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The village of Smithville, upon which the Historic Smithville Park (open 8 a.m.–30 minutes after sunset) sits, has a long and colorful past—and some important connections to the history of bicycles in America. Originally settled by the Lenni-Lenape tribe, the land was taken over by a Colonial settler in 1676. A dam, sawmill, and gristmill were built during the Colonial period, making it ideal for the Shreve brothers to establish a textile factory and workers’ village when they bought the land in 1831. The factory eventually went bankrupt; in 1865, Hezekiah Bradley Smith bought the property and turned it into a modern industrial village to produce his woodworking machinery technology.
The manufacturing company produced the American Star Bicycle as the industry was taking off in the 1880s. The Star bicycle featured a small front wheel and large back wheel—which overcame the problem of tipping forward that was common among high-wheel bicycles at the time. An iron sculpture of the Star can be seen on River Street, close to the start of the Ravine Nature Trail in the park.
Starting at the municipal lot on the corner of Smithville Road and East Railroad Avenue, head east on the red trail (the trails are marked with color-coded signage) as it enters the woods and leaves the sound of cars behind. The wooded trail passes through a brief section of open fields where a transmission line intersects above; interpretive signage emphasizes the importance of the vegetation in this area as pollinator habitats. About 0.3 mile from the start, you come to a parking lot and a trail intersection. If you turn right, the orange trail will take you across East Railroad Avenue and connect to the yellow trail. If you turn left, the orange trail will take you down to the Smith’s Woods Area, which includes picnic pavilions and a butterfly garden, planted with species known to attract pollinators. Continue straight along the red trail as the path winds around the opposite side of these amenities, intersecting with a playground before reentering its forested surroundings.
The forested path offers the perfect setting for a diversity of trail users—on this section, you may encounter everything from families with children on a hike to friends walking their dogs together. About 0.45 mile from the start, the red trail veers left.
Continuing along the red trail, you will encounter a staircase with a smooth ramp for wheeled items like bicycles. Almost 0.7 mile from the start, there is another split in the trail; bear left to continue along the red trail, emerging from the forest to travel parallel to the Rancocas Creek as it winds toward Smithville Lake. The trail crosses busy Smithville Road and continues to wind its way through the park, crossing two bridges before ending at the boat launch on River Street.
In this area by the boat launch, you’ll begin to see interpretive signage that tells the story of historic Smithville and different aspects of life in the industrial village, such as the first bicycle railway. Modified bicycles served as individual pods for users and sat along a fencelike track as users pedaled their way to their destinations. At a time when most roads were unpaved and easily became muddy, the bicycle railway offered a way to get from nearby communities to the industrial center of Smithville in less than 10 minutes.
Next to the boat launch is the beginning of the blue-blazed Ravine Nature Trail. Users should note that this walking-only path is off-limits to bicycles. The change in surface to bumpy wood chips also discourages wheeled use. Shortly into the trail, a set of stairs helps users climb the steep hillside as the route winds through the trees, emerging along Meade Lane. Cross the road and turn left to continue down the trail in an open, grassy field. Entering the woods again, you will encounter densely packed trees and hilly terrain along the ravine, while bridges help you cross the water channels below. There is a small loop at the end of the trail; regardless of which way you come, you will very soon return to where you started and need to double back to the beginning.
On the way back, if you wish to turn left at Meade Lane, you will reach several parking lots, a farm complex, and a mansion complex. Smithville Mansion—where Hezekiah Smith and his family resided—is open for tours during the summer season on particular days of the week.
To reach the green trail, first take the red trail back over the bridge. As you saw earlier, a large gravel lot and several brick buildings appear to your right. Interpretive signage notes them as industrial buildings where the machinery was made and provides information about what it was like to work for the company. Turn down the lane and over the bridge, now on a spur section of the green trail, which leads to the lake and several fishing spots on the water.
After taking the time to admire the view on a nearby bench, double back to the red trail, go over the second bridge, and turn right at the next gravel lot to head down the main green trail. While the green trail can accommodate bicycles, the multiple, steep staircases at the end near West Railroad Avenue could make it difficult to traverse on wheels.
This stretch offers views of Smithville Lake on your right. Rabbits hop across the trail, and bullfrogs call to each other from the muddy banks. A floating section over the water provides a panoramic view of the lake. On warm, sunny days, you might even spot blue herons and other waterfowl dancing across the lake in search of a meal.
Mind the stairs as you exit the floating section, as the trail splits again. Turn left and you’ll head up a set of stairs, then down a steep sloping hill and up again to meet the yellow trail. Turn right and you’ll also encounter a set of stairs, as the trail splits once more. To the left, the green trail leads toward the yellow trail. To the right, it continues to wrap around the lake, and not long after, you will see a staircase that leads down to another pavilion overlooking the lake. With the staircase on your right, turning left is the quickest exit to the West Railroad Avenue trailhead. Continue straight and the trail creates a short loop through the woods, surrounding a small gazebo in the middle. Exiting the loop, you’ll want to turn right to reach the end of the green trail and the beginning of the yellow trail on your left.
The yellow trail, the only pathway in the park that permits equestrian use, parallels Railroad Avenue. Take care when crossing over Smithville Road before continuing straight. In this section, trees separate the path from the nearby road and, dampening the noise, offer a quiet respite. There are plans to continue the path, but for now the yellow trail ends just 0.8 mile from its start, with a cut-through providing access back down to the road.
To reach the W. Railroad Ave. trailhead from I-295 N, take Exit 43 (from I-295 S, take Exit 43A). Head southeast on Creek Road, following signs for Rancocas Woods. Continue 1.3 miles, and turn left onto Marne Hwy. Continue another 1.6 miles, and turn right onto Lumberton Road. After 0.4 mile, turn left onto NJ 38 E. Head straight 3.9 miles before turning left onto Smithville Road. In 0.4 mile turn left onto W. Railroad Ave. In 0.2 mile, the parking lot will be visible on the right.
To reach the municipal lot on Smithville Road, follow the directions above to Smithville Road. Turn left onto Smithville, and go 0.45 mile; the parking lot will be on your right.
To reach the parking lots on Meade Lane near the mansion and farm complexes, follow the directions above to Smithville Road. Turn left onto Smithville, and go 0.8 mile. Turn left onto Meade Lane, and parking lots A and B will be visible.
To reach the Smith’s Woods trailhead, follow the directions above to Smithville Road. Turn left onto Smithville, go 0.4 mile, and turn right onto E. Railroad Ave. Continue straight 0.4 mile. The entrance will be on your left.
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