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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 NJ. Along the coast, in parks, nature preserves and forests, they can be found in almost all communities in New Jersey in some shape or form.

Activities which may disturb special areas of the State that are regulated by the Department, including something as seemingly innocuous as a nature trail, may require an approval from the Division prior to construction. An area containing sensitive and endangered plant species for example, may be irreparably damaged by such activities. It is important therefore to closely examine a proposed project relative to the sensitive areas which may be impacted.

Trails, boardwalks and bike paths may require multiple approvals from the Division, depending on the special areas impacted by the project. If you don't know what special areas are on your site, please check out the before you buy, before you build section of this website for guidance on determining if your site has one of these regulated special areas on it.

For information on Land Use permit requirements for Trails, boardwalks and bike paths within specific "special areas", please click on each of the tabs above.*

*For impacts to Streams, Rivers, Lakes, Ponds, Flood Plains, Flood Way, Riparian Zones and other water body related areas, please click on the "Flood Hazard" tab. For impacts to special coastal areas, please click on the "Coastal" tab. For impacts to Freshwater Wetlands, click on the "Freshwater Wetlands" tab. Information on Tidelands can be found in 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, bike path, or related structures such as sidewalks or boat launching ramps in a regulated area requires authorization of some type under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules.  This depends upon whether or not the project area is regulated under the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) rules.  Specifically, if regulated under CZM, then no separate flood hazard approval is required.  In this case, the applicant need only submit a report and plans demonstrating compliance with the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules as part of the CZM permit application. 

Assuming there is no jurisdiction under CZM, authorization may be granted under a variety of Permits by Rule (PBRs).  These include PBRs N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(a)2, N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(a)6, N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(b)6.  Please refer to the rules to see the all of the applicable conditions where each PBR would apply.  Some special notes about these PBRs are listed as follows.

N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(a)2 – If the project area is located in a flood hazard area, then all construction must be situated at or below grade.  In addition, with this PBR, the Department’s Division of Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement must be notified of construction at least two weeks prior to the start of any construction.

N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(a)6 – This PBR deals solely with the construction of boat launching ramps.  If the ramp is constructed at or below grade, then the project may qualify for a PBR.  The Department’s Division of Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement must be notified of construction at least two weeks prior to the start of any construction.

N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(b)6 – This PBR applies when the controlling flood hazard area is tidal, as opposed to fluvial, and when no CZM authorization is required.  No fill may be placed in the floodway.  Vegetation removal in the riparian zone is limited.  Under this PBR, the Department need not be notified prior to construction.

Please refer to the rules for more detailed information and limitations for the above referenced PBRs.  Should the project not qualify for any of the aforementioned PBRs for any reason, then it may qualify for a Flood Hazard Area General Permit 9, as described at N.J.A.C. 7:13-8.11.  This general permit may be utilized to authorize a footbridge over a watercourse.  However, it is important to note that the size of the watershed must be less than 50 acres.  Please note that this limitation refers to the size of the watershed and not the size of the property upon which the watercourse is located.

Should the proposed project not qualify for any of the PBRs or the Flood Hazard Area General Permit 9, then the applicant must obtain a formal, written flood hazard area verification and individual permit prior to construction.

The construction of trails, boardwalks and bike paths in the coastal zone within CAFRA or Waterfront Development jurisdiction or within an area of mapped coastal wetlands generally requires a permit.  If the proposed trail boardwalk, or bike path does not meet the requirements for an exemption or a general permit, a CAFRA or Waterfront Development Individual permit and/or a Coastal Wetlands permit must be obtained.

Please refer to the “Jurisdiction” section of the "Coastal Permitting" section of the website to determine which areas regulated under the Coastal Permit Program Rules (N.J.A.C. 7:7-1.1 et seq.) and the Coastal Zone Management Rules (N.J.A.C. 7:7E-1.1 et seq.) occur on your site. The availability of certain permits and exemptions for a project depends on where your project is proposed.  Additional information regarding the Division’s coastal program can be found on the “Coastal Permitting” section of this website.  Please contact the Division’s Technical Support Center for further assistance.

This coastal exemption may apply to your project –

  • If a wooden boardwalk or walkway is proposed at a residential development within CAFRA jurisdiction and the construction will not result in the placement of a structure on a beach, dune or wetland, then the construction will not require a coastal permit.  Please refer to N.J.A.C. 7:7-2.1(c)5ii for information on the requirements of this exemption.

This coastal general permit may apply to your project --

  • Coastal General Permit 17 authorizes the construction of recreational facilities at public parks which includes the construction of pathways, bicycle paths and jogging and nature trails.  For further information regarding the requirements of this general permit, please refer to N.J.A.C. 7:7-7.17

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: February 9, 2015