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Hiking Sterling Lake!


Sterling Forest State Park

Sterling Forest State Park

Welcome to Sterling Forest State Park! Established in 1998 and located in Tuxedo and Warwick NY, the park is one of the newest additions to the New York State Parks in the past 50 years. Most of the woodland is located in NY State but a portion of it extends into NJ and is known as Tranquility Ridge County Park.

Sterling Forest

Sterling Forest

The almost 22,000 acre park features diverse ecological communities including:

Welcome to the Sterling Forest Bird Conservation Area

Welcome to the Sterling Forest Bird Conservation Area

These diverse habitats have earned Sterling Forest State Park the designation of Bird Conservation Area by the NY DEP.

Birds found in Sterling Forest State Park include the below among many others:

Virtual Hike

Foot Trail Maintained by Volunteers NY-NJ Trail Conference

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.

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Visitor Center

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Visitor Center

Let’s head inside and grab a trail map.

Sterling Forest State Park Model

Sterling Forest State Park Model

Inside there are dioramas on the Sterling Forest mining industry history, fauna exhibits and a huge model of Sterling Forest itself.

Trail

From the visitor center let’s head east into a brief section of forest  on a footpath.

Old Forge Road C

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

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

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

Old Railroad Causeway

Wetland

Wetland

From here we follow the Sterling Loop trail as it crosses a wetland via an old mining railroad embankment.

Second Old Forge Road Crossing

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.

Dead Hemlock

Dead Hemlock

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

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

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

First view of Sterling Lake

Our first glimpses of Sterling Lake appears to our left as the trail turns northwest.

Sweetfern

Sweetfern

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.

Hog Peanut

Hog Peanut

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.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut

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!

Powerline Cut

Powerline Cut

Milkweed in Bloom

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.

6.01 (46)

Heading south a portion of the Yellow Blazed 6.2 mile Sterling Valley Trail joins the Sterling Lake Loop trail from the north.

Tiny Toad

Looking down as we walk on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop & Sterling Valley Loop we spot movement. Tiny toads!

Little Toads

Little Toads (Most are circled-see if you can find ones I missed!)

Let’s carefully and slowly proceed west on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake/Sterling Valley trail watching where we step.

Sterling Lake

Sterling Lake

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

Turtle heading back to Sterling Lake

But, as soon as we spot this turtle it takes off with surprising speed to Sterling Lake…..

Turtle back in Sterling Lake

…where it quickly disappears under the water.

Pond

Pond

Leaving the sandy beach and the now vanished turtle behind we cross an earthen causeway separating the pond above from Sterling Lake.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

Taking a closer look at the pond reveals an active beaver lodge.

5-Line Skink

5-Line Skink

Continuing west past a former boat launch a movement on a rock catches our eye. A 5-Line Skink! Native to the Eastern US, the 5-Link Skink is one of the most common lizards found in the Eastern Forest.

Blueberries

Blueberries

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

Sterling Valley Trail Exits

As we continue south Sterling Lake now appears to our left and the Yellow Blazed Sterling Valley Trail exits.

Sterling Lake View

Continuing south on the Sterling Lake Loop trail we see beautiful views of Sterling Lake.

Sterling Forest Fire Tower Connector Trail

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

Lakeville Ironworks Trail

Ruins

Ruins

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.

More Ruins

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

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

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

Sterling Furnace

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

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! Click here for directions!

Woods Road

Hiking/Ecology Books!

1. The Nature of New York – An Environmental History of the Empire State – This work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State

Click here for more information!

2. Eastern Deciduous Forest Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources!

Click here for more information!

3. 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!

4.60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

5. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to comment with any questions, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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Wayne’s High Mountain Park Preserve!


High Mountain Park

Welcome to High Mountain Park Preserve! The preserve, aka High Mountain Park, is located in Wayne, NJ, and North Haldeon, NJ and consists of over 1,100 wooded acres.

High Mountain Park Preserve

High Mountain Park is owned and jointly managed by the Township of Wayne, the State of NJ and the New Jersey Natural Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy.

