Completed in 1876, This former rail line was established by the Central Railroad of New Jersey as the High Bridge Branch. The line ran from High Bridge to Port Oram, currently known as Wharton, in Morris County. The line accommodated passengers, but was highly regarded for its shipments of iron ore from the mines in Morris County. The most spectacular wreck occurred on April 18, 1885 when Engine #112 (known as The Columbia), pulling 45 cars plummeted off a 60' wooden trestle into the South Branch of the Raritan River. The wooden trestle was replaced by steel piers in 1930 and is now known as the Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge. The last passenger excursion occurred in 1935 and the last freight train ran on April 1, 1976.
In the mid 1990's, the Columbia Gas Company of West Virginia constructed a gas line under the rail bed. The surface rights were then transferred to the Hunterdon County Division of Parks and Recreation for use as a recreational trail. Today the trail spans seven miles from High Bridge to the Morris County line. It provides passive recreation to the surrounding communities through hiking, biking, and cross country skiing.
WILDLIFE AND HABITAT In the course of its seven miles, the Columbia Trail travels through both deciduous and evergreen forests. The diversity of wildlife along the trail is abundant and provides a natural corridor for the wildlife to move about. The trail's natural surface is an excellent source to observe footprints of the wildlife inhabitants from the surrounding area. Some of the prints that can be found include deer, raccoon, coyote and fox.
Herptiles have also been found throughout the trail. Paralleling the South Branch of the Raritan River, the trail provides a refuge and breeding habitat for the herptiles. Herptiles that have been observed include the Northern Water Snake and Eastern Spadefoot.
The Columbia Line offers an excellent view of Lake Solitude located at the northern boundary of High Bridge. As the lake's name implies, it provides a sanctuary for various waterfowl including Common and Hooded Mergansers. Another bird seen in the area is the allusive Pileated Woodpecker. While you may not see this bird, you can find evidence of its actions.