American Chestnut once comprised as much as 25% of the forest canopy prior to the blight. Today the tree is part of the understory as a sprout. Oak and Hickory trees have replaced the once dominant Chestnut in the canopy. Where a mature American Chestnut Tree once reached 100 feet before the blight struck, today the sprout only grows to maybe 15- 20 feet or so before the blight kills it. We see these sprouts because the blight affects the trunk of the tree and not the roots.
Sprouts of American Chestnut can be found in moist uplands. Farmers once considered the American Chestnut to be a weed tree as it grew fast and often where it wasn’t wanted. There are some mature American Chestnuts that settlers took with them out west far out of their native range and thus far have not been inflicted with the blight.
American Chestnut Leaf
The leaves of the American Chestnut are similar to the American Beech but are longer. Check out this resource from the American Chestnut Foundation on how to properly identify American Chestnut — > American Chestnut Field Guide
American Chestnut Burs
At this point you may be thinking, “this article is rubbish! I get chestnuts all the time from the grocery store“. And here is my gotcha moment! Those chestnuts are either of a European or Asiatic variety. It is said that the taste of the American Chestnut was far more sweeter than any other. A tree that people sometimes confuse for the American Chestnut is the non-native Horse-Chestnut Tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) whose nuts are toxic.
Welcome to Pyramid Mountain County Park! Pyramid Mountain is part of the Morris County Park System and contains more than 1,500 acres of preserved open space. The land comprising the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area was set aside as Morris County parkland in 1989 after a long struggle to help preserve these ecologically and geologically diverse acres.
Foot Trail Maintained by Volunteers NY-NJ Trail Conference
Today we are going to hike the estimated 4.2 Blue Blazed Sterling Lake trail (maintained by volunteers from the NYNJ Trail Conference) which starts at the Sterling Forest State Park visitor center. The visitor center is named for the late Frank R. Lautenberg who helped preserve the forest for future generations. The Sterling Lake Lake trail loops around Sterling Lake, a natural lake formed during the last ice age.
Inside there are dioramas on the Sterling Forest mining industry history, fauna exhibits and a huge model of Sterling Forest itself.
From the visitor center let’s head east into a brief section of forest on a footpath.
Old Forge Road Crossing
After rambling through this portion of the trail we follow the Sterling Lake Loop trail east crossing Old Forge Road near private residences.
McKeages Meadow Connector
After crossing Old Forge Road the orange triangle blazed McKeages Meadow Connector trail appears to our right.
Truck Trailers Sterling Lake Loop
Continuing straight ahead on the Sterling Lake Trail, the trail turns from a footpath to a woods road as we pass old trailers to our left near private property.
Old Railroad Causeway
From here we follow the Sterling Loop trail as it crosses a wetland via an old mining railroad embankment.
Second Old Forge Road Crossing
Long Meadow Road appears ahead but the trail turns north just missing the busy road. Crossing Old Forge Road for the second time we find ourselves heading north climbing.
We have reached an Eastern Hemlock dominated forest but unfortunately many of the Hemlocks are dead or dying due to the Woolly Adelgid, a non-native pest from Asia. The Adelgid feeds by sucking sap from Hemlock trees. This exotic pest was accidently introduced to North America circa 1924 and is currently established in eleven states ranging from Georgia to Massachusetts. It is estimated that 50% of the geographical range of the Eastern Hemlock has been affected by the adelgid. Biological control (i.e. using adelgid predators to control infestations) has been the major emphasis of control since 1997.
Pine Meadow Trail Connector Trailhead
As we head northwest, the 0.3 Mile Orange Blazed Pine Meadow Connector Trail appears to our right.
Sterling Lake Loop Grassy Trail
Our feet are in for a treat as the trail becomes a soft grassy road as we continue heading north on the Sterling Lake Loop.
First view of Sterling Lake
Our first glimpses of Sterling Lake appears to our left as the trail turns northwest.
Whew! Let’s take a quick breather and take time to look at some of the vegetation growing near the trail. Here’s some Sweetfern native to the Eastern US. Its name is misleading as Sweetfern is not a fern at all but a deciduous shrub. The “sweet” in Sweetfern is correct as the leaves give off a sweet odor when crushed. Sweetfern typically grows in dry upland habitat.
Hey! Is this Poison Ivy? It’s got the whole “leaves of three leave ’em be” look. Nope, it’s a vine known as Hog Peanut. Hog Peanut is a member of the Bean Family (unlike Poison Ivy which is a member of the Cashew Family) and helps out plants growing nearby by correcting Nitrogen levels in the soil. Hog Peanut is common in both dry and mesic (moist) forest types.