History of Site

High Mountain Park

High Mountain Park was a tree farm owned by Urban Farms, Inc., a subsidiary of McBride Enterprises of Franklin Lakes, NJ before its establishment as a preserve.  On May 19, 1993 the Wayne Council majority in an 8-1 vote accepted a deal to purchase High Mountain from Urban Farms, Inc.

Green Acres

The State of NJ committed $2.6 million in a Green Acres Grant and agreed to a 2% loan of $4 million. $901,943 was provided in other grand funds. The Nature Conservancy obtained a $500,000 state grant to assist in the purchase of High Mountain.

Funding Provided by Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Geology

Basalt

Situated on the Second Watchung Mountain range, High Mountain Park is the largest forested area east of the NJ Highlands. The 2nd Watchung Mountain range was formed by basalt lava flows extruding over deep sedimentary rock.

Ecological communities featured in High Mountain Park include:

Rocky Headwater Stream:

Rocky Headwater Stream

Rocky headwater stream habitat includes a small to moderate sized rocky stream that lacks persistent emergent vegetation. In other words, few large rooted plants are found but mosses and algae are usually present. The stream flows over bedrock near its origin and contains riffle and pool sections.

Red Maple Swamp:

Red Maple Swamp (Fall)

Red Maple Swamps (as the name suggests) are dominated by Red Maple, a tree that is moderately flood-tolerant.  Skunk Cabbage, False Hellebore, Cinnamon Fern and Spice Bush (along with many other species) are found in Red Maple Swamp habitat.

False Hellebore

In addition to Red Maple Swamps, Shrub swamps are also found in High Mountain Park. This community consists of temporarily to permanently flooded wetlands usually populated with Skunk Cabbage, Buttonbush, Spicebush among others.

Talus Slope Community:

Talus Slope

Talus Slope communities consist of sparse vegetation occurring on exposures of shale bedrock, ledges and talus. Little soil exists on the talus.

 Trap rock Glade/Outcrop Community:

Trap Rock Glade- Outcrop Community (Winter)

The trap rock glade/outcrop community is globally rare and was the principal reason the Nature Conservancy was interested in protecting High Mountain. Trap rock Glade/Outcrop communities, a globally impaired community type, consists primarily of grasses and forbs with occasional Red Cedar.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus may also be present. Hickory-Ash-Red Cedar woodland is also dominated in the trap rock glade/outcrop community. Rare Rock Outcrop Plants include Torreys Mountain Mint and Dewey’s Sedge among other rare plants.

Hickory/Ash/Red Cedar Woodland:

Red Cedar

This community contains the trap rock outcrop community and consists of Pignut Hickory, Eastern Red Cedar, White Ash and Chestnut Oak with the understory consisting primarily of grasses and forbs. This community along with the trap rock glade/outcrop community harbor a total of 14 rare and endangered plants.

Mixed Oak Forest:

White Oak

The mixed oak hardwood forest found in High Mountain Park is dominated by White, Red & Black Oak and includes trees such as Shagbark Hickory, White Ash, Yellow birch, Tulip Poplar and Black Birch.

Tulip Poplar Leaves and Flower

Shagbark Hickory

Black Birch Coppice

Frequent disturbance is required for the oak-hickory forest to maintain itself.  Without disturbance, shade tolerant species such as Sugar Maple and American Beech regenerate replacing oaks over time.  Maple-Beech dominated woodland do not provide sufficient quality mast (i.e. acorns, hickory nuts) required for wildlife.

American Beech

The composition of the present Oak-Hickory forest found in High Mountain Park will likely change as the sapling layer is mostly populated by Sugar & Red Maple with only a few Oak saplings present. This change may be due to fire suppression.

Hemlock-Hardwood Forest:

Wooly Adelgid on Hemlock Needles

Most of the hemlocks found in High Mountain Park Preserve are dead or dying due to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.  Native to East 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.

