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The Union Transportation Trail follows the path of the former Pemberton & Hightstown Railroad, which began operating in 1868. The original purpose of the railroad was to allow local farms and dairies to more easily ship goods by providing access to larger railroad hubs. The times haven’t changed much in this part of the Garden State—today, the Union Transportation Trail still traverses farmland and countryside along its route.
In 1888 the Union Transportation Company—after which the trail is named—leased the line and used it for several decades. Passenger service ceased in 1931, but freight rail service continued until 1977, after which Jersey Central Power & Light acquired the line. The current trail operates as an easement granted by the utility company, and the power line runs along the length of the trail. Users heading out on a hot summer day should take precautions; a hat and extra water are in order because the trees are trimmed back due to the power line, and there is no shade along the trail. The trail is part of a developing network in the Greater Philadelphia region called the Circuit Trails, which will encompass 800 miles of trail when complete.
Starting from the southern terminus at the Millstream Road trailhead, you will cross Millstream Road itself before continuing through wooded areas, and it isn’t long before the first farmland scene appears. About 0.8 mile into the trail, you will see a small horse farm on your right—and perhaps even a horse or two grazing beyond the fence that abuts the path. Nearly another 0.4 mile farther, the trail crosses Forked River Road. Trail users can activate flashing beacons to warn oncoming drivers, but take care when crossing this higher-speed road. The path continues, flanked by trees on either side that obscure the farm fields that lie beyond them. Another 0.9 mile farther, after you cross Jonathan Holmes Road, a trailhead lies to your right. Not long after, a spur trail on the left leads to the parking lot of the Upper Freehold municipal building.
Heading north, the trail passes more fields and a tree farm and crosses Burlington Path Road before passing by a small suburban development on the right, beginning about 3.5 miles from the start of the trail. The trail crosses Davis Station Road before turning sharply to the left to parallel it. The path turns right again and, in this section, parallels busy Forked River Road. Vast farmland flanks your right, while a small shopping center and green fields appear on your left. In this section, the trail goes up and down several gentle hills, which may result in some huffing and puffing for inexperienced or infrequent trail users.
At 4.7 miles from the start, the route turns back to the right and enters a short, wooded area—the only portion of the trail offering significant shade. Even in this small space, wildlife thrives. Frogs sing to each other from a muddy pond beside the trees. Immediately after this quiet respite, you pass over a bridge, and the sky opens up again as you go up a short but steep hill and head back to the familiar, flat railroad grade of the trail.
From here on, you’ll encounter eight more bridges as the trail crosses many small streams. About 5 miles into the trail, the trees on either side make the space feel wooded, but farmland is never far away—farm vehicles and equipment can be seen peeking through the trees. Another 0.9 mile ahead, the path crosses a creek via a small bridge before going through an underpass, with I-195 overhead. The underpass itself contains clues to the wildlife and people that frequent the trail. Horse hooves from equestrian users mingle with deer tracks and smaller paw prints—perhaps left by a bobcat or a fox—imprinted in the trail’s crushed-stone surface.
At about 6.75 miles from the start, you’ll pass more fields that, in summertime, are planted with tall corn stalks on either side, spreading far and wide. Farther down the trail, you may even see farmers hard at work; take care as large tractors cross from one side of the trail to the other. After another 0.75 mile, the trail passes over another bridge to cross a stream, but the countryside views continue for 2 miles—this time with short, verdant green crops on either side.
You will see the Sharon Station Road trailhead on your left, 8 miles from the start. The path crosses Herbert Road and soon enters the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area. You’ll know when you reach it, as the swampy Horse Brook flanks either side of the trail bridge. As you overlook the wetlands here, the sounds of cars and farm equipment fall away, with frogs taking their place, talking to each other as waterfowl fly overhead. Not long after, you will cross over Assunpink Creek, thick with vegetation on either side, and soon reach the end of the trail at Old York Road.
There is no parking available at the northern terminus. The closest parking is located 0.9 mile south at the intersection of Sharon Station and Herbert Roads. To reach the Sharon Station Road trailhead from the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95, take Exit 8 and merge onto NJ 133. In 0.1 mile take the Milford Road exit, and merge onto Milford Road, heading south. Continue 1 mile, and turn right onto Etra Road. In 0.2 mile make the next left onto Cedarville Road, and continue 1.4 miles. Turn right onto Windsor Perrineville Road, and continue 1 mile. Turn left onto Old York Road, and go 2 miles. Turn left onto Herbert Road, and go 0.7 mile. The trailhead is located on the right at the intersection of Herbert and Sharon Station Roads.
To reach the Jonathan Holmes Road trailhead from I-195, take Exit 11 and head south on Imlaystown Hightstown Road. In 0.8 mile, turn right onto County Road 526, and continue 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Sharon Station Road, which becomes Forked River Road. Continue 3.8 miles. Turn left onto Jonathan Holmes Road, and the trailhead will be located on the left, just after the trail crossing in 0.2 mile. Alternatively, while on Forked River Road, just before reaching Jonathan Holmes Road, users may also turn into the Upper Freehold municipal building lot and park there; a spur trail leads from the parking lot to the main trail.
At the southern terminus, to reach the Millstream Road trailhead from I-195 W, take Exit 16 and turn left (from I-195 E, take Exit 16A) onto CR 537 W/Monmouth Road. Continue 6.9 miles. Turn right onto Millstream Road, and go about 400 feet. The trailhead is located on the left.
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