Here’s American Chestnut. The American Chestnut tree was an important member of the eastern forest found in the United States. A wide variety of wildlife fed on its chestnuts. Mature American Chestnuts began to die off in 1904 due to imported Chestnut Blight from Asia. The blight, imported to the US via Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus dispersed by spores in the air, raindrops and animals. American Chestnut now survives only in the understory as shoots sprouting from old roots (which are not affected by the blight). The American Chestnut sprouts reach about twenty feet before the blight strikes. The roots then shoots up new sprouts and the process repeats itself. The American Chestnut Foundation is currently working to restore the once great American Chestnut back to its native range. Check out the book American Chestnut : The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree for more information. Click here!
Milkweed in Bloom
Continuing north we reach a Powerline cut in the forest. Powerline cuts create permanent Shrubland which provides habitat for flora such as Milkweed, an important wildlife plant (especially for Monarch Butterflies) which does not grow in the dense shade of the forest floor.
Heading south a portion of the Yellow Blazed 6.2 mile Sterling Valley Trail joins the Sterling Lake Loop trail from the north.
Looking down as we walk on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop & Sterling Valley Loop we spot movement. Tiny toads!
Let’s carefully and slowly proceed west on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake/Sterling Valley trail watching where we step.
We have now arrived at the northern tip of Sterling Lake.
Approaching a small sandy beach we spot a turtle digging in the sand.
Turtle heading back to Sterling Lake
But, as soon as we spot this turtle it takes off with surprising speed to Sterling Lake…..
…where it quickly disappears under the water.
Leaving the sandy beach and the now vanished turtle behind we cross an earthen causeway separating the pond above from Sterling Lake.
Taking a closer look at the pond reveals an active beaver lodge.
Continuing west past a former boat launch a movement on a rock catches our eye. A 5-Lined Skink! Native to the Eastern US, the 5-Link Skink is one of the most common lizards found in the Eastern Forest.
Heading south on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop and Sterling Valley Loop we spot some blueberries growing along the side of the trail. The blueberries provide a refreshing treat as we continue our hike.
Sterling Valley Trail Exits
As we continue south Sterling Lake now appears to our left and the Yellow Blazed Sterling Valley Trail exits.
Continuing south on the Sterling Lake Loop trail we see beautiful views of Sterling Lake.
Sterling Forest Fire Tower Connector Trail
As we walk we find the woods road the trail has been following has ended and the trail now follows a paved road (West Sterling Lake Road) passing the Fire Connector trail to our left.
Lakeville Ironworks Trail
As we walk on the pavement we pass ruins of Lakeville Ironworks and the trailhead of the 3/4 of a mile mile Lakeville Ironworks trail. These buildings are remnants of former mining operations.
Located in the Highlands geologic region, the hills of Sterling Forest were mined for iron ore known as magnetite beginning in 1730 and ending in the 1920’s when the last of the mines shut down.
Help Save New York’s Ash Trees
As we walk we notice signs tied to nearby White Ash trees. The signs are in relation to the Emerald Ash Borer, a destructive pest from Asia which threatens all ash trees. The mature emerald ash borer does not pose a threat. It is the larva of these borers which eat away at the heartwood of ash trees.
Sterling Lake Outlet with Sterling Furnace in distance
Heading east on a footpath back in the forest we are now crossing the outlet of Sterling Lake near its dam. The Sterling Lake dam was originally built in the mid 1700’s to provide water power to the the Sterling Furnace. The dam raised the water level of Sterling Lake by 8 feet. A mine (now completely filled with water) was located directly below Sterling Lake.
Sterling Furnace was used until 1804 to create Pig Iron. Later, raw iron ore was shipped by trail to PA to be smelted using large coal deposits. The furnace was rebuilt by the City Investing Corporation in the 1950’s.
Remains of Lakeville Church
Near the visitor center we pass the foundation of Lakeville’s Church. Well, we are now back at the visitor center and have completed our virtual hike of Sterling Lake! I hope you enjoyed your journey and that you check out this hike in person!
From the parking area head east to the Orange Blazed Trailhead near a wetland.
Turn left heading north on the trail. Immediately you will notice a large outcrop of rocks of precambrian origin. The rocks are known as “basement rocks” and were originally covered by soil and other rocks. Through the years due to natural activities such as past glacier action the rocks became exposed. Most of the rocks are thought to be comprised of ancient granite-gneiss.
Pudding stone rocks, seen above, are common in the NJ Highlands and consist of well-rounded quartz and red sandstone cobbles in a fine-grained red ironstone matrix.
After a few minutes, you will pass over a seasonal stream. Wait! Where’s the water? That’s a good question and I am glad you asked it. This stream is part of the wetlands that exist in Friendship park and only flows when the water table located below the surface gets too high such as in heavy downpours in spring.
Continuing on we come to the northern boundary of Friendship park which is seen here as a fence separating the park from an old abandoned golf course. Let’s stop and look around for a second. It seems we are not alone. There’s an American Robin & Eastern Gray Squirrel keeping watch over the forest.
