It would be fair to describe Lawrence Hopewell Trail co-founders Becky Taylor and Eleanor Horne as visionaries.
A little over 20 years ago now, the pair took an idea that critics said was impracticable — a network of walking and biking paths connecting a clear path through the communities of Hopewell Valley and Lawrence Township — and made the idea a reality, one stretch of pathway at a time.
Now a 22-mile loop of linked biking and pedestrian segments, the LHT has developed with the support of numerous public, private and nonprofit organizations. The paths wind through public parks, corporate campuses and municipal centers.
Thousands of people use the trail for recreation each year. The nonprofit Lawrence Hopewell Trail Corporation hosts several marquee events of its own, including the Full Mood Ride and Trail and Treat.
None of it would have been possible without the perseverance and leadership of Taylor and Horne. And now, as the project moves onto its next phase, the co-founders and co-presidents have moved on.
LHT announced at the end of 2022 that Horne and Taylor would be stepping down from active leadership roles. Lisa Serieyssol joined the organization as its first executive director in December, and David Sandahl and John Murray assumed the roles of chair and vice chair of the LHT board on Jan. 1.
The organization held a celebration at Chambers Walk Café on Feb. 8 to honor Taylor’s and Horne’s decades-long dedication to the cause. The luncheon was attended by dozens of friends and colleagues of the duo.
In toasting Horne, LHT Treasurer Alan Hershey noted how she brings order and civility to every situation. Sandahl toasted Taylor, recalling how Becky Taylor’s “really good idea,” the LHT, has prevailed.
Board member and former Lawrence historian Dennis Waters announced plans to place two benches on the LHT route with plaques honoring two co-founders. Waters then displayed a mock-up of an interpretive sign, like those already placed on the trail. He noted that the LHT will design and place a historic marker depicting the central role played by its co-founders in creating the LHT.
The evening ended in song, with guests singing the Roy Rogers classic “Happy Trails to You,” accompanied by John Murray on guitar.
Sandahl was on the Hopewell Township Committee 20 years ago, when the LHT was in its earliest stages of development.
“What I saw was a really powerful idea and the question was, ‘How do you make the idea a reality?’ And that’s what Becky and Eleanor have done,” he told the Express. “Not only to have a great idea, but to see it through until it gets done. And of course, in the trail world, the question is, ‘How do you do that when you don’t have a lot of money?’ And the answer is, you do a lot of outreach, a lot of coordination.”
In the beginning, Sandahl said, a lot of people were skeptical that the project would ever take off. “Twenty years later, people love the LHT and people want more trails. A hundred thousand people a year use the Lawrence Hopewell Trail.”
In all, Sandahl says, LHT has partnered with 24 local organizations, businesses, governments and land trusts to establish the trail.
“One thing Lisa and I will benefit from is 20 years of trial and error,” Sandahl said. “(Horne and Taylor) were able to get the right people involved, talk to them, and something that is usually a fairly complicated process, they made approachable and practical to people.”
Key partners included Bristol-Myers Squibb — where Taylor had worked — and ETS, where Horne worked. The Mercer County Park Commission as well as the township committees of Lawrence and Hopewell were also instrumental in bringing the vision to life.
Serieyssol said LHT continues to support its flagship events — the Full Moon Bike Ride and Trail and Treat.
The Full Moon Bike Ride, a fundraiser for LHT, returned to the agenda last July after a pandemic-related hiatus. Before and during the nighttime ride, cyclists can enjoy live music as they ride through Mercer Meadows Park under the light of the moon.
The Trail and Treat bike ride, a Halloween-themed event intended for children 12 and under, offers games, face painting and live musical entertainment in Lawrence’s Village Park.
LHT has a number of other programs, including the Saturday Morning Walking Club, a free event held once a month on the trails; the Bike Club, in which participants are invited to ride together through various segments of the trail network; and Trails Day, organized by Rails to Trails Conservancy and set this year for Sunday, April 23. For more details on all these events, go online to lhtrail.org.
Serieyssol joined the LHT from the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association, where she served as program coordinator for the GMTMA’s Safe Routes to Schools program. She is also a member of Princeton’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, which recently helped create more than 10 miles of bike boulevards in a loop connecting four elementary schools, the middle school and high school in Princeton.
“I have lived in Princeton for 20 years and I’ve known about the LHT and been a fan of it since the first paths were established,” Serieyssol told the Express. “Bike and pedestrian infrastructure, be it on road or off road, is something I’ve been paying attention to for a while.”
Serieyssol said she admires what Horne and Taylor have done. “They’ve accomplished an enormous amount over this 20-year period,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed working with them from afar and as a transportation professional.”
Serieyssol is looking forward to several upcoming LHT projects, including one that she worked on with Taylor and Horne before becoming executive director.
She said they worked together on a project to create a connection between the LHT and Princeton. A grant award Princeton received through the Safe Routes to Schools project includes a proposal to connection the town’s trail networks at Rosedale Road. Serieyssol describes that project as being in the planning stage, and several years from implementation.
On a shorter timeline is the completion of two segments of the LHT in Lawrence, one at Maidenhead Meadows and the other on Pretty Brook Road. “They are fully funded and approved, and we’re hoping they will be constructed in the course of this year,” she said.
The Maidenhead Meadows project includes the installation of a boardwalk connection. The Pretty Brook installation, in the northeastern corner of Lawrence Township, will include a multiuse side path. Improvement plans for other segments of the trail are in various stages of design.
“One of the things we’re really interested in is, ‘How do you expand those connections and also engage other parts of the community who might not have access to the outdoors, might not have access to getting around safety on foot?’” Sandahl said. “We are looking pretty seriously at a couple ways that we can make that happen. To engage more people easy to imagine groups of school kids who aren’t used to walking on trails. One thing that’s important about this is how much the federal government is pouring into this kind of project.”
Serieyssol said the U.S. Department of Transportation uses the term “active transportation” to encompass programs that support underserved communities and says the federal government is putting a big emphasis on funding such programs.
“You see people riding to work on their bikes because that a mode of transportation they have, but they’re riding along 206, and that’s bad,” Sandahl said. “They’re taking their life in their hands. We think we can help with that by providing better access. There are lots of people across the income spectrum who would get around differently if they had access to a safer trail.”
Serieyssol said that in communities throughout the country, there are a lot of organizations like Lawrence Hopewell Trail that are focused on creating more biking and pedestrian trails.
“Frankly the Interstate and U.S. highway systems are so embedded that trying to carve out a segment of the roadway for bicyclists and pedestrians within that scope has been a tough slog for a long time,” she said. “Now suddenly, through the (President Joe) Biden administration and Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the U.S.D.O.T. staff, there have been, in the last year, enormous waves of funding that are targeted at this kind of infrastructure.”
Some information from a Lawrence Hopewell Trail media release is included in this story.