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New nature trail in the works in Ocean City

New nature trail in the works in Ocean City

Bill Barlow, The Press of Atlantic City

It’s been years since a car made it all the way to Crook Horn Creek from 51st Street along a badly rutted dirt and gravel road.

The city shut the road to vehicle traffic several years ago after a summer of stuck vehicles.

It’s been longer still since a passenger rail line ran along the tracks alongside that road. The trains stopped running in 1981.

But a proposal for the area could bring more bicycles and walkers, with a potential for a new nature trail within about a year.

Long-term flood control is also a project goal.

Nick Brown with the firm ACT Engineers Inc. discussed plans at a public information meeting at the American Legion hall on 46th Street on Saturday morning.

As it stands, it would be tough to ride a bike the length of the dirt road, or even walk the whole way with dry feet, he said.

By early next year, plans are to design a nature trail for the dirt road, which runs about seven-tenths of a mile out to the marsh to the Intracoastal Waterway.

The project could go out to bid by the summer, with work starting by the end of 2024.

The plans call for a paved nature trail, to be a neutral color, and the installation of a split-rail fence, along with new trash cans and other improvements. The project is set to be funded by a $580,000 grant through the New Jersey Department of Transportation, to create an accessible and bike-friendly nature trail.

Brown said the work would take place within the current right-of-way and would not impact wetlands or the trees that now grow where the railroad track once ran.

The length of the route is densely grown with cedar, bayberry, poison ivy and other plants, and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife.

State and federal permits would be required, Brown said, but they would be approvals to maintain an existing structure, not to create a new trail.

Plans also call for the reinforcement of the berm along which the railroad ran. That raised section helps protect the Ocean City Homes neighborhood near the nature path, blocking waves that can roll in from the north during storms when the marsh — and likely the neighborhood — are flooded.

Plans are also to improve the ways water drains out of the area.

In the longer term, Brown said, the city hopes to use that berm as part of a wider flood-control initiative, which could keep flood waters out, not just reduce the impact of waves.

“This is ‘step one’ of a larger conceptual plan for the city to help protect the entire back bay area from flooding and from storms,” he said.

As proposed, work on that first step could begin next fall and continue into the winter.

The path will improve water access and encourage bike riding, walking and running, Brown said.

The path has long been used by birders, anglers and families to reach the back bay. A handmade bridge leads over the water at the end of 52nd Street, and there is a locked gate at 51st Street preventing vehicle access but allowing for walkers to pass.

For decades, the railroad carried passengers from Philadelphia the length of Ocean City along Haven Avenue and to other shore communities. After the railroad ended operations, people would often walk or drive the dirt road for sunsets, kayak access or to fish.

The city decided to close the route to vehicles after several instances in which drivers became stuck. There remain deep ruts in the route, which are filled with water for much of the year.

A public comment period on the proposal will be open through Dec. 23. Those who want to comment may email

Nick Brown with the firm ACT Engineers Inc. discusses plans for a new nature trail in the south end of Ocean City at a public information meeting Saturday.