The American Chestnut tree was an important member of the eastern forest found in the United States. A wide variety of wildlife fed on its chestnuts. American Chestnuts began to die off in 1904 due to imported Chestnut Blight from Asia. The blight, imported to the US via Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus dispersed by spores in the air, raindrops and animals. American Chestnut now survives only in the understory as shoots sprouting from old roots (which are not affected by the blight). The American Chestnut sprouts reach about twenty feet before the blight strikes. The roots then shoots up new sprouts and the process repeats itself. The American Chestnut Foundation is currently working to restore the once great American Chestnut back to its native range. Check out the book American Chestnut : The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree for more information. Click here!
Black Oak Coppice
Heading east now there is a slight climb where we see a large coppice Black Oak. The orange blazed trail now continues on top of a large rock ledge.
The trail now starts to descend as we turn right and head south. Be careful to follow the orange blazes here as there are other trails that are not blazed which meander through the forest. According to our trail map, it looks like we left the trail! Let’s head back and find the last blaze.
Back on the Trail!
Whew! Back on the trail! Let’s stop and listen to the sounds of the forest: Sounds like we are hearing a White Breasted Nuthatch & a Blue Jay. Let’s continue on our hike! Now we have arrived at the bottom of the descent.
From I-287 north or south take Exit 53 (Bloomingdale) and turn left onto Hamburg Turnpike. Upon entering Bloomingdale, the name of the road changes to Main Street. In 1.3 miles (from Route 287), you will reach a fork in the road. Bear right (following the sign to West Milford), and in another 0.1 mile, turn right (uphill) onto Glenwild Avenue. Proceed for another 0.3 mile to the intersection of Woodward Avenue (on the left). Opposite this intersection, you will notice a dirt parking area bordered by stones on the right. Turn right and park here.
Northern Red Oak Friendship Park
Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
Check out some great books below to learn more about NJ’s plants and wetlands!
The 2011 Pequannock River Coalition Fall (2019 Update: Pequannock River Coalition is now defunct) Hike took place in West Milford’s Kanouse Mountain located in the Newark Watershed lands.
Attendees of 2011 PRC Fall Hike near trail entrance off Route 23
The 1,100 foot Kanouse Mountain is located off of Route 23 North near Echo Lake Road in the Newfoundland section of West Milford. Dense woodlands surround the mountain to the north, Echo Lake is to the north east, Kanouse Brook is to the west, the Echo Lake Channel is to the east and Route 23 is to the south and southeast.
Kanouse Brook Tributary
Kanouse Brook has a naturally regenerating trout population and drains into the Pequannock River.
Attendees of the hike parked off of Old Route 23 near the NJ Transit Park & Ride and walked to the entrance of the trail off of Route 23 North near the entering Newfoundland sign.
The hike took place on unmarked wood roads starting in a northeast direction to the summit of Kanouse Mountain where a large star, American flag and outstanding views were present.
Star on top Kanouse Mountain
US Flag on top of Kanouse Mountain
View of Charlottesburg Reservoir from top of Kanouse Mountain
Views of Route 23
View of Copperas Mountain (Foreground) & Green Pond Mountain (Background)
Charlottesburg Reservoir was formed from the impoundment of the Pequannock River which is given C1 water classification. The C1 classification is used to indicate that the river is relatively unspoiled in comparison to other rivers in NJ.
As with all Pequannock River Coalition Hikes, Ross Kusher (the executive director of PRC) discussed different points of interest along the hike including ecology and geology. This interesting information makes a hike much more than a physical journey. The information provided by Ross’s expertise boosts the strength of your mind as you learn new aspects of your surroundings.
The geology of Kanouse Mountain and the surrounding highlands is estimated to be between 400-435 million years old and thought to be from the Silurian Period of the Paleozoic Era. Past glacier activity courtesy of the Wisconsin Glacier is evident by gentle slopes on the north side of the mountain and a sudden drop on the south side. As the Wisconsin glacier moved through the area 10,000 years ago it pushed rocks and carved out hillsides creating this phenomenon present throughout the highlands region.
Small trace amounts of copper have been found alongside the much more abundant iron in the highlands region. It is said that nearby Copperas Mountain was named so because of the copper that was once taken from it.
Occasionally the group came across muddy areas when the trail crossed through wetlands. These muddy spots are prime spots to look for animal prints. Ross pointed out this Eastern Coyote print found in the picture above.
The group found this Wood Frog near the trail. Though hard to tell from this photo, wood frogs generally look like they have a robber’s mask on due to the dark patch which extends backward from their eye. These frogs are often found in moist wooded areas.
American Chestnut Leaf
American Chestnut saplings were found periodically in the forest. Once a dominant tree in the forest canopy, the Chestnut blight has reduced the tree to the shrub layer. Once the American Chestnut reaches about twenty feet or so the blight strikes and kills it. The tree may die, but the root structure is still alive and sends up new sprouts. The American Chestnut Foundation is working to defeat the blight and restore its former footprint.