Twenty years ago, Becky Taylor had an audacious idea.
She was working for Bristol Myers Squibb and the pharmaceutical giant was looking for ways to expand its role as a good corporate citizen in the communities where it had offices. A senior executive turned to Taylor, who was working in policy communications, and tasked her with figuring what the community wanted and how to make that happen.
At about the same time, her husband, Matt Reilly, an avid bicyclist, was riding on Rt. 518 and was bumped off the road by a passing car. He wasn’t seriously injured, but it seemed clear that one of the things the community needed was a safe space for bikers, hikers, and runners.
“So, I called Eleanor (Horne). She was the only one I knew who did this kind of thing, Taylor recalls. “I told her my idea. I think she might have actually laughed out loud.”
Horne, then vice president of Educational Testing Services social investment fund, loved the idea of a bike trail across the corporate campuses and connected to County parks. She was skeptical about its chances for success, logistically and politically, but she jumped in with both feet.
“On this particular day I was writing a report for the ETS president on impact of our financial contributions to the area,” Horne says. “We had good relations with lots of nonprofits and good publicity, but we couldn’t point to one thing and say we funded this. …. The idea of having something permanent really appealed to me.”
Today, the Lawrence Hopewell Trail consists of 20 miles of paved and gravel pathways that were built specifically for bikers and walkers and accommodates more than 100,000 users each year. Those numbers, according to LHT’s new executive director, Lisa Serieyssol, are a “huge statement about its success.”
Taylor and Horne, who long ago left their corporate posts, are stepping back from their 20-year volunteer commitment to the LHT. A farewell party last week was attended by dozens of well-wishers who turned out to honor the women who persevered and devoted themselves to a project many didn’t believe would ever come to fruition..
The Hopewell and Lawrence Township Committees recently presented formal proclamations praising Taylor and Horne, while Hopewell Township Committee Member Kevin Kuchinksi added that the trail “is something that brings us all together.”
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes went so far as to say Taylor and Horne have done more for Mercer County than anyone else in the past 20 years.
Taylor and Horne built a wide-ranging coalition of support to convert their vision into reality, that included corporate support and local politicians and local business people, including Pam Mount of Terhune Orchards. Hughes was the first elected official who bought into the idea and has been a major supporter, Taylor said. “But we couldn’t have done any of this it we didn’t have the townships right there with us.”
The departure also signals the start of the next stage of development of the LHT, a nonprofit organization, which has hired a professional executive director and is planning to take the next step to expand the trail into other communities.
One of the goals for Taylor and Horne’s successors is to connect other communities using the old Johnson Trolley Trail, which runs from the D&R Canal in Trenton through Ewing and Lawrence into Princeton, according to Leslie Floyd, Mercer County Planner. The greatest challenge will be in connecting the trail with a pedestrian bicycle bridge where Interstate 295 cuts it in two .
Floyd was there at the start of the LHT, too, then as the assistant County Planner. She remembers vividly the discussion over naming the trail at one of the earliest meetings. She remembers the audacity and the challenge of building a trail using easements on private lands connected to public lands.
And she remembers the persistence it took — and will take – as it continues to grow.
“Its an amazing resource for not just for Lawrence and Hopewell, but for the entire County. Users come from all over,” Floyd says. “Its an enduring resource for the community, a great gift to the community.”
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