In the near future, you may be able to ride your bike on designated paths and lanes from Somers Point to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal in Lower Township.
There, you might decide to hop on the ferry — bicycle in tow — and take advantage of miles of trails in Delaware. Or, you might stop short of the terminal and visit any one of Cape May County’s 16 municipalities.
Cape May County officials are working to develop a regional bike path system that would make travel of that scale possible. The county has invested millions of dollars to fund construction of the trails over the past three years.
It’s an initiative officials hope attracts visitors and spurs economic development by taking them to corners of the county they might not otherwise visit. The paths also are an attempt to make cycling safer by keeping riders off the side of the highways.
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The county recently received the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets Excellence Award for the effort to build a regional bike path system.
“We’re really enthused about this program,” said Freeholder Will Morey, who is also a cyclist. “We think it can make a great deal of difference for the county.”
Since 2014, the county, through its Open Space Program, has funded 10 bike path projects at a cost of $4.4 million. Other projects, including a $5.5 million beach path in the Wildwoods, have also been proposed and are under consideration.
“The Open Space Board made the regional bike path system a program priority,” said Leslie Gimeno, the county’s planning director. “The idea was initially to connect the paths we already have constructed in the county.”
The Open Space Program has been around since 1989 and was originally intended to preserve farmland. In 2013, it was expanded to fund municipal projects related to historic preservation and parks and recreation.
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The program is funded through a 1-cent tax per $100 of assessed property value and received $4.76 million in taxpayer money last year.
Morey, who is the program’s freeholder liaison, said the bike path system would have taken an additional 20 years to develop if the program had not been expanded.
Still, it’s not complete yet. Right now, cyclists can ride on paths from the Cape May County Park & Zoo in Cape May Court House south to the ferry terminal. Paths and lanes also exist in Woodbine, Dennis Township and many of the area’s barrier islands.
The next step is a project, which is already funded and in the engineering and design phase, that will stretch from the park and zoo north to connect with the Woodbine path, Gimeno said.
Other projects in the area that have already received funding and are in development include a path on the new Garden State Parkway bridge, which would connect Atlantic and Cape May counties, and an Upper Township path from the base of the parkway bridge in Tuckahoe to Roosevelt Boulevard in Marmora.
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“It’s a work in progress,” Gimeno said.
Scott Chambers, who owns Zippy’s Bikes in Wildwood, said he thinks the county is smart to expand the bike paths. He said the trails are safer for cyclists and offer tourists something besides the boardwalk or the beach.
“It’s secure,” he said. “It’s a beautiful ride. It’s nice for the family.”
Chambers said if the word gets out, cyclists from around the country will travel to the county to ride the bike path system.
Morey hopes some of those cyclists will stop at food stores, shops and other small businesses along the way. He said he thinks the paths can make a “modest but meaningful” economic impact on local businesses.
To draw people to the paths, officials are doing more than just laying down asphalt.
The county is planning to install signage on the paths so cyclists will know where to go to reach a particular destination, Gimeno said. She said the county is also discussing the possibility of a system to classify the trails based on difficulty.
In addition, Gimeno said, officials plan to install rest stops along the paths, and some municipalities have already put in “fix-it” stations to allow cyclists to make minor repairs on the go.
“We’re really proud of all the work that’s been done,” she said.
Now, county leaders are hoping it pays off.