Exploring the Wanaque River Watershed!
Welcome to the Pequannock River Coalition’s 2013 Spring Hike! The Pequannock River Coalition provides a crucial voice in protecting the watershed of the Pequannock River (one of the cleanest rivers in New Jersey and a tributary of the Passaic River) since 1995.
Meet Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!
Ross begins by explaining that the Monksville Reservoir was created in 1987 by impounding the 2.8 mile Wanaque River and the .4 mile Beech Brook (a Wanaque River tributary). The land comprising Monksville Reservoir was formerly a river valley. Dead Trees (snags) still poke through the water where dry land once existed.
Looking out at the reservoir a large white bird has caught Ross’s attention. The bird is a Mute Swan, he explains. Mute Swans originated from Europe and are not native to the US. The Mute Swan, according to legend, is silent all its life until right before it dies where the bird sings an achingly beautiful melody known as a “Swan Song“. The real story is Mute Swans are not mute but actually make a deep grunting territorial sound. Click here to hear a Mute Swan for yourself!
Standing near the reservoir Ross points to a stand of Gray Birch Trees across the water. Gray Birch is a pioneer species that is one of the first trees to grow following a disturbance and can be found growing on poor soils. Ross says we’ll see two additional species of Birch on the hike. Let’s begin!
As we walk a Tree Swallow is seen flying erratically over the water. Tree Swallows prefer inland wetland ecosystems and are among the first in the American Swallow family to migrate back after winter. You can hear a Tree Swallow Sing by clicking here!
A second after seeing the Tree Swallow a Red-Winged Blackbird makes its presence known. Red-Winged Blackbirds are usually found in wetlands such as those found in the intact woodlands surrounding Monksville Reservoir. Click here to hear a Red-Winged Blackbird!
Near the northern edge of the reservoir Ross points out an active Beaver Lodge to us. A beaver lodge is the home of the American Beaver and is created from sticks, mud and rocks. A small opening at the top of the lodge provides air.
As we walk closer to the woods we stop in front of an old Eastern Hemlock tree which has been punctured with large rectangular holes. The holes were created by a Pileated Woodpecker looking for one of their favorite foods: Carpenter Ants. Pileated Woodpeckers are North America’s largest living woodpecker and provided the model for the famous cartoon Woody Woodpecker. Their habitat is large mature forest such as the woods which surround Monksville Reservoir. Click here to hear a Pileated Woodpecker!
The 2,100 acre Tranquility Ridge County Park is an extension of New York’s Sterling Forest found just north of where we are now.
Entering the park we are now near the end of the green-blazed Monk’s Connector trail which connects to nearby Monk’s Mountain (part of Long Pond Ironworks State Park) with Tranquility Ridge County Park.
Barely inside Tranquility Ridge County Park, Ross has spotted our second birch: Yellow Birch. Yellow Birch prefers to grow near streams & wetlands. The tree’s characteristic peeling bark is visible to all. The hairy looking vine growing on the Yellow Birch is Poison Ivy.
Ross spots a massive tree in the distance branching out in all directions and surrounded by young trees. Ross explains that trees can only grow sideways or to the top but can’t do both. This “lone wolf” tree will eventually be crowded out by the young trees competing for sunlight.
We are now turning left on the Hasenclever Iron Trail. The creation of the six mile Hasenclever Iron Trail was first conceived in 2001 by the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks. The Hasenclever Iron Trail follows an old Woods Road which dates from the 1760’s. The road connected Long Pond Ironworks with ironworks located in Ringwood. The Friends of Long Pond Ironworks installed nine interpretive signs along the trail in 2007. The installation was funded with a grant from the NJ Recreation Trails Program. We’ll be passing by historical signs #’s 4 through 1 today.
After we cross a tributary to Beech Brook Ross tells us that Beech Brook contains a naturally occurring population of Brook Trout. We have now entered the 6,911 acre Long Pond Iron Works State Park.
We have just passed an unmarked trail to our right and historical marker #4. Marker #4 tells us that the unmarked trail leads to Beech farm which has long been abandoned.
As we walk Ross points out dirt patches in the leaf litter on the ground. This was caused by Wild Turkeys looking for food.
A turkey feather has just been found in the litter. Given all this Turkey sign Ross takes out a device which makes a female turkey sound that hunters use to attract the male turkeys (toms). Ross used the device but the Turkeys have moved on for now and we do not see any.
Ross strongly recommended not to play the device during Wild Turkey hunting season. Want to hear what a Wild Turkey sounds like? Click here to hear!
Ross has stopped at another Eastern Hemlock and says this tree has been designated a “marking tree” by an Eastern Gray Squirrel. Squirrels rub the glands found under their chin on trees as a sign of territory to other squirrels in the other area.
We are now at historical marker #3 which describes Edward Hewitt, who was a member of the last family to own most of Ringwood State Park before it became state land. The Hewitt family also owned hunting and fishing camps which were built in the area we are now standing.
This hike is taking place in early spring and the only plants we see blooming are invasive species like Japanese Barberry and Winged Euonymus (aka Burning Bush) both of which thrive in disturbed areas. Ross explains that invasive species are non-native species which lack natural predation to control their spread. As a result invasive plants crowd out native plants by forming a monoculture.
