Mount Holly Rail Trail – Creek Island Park – Mt Holly, Burlimgton County, NJ
Distance: 0.75 miles (1 way) (officially listed as 0.5 miles), 1.5 round trip.
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: 1 of 10.
Total score: 7 of 10.
Terrain – Wetlands and creeks.
Trailheads – Madison Ave – 39° 59.461’N, 74° 47.592’W
Pine Street – 39° 59.207’N, 74° 47.050’W
Directions – Madison Ave Trailhead – 25 Madison Ave, Mt. Holly, NJ
Other trailhead is on Pine Street next to the historic St. Andrews Graveyard.
GPS NOTE: When I enter “Creek Island Park” into my GPS, it takes me to the parking lot at Monroe Park. This is the wrong side of Rancocas Creek, and it’s a good walk from either trailhead,
Other Note: This is part of a proposed 10 mile rail trail between Mount Holly and somewhere or another (conflicting reports). The railroad right-of-way across Pine Street seems to go through a Superfund site, so it might be a good, long while.
Dog friendly? Yes
Stroller friendly? Very
Standouts – Some nice swamps, remains of the railroad.
Markings – None, but impossible to lose the trail without trying really, really hard.
Description: This hike isn’t terribly long, 1/2 a mile officially (one way), although my GPS was closer to 3/4 of a mile (one way), but there is a lot of awesome railroad stuff to look at, which you’ll shortly see. This was also the first hike for my yet-to-have-a-ridiculous-nickname-attached son (later update: Tree Rider), age 8 days, so good job to him (admittedly, he had to be carried most of the way). Even better job to my wife, who reportedly had a baby a week ago and did this walk today.
The easier trailhead would seem to be the parking lot (a closed down Caribbean Restaurant) at Madison Ave, but we started with street parking at Madison (plenty of spaces). Look for the bright yellow posts, and simply walk down the right of way. The cemetery will be up on your right, and some houses will be up on your left. You’ll shortly leave the settled area and come into some pretty awesome swamp. Keep your eyes out for old poles (telegraph?) on the left side of the tracks, there are a lot of them! There are also old railroad ties everywhere, including thrown off the right-of-way into the marsh. This is the old right-of-way for the Burlington & Mt. Holly Railroad, which according to sjrail.com was built around 1836 and abandoned in 1927. This particular section was part of an extension to Pemberton chartered in 1857.
After a short stroll, you’ll approach the old railroad bridge. This takes you across the creek (a split of the North Branch of the Rancocas) onto Creek Island proper. The railroad bridge is really cool, so we checked that out for a while.
From there, you walk the short distance across the island, through the marshes, until you hit the second railroad bridge. This one was obviously built overtop of the old railroad bridge.
From there, it’s just a short distance to the Madison Ave Trailhead. Check out railroad bridge support off to the right (a spur line of some sort, or maybe this is the spur line. Not sure!) and the cool railroad car along the way. Don’t plan on eating at the restaurant, it’s been closed for years (2016 update – they were totally renovating the building when we were here, so there might be a new business here in the near future).
We had a nice walk back too.
Some information on this railroad that came my way after the post. From the amazing and informative historian Paul Schopp:
The Burlington and Mount Holly Railroad and Transportation Company received its legislative charter in 1836, but the company became moribund from the effects of the Panic of 1837, so little or no work was completed. In 1848, the state legislature passed supplemental acts to the original incorporation, allowing construction to begin. As built, the line extended from a wharf on the Delaware River in East Burlington, near the present-day Curtin Marina, southward to Mount Holly, terminating near Grant Street. Here the company had an engine house, a station, cattle pens, etc. In 1857, management determined it would extend the line to Pemberton and received a legislative charter for the Burlington County Railroad and it is a portion of this route that you hiked. In 1865, the Vincentown Branch of the Burlington County Railroad received its charter. Then the Camden & Amboy, as the parent company and source of funding for these lines, decided it would extend the Burlington County Railroad to Camden and chartered the Camden & Burlington County Railroad in 1866. The line to Medford from Mount Holly was built in 1868-69. Eventually the line leaving Mount Holly for Pemberton branched off at Birmingham and reached the Jersey coast at Barnegat Pier and extended out across the bay on a long trestle, which burned in 1944.
The electric car you link to in your posting (see the black and white train car picture near the beginning of the description) represents the very first experimentation in electrification in which the Pennsylvania Railroad engaged. The company constructed a powerhouse in Mount Holly and strung trolley wire between Mount Holly and Burlington and operated these cars. The electric service only operated for a year or two before the powerhouse burned down and management decided not to rebuild the generating station. It was from this little experiment that the electrified Northeast Corridor grew. This car, however, never operated on the portion of the line that you hiked.
Thanks for all of the great information Paul!
2016 update – Did a hike here with Hike It Baby – Burlington County the week of Halloween in 2016. Trail hasn’t changed much, no extensions have been opened. However the railroad car looks like it got some love, and the water was very pretty that day.
Overall recommendation: Very nice walk of near a mile and half, cool railroad stuff, what is not to love?
Nearby: Mount Holly has a whole day’s worth of awesome stuff. The historic St. Andrews Cemetery (founded 1742) is next door to the Pine St trailhead and has a lot of old gravestones, including crazy old Hezekiah Smith who ran nearby Smithville. The Battle of Ironworks Hill during the Revolutionary War took place a short distance from here as well (it helped Washington win at Trenton two days later). Mill Race Village is also nearby, which has some cute shops, including the Pinelands Folk Music Center at 31 White St, from whom I will gladly accept one of those sweet dulcimers in exchange for this pitch to my millions of followers. I also highly recommend the Mt. Holly Fire & Ice Festival which happens every January-ish and the Historic Mount Holly Prison at High and Grant Streets, who put on a sweet (and scary) haunted prison each October (as well as have tour year round). Oh, and the Mt Holly Pumpkin Festival, which we walked to after the 2016 Hike It Baby hike!
Mount Holly Fire & Ice Festival 2014: