four miles of flat trails to explore by bike or on foot.
There is also now a third option to navigate the terrain, and it's a relatively new activity in the United States: "rail biking."
Perhaps best described as a cross between a go-kart and a recumbent bike, the user-operated railroad rides are now available through a partnership between Revolution Rail Co. and Cape May Seashore Lines.
RevRail founding partner Michael Dupee said not only is the hobby a constructive use of decommissioned freight lines and other abandoned track, but in his company's prior experience in the Adirondacks, it can also be "a powerful economic engine."
"You're still seeing everything in a very different way, a fun way, a novel way, and it's a great way to repurpose those tracks without having to spend millions of dollars, as I understand it, to take these tracks out," Dupee said.
The ride around the Garrett Family Preserve provides an opportunity for visitors to educate themselves about the natural history of the greater Cape May area, which Dupee said is the only southern-facing peninsula on the Eastern seaboard outside of Florida.
That means it's a critical destination for birds, which the Garrett family patriarch used to illustrate on their yearly journeys.
Many of these species can still be seen in abundance while out on the trails, or the rails.
"We saw a mated pair of swans, we saw nesting Canada geese, we saw a bald eagle, and we saw ospreys on their nest as well," Dupee said, "And by September, it'll be a whole different cast of characters."
Dupee said he has heard from visitors that they would welcome rides like this closer to their homes ("we've got railroads that don't do anything," he said they tell him), and that more could indeed eventually be coming to New Jersey.
For now, the Cape May tours are offered four times a day, just on weekends at the moment but expanding to seven days a week in mid-June, and potentially to six rides a day during the summer as well.