We’ve now at historical marker #2 which describes the role of limestone in iron making. Limestone was crushed and added to iron furnaces with iron ore where it acted as a fluxing agent to separate impurities from iron.
Ross has just found our third and final species of Birch: Black Birch. Black Birch twigs and bark have a strong scent of wintergreen when scraped. Ross is scraping away some the bark of a Black Birch to take a whiff. Wintergreen oil was derived from Black Birch for commercial purposes in the past.
Ross has stopped in front of an old Shagbark Hickory with an old Grape Vine wrapped around it. Only mature Shagbark Hickories (such as the one we are looking at here) have actual “shagbark”. Young trees have smooth bark. The grape vine wrapped around the Shagbark Hickory is probably as old as the tree itself. Grape Vines prefers to grow where sunshine is plentiful and prefers forest edge habitat.
After a brief climb on the Hasenclever trail we pass near wetlands to our right.
The green leaves of Skunk Cabbage are starting to poke through. Skunk Cabbage is one of the first native flowering plants and generates heat to poke through ice and snow. It generally blooms in February. Skunk Cabbage earns its name due to a foul odor emitted by torn leaves.
We’ve just reached historical marker #1 on the Hasenclever Iron Trail. This is the last marker we will see today. This marker describes Long Pond Village, a long ago industrial village that supported the nearby Long Pond Ironworks.
We are now approaching the Wanaque River. The word “Wanaque” is Native American for “place of the Sassafras Tree”. A good portion of the length of the Wanaque River is impounded to form the Monksville and Wanaque Reservoirs. Ross tells us that a bridge used to cross the Wanaque River to the old Long Pond Ironworks but was washed away when Hurricane Irene struck in 2011. The NYNJ Trail Conference is planning to rebuild the bridge in 2013.
We have now left the Hasenclever Iron trail and are turning north on the joint Sterling Ridge/Highlands Trail. The Blue-on-white 8.6 mile Sterling Ridge Trail leads to Sterling Forest State Park in New York if we kept going straight. Don’t worry! Ross has no plans to take us out of New Jersey today.
We are also sharing the same path with a section of the estimate 45 mile long interstate Highlands Trail. The Highlands Trail is a project by the NYNJ Trail Conference which highlights the unique characteristics of the Highlands region. The Highlands Trail is still a work in progress.
We are now following a tributary of the Wanaque River.
We have stopped just as we enter a cool ravine. Eastern Hemlocks favor this habitat. Indeed, Eastern Hemlocks are all around us!
What is Ross holding in his hand? It’s an old piece of iron slag left over from the iron making operations that took place here over a hundred years ago.
We are heading briefly off the marked trail and walking towards the Wanaque River. The segment of the Wanaque River seen here is draining Greenwood Lake. What a great spot for lunch! After resting we continue to walk leaving the Wanaque River and following a tributary stream.
Tulip Trees grow straight and narrow with fissured bark. The tree’s leaves actually look like Tulip Flowers! It flowers in Mid-May to early June.
We are now walking northeast on an unblazed woods road. This is the same woods road we passed to our right when we first started out on the Hasenclever Iron Trail.
As we walk, we pass a deep impression in the ground to our left. The impression is a remnant of the Patterson Mine. The Patterson Mine last saw operation at the end of the 1800’s. Ore from the Patterson Mine was sold to the local market or supplied ironworks found in the area.
Check out the abandoned motorcycle to our right! It’s pretty old but it is still standing.
Off to the left of the woods road is a vernal pond. Vernal ponds are temporary pools of water that are free of fish and provide valuable areas for amphibians such as Wood Frogs to lay eggs. Wood Frogs are found further north than any other species of frog. Ross explains that the theory is this: water found in cells will expand to the point of explosion when frozen. Wood frogs have found a way to move water molecules outside their cells when they get frozen to prevent this from happening.
We’ve just turned right on another unmarked trail following Beech Brook to our right. Ross suddenly stops. He’s found a Red Velvet Mite! Red Velvet Mites live in the soil and eat fungi and bacteria. Red Velvet Mites are harmless to humans and are part of the arachnid family (the same family spiders belong to).
Well, we’ve arrived back at the gate and back at our cars! What a great hike!
Want to check out this hike for yourself? Here are the directions to the parking lot where the hike begins!
Take exit 57 on Rt. 287 to Skyline Drive. Follow Skyline 5 miles north to Greenwood Lake Turnpike. Make a right there onto Greenwood Lake Turnpike and follow it about 4 miles to a right on Beech Road. Look for a gravel parking area at the reservoir on the left.
Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey.
NJ’s geology, topography and soil, climate, plant-plant and plant-animal relationships, and the human impact on the environment are all discussed in great detail. Twelve plant habitats are described and the authors were good enough to put in examples of where to visit!
Click here for more information!
Don’t miss The Highlands: Critical Resources, Treasured Landscapes! The Highlands exemplifies why protection of New Jersey’s Highlands is so important for the future of the state. It is an essential read on the multiple resources of the region.
Click here for more information!
Feel free to e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestion! Thank you and have fun exploring!