The Black River Wildlife Management Area Trail

West Morris Greenway trailhead at Pleasant Hill Road in Chester, New Jersey

The trailhead on Pleasant Hill Road in Chester.

Deep Woods and Quiet

The first time I rode this trail it was breathtaking. The forest is deep, the river plain vast and the quiet so intense you can hear a pin drop in the middle of the day. When there are other people on the trail—and there’ve been a lot in recent months—you hardly see anyone once you get more than a half-mile in.

Also known as the West Morris Greenway, the BRWMA trail makes up the main section of the Patriot’s Path trail and is also followed by the Liberty Water Gap trail. As with all the rail trails I ride, I call it by its former railroad name, the Eerie Lackawanna and I discovered it through the TrailLink app. It seemed a good length at 4 miles and it turned out to be even longer with the opening of a 1-mile section through the Morris County Water Management Area property. That segment takes you to the trail’s eastern end at Horseshoe Lake in Succasunna. But there was a worry that kept me from riding it for a time: bears. The first-hand accounts by other TrailLink users mentioned bear sightings so I stayed away. It is a wildlife reserve, after all. As it turns out, lots of people use this trail (although you’re typically alone on it) so I don’t think there are many bears on it, except maybe very early in the morning as one hunter reported on TrailLink. Another bear sighting was up by Horseshoe Lake and I’m not always up that way. The truth is, I’ve become very familiar with this jaunt through the forest having made the ride many times now so any fears I’ve had have subsided. I do remember to keep an eye out, though, just in case.

The current Chester Branch railroad ends at Horseshoe Lake in Succasunna. This is the east end of the West Morris Greenway (Eerie Lackawanna Trail as I call it). It continues west along the former right of way (right) to Pleasant Hill Road in Chester 4 miles away. The trail entrance is just ahead in the photo.

The Old Delware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad

This trail follows the former right of way of what was simply called “The Lackawanna” by locals. It was actually the Chester Branch of the D,L,&W railroad and its main competitor was the Eerie Railroad, probably part of the even bigger Pennsylvania Railroad. With declining rail service through the mid-20th century the two rivals eventually merged in 1960 but the merger was short lived. The railroad ceased operations in 1966. There’s still a Chester Branch or ‘secondary’ which now ends in Succasunna at Horseshoe Lake. You can take the trail all the way there, about a 5-mile ride, and see the end of the line (photo above). It used to run all the way into Chester and beyond, although the railroad never actually went through the center of town. According to the information kiosk at the trail head the depot was on the outskirts about a mile north on the banks of the Black river in what was called the ‘Muskrat Area.’ The original site is on Hillside Road across from Bernie’s Hillside Lounge, although any evidence of a train station are long gone.

A Winter Interlude on the West Morris Greenway

With state and county parks closed during April 2020 the Eerie Lackawanna trail was one of 3 rail trails on my regular list that remained open. Since it’s in a wildlife management area it was exempt from the governor’s executive order.

September on The Trail – 2019

I highly recommend this trail as it is one of New Jersey’s best rail trails with its perfect ‘out and back’ length and stunning natural beauty. I haven’t seen any bears (and I hope I don’t, although the black bears in this area are probably not a serious threat to people) and remember to wear bright colors in the Fall and Winter as there’s hunting in the area. But in all, this is a ride I’m sure you’ll want to make regularly like I do.

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