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Division of Land Use Regulation
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

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Trails, Boardwalks and Bike Paths

  • Overview
  • Freshwater Wetlands
  • Flood Hazard
  • Coastal
  • Tidelands

Trails, boardwalks and bike paths are a familiar sight in New Jersey.  Along the coast, in parks, nature preserves and forests, these improvements can be found within almost all communities in some shape or form.

Trail, boardwalk, and/or bike path construction and/or reconstruction may result in impacts to “special areas” that are regulated by the Department.  Therefore, it is important to closely examine a proposed project relative to the sensitive areas on site.  Special areas can be rudimentarily determined using the Department’s online mapping service, NJ-GeoWeb.  Lastly, construction activities associated with these structures may require multiple approvals from the Division, depending on the special areas impacted by the project. 

The above tabs provide additional information on permit requirements relating to trail, boardwalk, and bike path projects.  For impacts to streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, flood plains, flood ways, riparian zones, please see the "Flood Hazard" tab. For impacts to special coastal areas, please see the "Coastal" tab. For impacts to Freshwater Wetlands, see the "Freshwater Wetlands" tab.  Information on Tidelands can be found by selecting the "Tidelands" tab.

The construction of a trail, boardwalk and/or bike path within freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters requires a Freshwater Wetlands (FWW) permit. Two FWW General Permits (GP) are available for this activity, a GP17 and a GP17A. To be eligible for a GP17 or a GP17A, the total area of freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters disturbed cannot exceed one quarter acre unless the project is on a publicly owned site in which case there is no limit to the length of the activity.

There are specific design criteria for trails and boardwalks within State regulated areas, but these design criteria differ slightly depending on the activity.

General permit 17--Trails and boardwalks is primarily for "...pedestrians, bicycles, and other non-motorized methods of transport". There is a limit on the width of 6', along with other restrictions. Please click on the link above for more information.

General permit 17A—Non-Motorized, Multiple-use Paths is primarily for "...non-motorized, multiple use path for use by bicycles, skate boards, rollerblades and other non-motorized methods of transport." Criteria for approval is a bit different then for the GP17, and must be designed in accordance with the "AASHTO" guide. Please click on the link above for more information.

If the project for a trail, boardwalk and/or bike path cannot comply with the criteria for a GP-17 and/or a GP17A, the applicant would need to apply for an Individual Permit (IP). An IP application would need to include a description as to why the project cannot be minimized to satisfy the General Permit criteria described in the links above.

The construction of a trail, boardwalk, or bike path in a regulated area requires authorization of some type under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules.  If the project is regulated pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Rules at N.J.A.C. 7:7, then no separate flood hazard area approval is required.  In these instances, the applicant need only submit a report and plans demonstrating compliance with the Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules as part of the coastal permit application.

Assuming there is no jurisdiction pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Rules, authorization may be granted under a permit-by-rule or general permit. In addition to the specific requirements in each permit, the requirements at N.J.A.C. 7:13-6.7 apply.

Permit-by-rule 22 authorizes the creation of a new trail or boardwalk. The trail or boardwalk under this permit may be no wider than six feet and cannot involve disturbance is allowed within 25 feet of any top of bank of any fluvial stream unless the project lies adjacent to a lawfully existing bulkhead, retaining wall or revetment along a tidal water or impounded fluvial water or connects to a footbridge, dock, or pier. The existing ground elevation may not be raised in a fluvial flood hazard area or floodway to prevent obstruction to flow or flood storage displacement. No trees in a riparian zone can be cleared, cut, or removed, and the net loss of riparian zone vegetation may not exceed one-quarter acre.

Permit-by-rule 23 authorizes footbridges. See the “Footbridges” tab under the “Common Project Types” section of this website for more information.

If the proposed trail or boardwalk exceeds the requirements of permit-by-rule 22, general permit 13, at N.J.A.C. 7:13-9.13, may apply. This general permit authorizes the construction of trails and boardwalks for pedestrian and/or light vehicle use. Different widths limits apply depending on whether the trail or boardwalk is designed only for pedestrian use or is designed to accommodate light vehicles, such as bicycles. The ground elevation may not be raised, and the project cannot be located close than 10 feet from any top of bank except in the immediate vicinity of a footbridge, dock, or pier connecting to the trail or boardwalk. Trees may not be cleared, cut, or removed within 25 feet of top of bank. A licensed professional engineer must certify that any proposed disturbance within 25 feet of a top of bank will not cause increased channel erosion or exacerbate flooding offsite. Riparian zone disturbance is limited to one-half acre. Finally, the trail or boardwalk must incorporate educational features.

Should the proposed project not qualify for the approvals above, it may be authorized under a flood hazard area individual permit pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:13-10, 11, and 12. A verification under N.J.A.C. 7:13-5 may also be required.

Trail, boardwalk, and/or bike path construction activities within coastal areas generally requires a permit.  These activities may qualify for the below described exemption or General Permit.  If the project does not meet the requirements of the aforementioned authorizations, a CAFRA, Coastal Wetlands, and/or Waterfront Development Individual Permit may be required.

The “Jurisdiction” tab of the "Coastal Areas" webpage can help you determine which areas of your site may be regulated.  The availability of certain permits depends on the project’s location.

Potentially applicable Exemption:

Per N.J.A.C. 7:7-2.2(c)5ii, a CAFRA permit is not required for the construction of a wooden boardwalk or a gravel/brick/paver block walkway at a residential development, provided the construction does not result in the grading, excavation, or filling of a beach or dune.  Please see the aforementioned rule for complete requirements.

Potentially applicable General Permit (GP):

GP 13 - authorizes construction of recreational facilities at public parks

Please contact the Division’s Technical Support Center at (609) 777-0454 should you require further assistance.

Tidelands, also known as riparian lands, are all those lands now or formerly flowed by the mean high tide of a natural waterway; that is to say any land that is currently or was previously covered by tidal waters.  The State of New Jersey, and therefore the people of New Jersey, owns all Tidelands except for those to which it has already sold its interest in the form of a riparian grant.  It is important to note that the State generally does not own artificial waterways such as lagoons however, the State does claim those lands within a lagoon that were flowed by the mean high tide of a natural waterway which existed prior to the creation of the lagoon.

A trail, boardwalk or bike path that is proposed in a tidelands area may require a tidelands license if the activities are taking place at or below the mean high water line of a tidal waterway or a tidelands grant if any portion of the activities are taking place in an area that is currently landward of the mean high water line but was, at some point, flowed by the tide.

A tidelands license is a short term revocable rental document to use tidelands generally for structures such as docks, bulkhead extensions, mooring piles, and other temporary structures as well as for dredging projects. Licenses are project specific and expire after a finite term ranging from one to ten years. Most licenses may be renewed.

A riparian grant, or tidelands grant, is a deed from the State of New Jersey selling its tidelands. Tidelands grants are generally only issued for lands that have already been filled in and are no longer flowed by the tide.

For more information on tidelands instruments, please see the tidelands section of this website.

For information and instruction on how to determine whether you are in an area that may require either a license or a grant, or for information how to apply for Tideland instruments please see the "Before you Build, Before you Buy" webpage.

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Last Updated: June 20, 2016