Streams:

Preakness Brook

High Mountain Park is a part of the Passaic River watershed. All streams that originate or flow through High Mountain Park drain to the Passaic River. Streams include tributaries to the Point View Reservoir found in the western section of the preserve and tributaries of the Molly Ann Brook (the last stream to drain into the Passaic River before the Great Falls in Paterson) found in the eastern portion of the preserve. The headwaters of Preakness (Signac) Brook are located in High Mountain Park and are classified in this location as C1 by the NJ DEP. According to the NJ DEP Website “Category One (C1) designation protects waterways from any discharge that produces a measurable change in the existing quality of the water”.  Numerous tributaries to the Preakness Brook are found primarily in the heart of the preserve.

Trails

There are five blazed trails ranging from 0.2 miles to 4.9 miles waiting to be explored at High Mountain Park.  All trails are maintained by volunteers of the NYNJ Trail Conference who have maintained the trails since the 1940’s. Click here for a trail map provided by the Township of Wayne.

Red Trail Trailhead College Road Parking Lot

The trailhead of the 1.7 mile Red Trail is accessible from the small parking lot off of College Road.

Red Trail

From the kiosk in the parking area, the Red Trail heads east on a gravel trail in an open field adjacent to College Road and enters the woods heading in a north to northwest direction.

Massive Boulder on Red Trail

After entering the forest, a large boulder is visible to the west near a sign advertising High Mountain.

To High MTN

From here, the Red Trail passes a stream & wetlands.

Wetlands near Red Trail

At half a mile, the southern trailhead of the Yellow Trail is accessible on the east. Past the trailhead of the Yellow Trail, the Red Trail passes the southern trailhead of the White Trail Trailhead to the west .6 of a mile. Once past the trailhead of the White Trail, the Red Trail crosses a stream and wetlands before continuing in a northwest direction.

Waterfall off of Red Trail

Another stream with a waterfall eventually appears to the east of the Red Trail. The Red Trail crosses the stream proceeding a short distance to its northern terminus at Reservoir Drive in Franklin Lakes.

Reservoir Drive Red Trail End

White Trail Trailhead

The southern trailhead of the 1.6 mile White Trail is accessible from the Red Trail about .6 of a mile from the Red Trail’s trailhead at College Road.

From its trailhead, the White Trail heads west through the wetlands of a Preakness Brook tributary stream. Continuing west the White Trail reaches another Preakness brook tributary and its wetlands.

North Jersey Country Club

From here, the White Trail turns north passing the North Jersey Country Club. Continuing north past the North Jersey Country Club, the White Trail passes a reservoir used for the ponds found in the country club.

North Jersey Country Club Reservoir

From here the White Trail continues north and goes through talus slopes while paralleling and eventually crossing another Preakness Brook tributary. The White Trail ends at the Yellow Trail near Beech Mountain.

White Trail End

Yellow Trail Trailhead from Red Trail

At 4.9 miles, the Yellow Trail is the longest trail present in High Mountain Park.  The southern trailhead of the Yellow Trail is accessible from the Red Trail about ½ a mile from the trailhead of the Red Trail on College Road.

From the Red Trail, the Yellow Trail turns east and crosses a stream and wetlands heading in a northwest and then northeast direction. Soon the Yellow Trail passes the summit of Mount Cecchino to the east.  From here the trail begins a steady climb to the summit of High Mountain. At 885 feet, High Mountain is the third tallest peak in the US within 20 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

High Mountain Grassy Summit Yellow Trail

The grassy summit is about 1 mile from the Yellow Trail trailhead and provides fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline, Garrett Mountain (1st Watchung) and the distant Ramapo Mountains.

Summit of High Mountain View of NYC with Black Cherry Tree in Bloom Yellow Trail

From the summit of High Mountain the Yellow Trail heads west going downhill and crosses a  stream.

After crossing the stream, the Yellow Trail comes to an intersection with the Red Trail.

Once past the intersection with the Red Trail, the Yellow Trail heads northwest to a paved circle on Reservoir Drive in Franklin Lakes and briefly travels along Reservoir Drive before reentering the forest near Winding Hollow Drive in Franklin Lakes.

Reservoir Drive Franklin Lakes NJ

Heading south, the Yellow Trail passes the northern trailhead of the White Trail and then heads south and climbs Beech Mountain. At 875 feet, Beech Mountain is the second highest peak in High Mountain Park.

Swamp Beech Mountain Yellow Trail

The Yellow Trail then traverses past a large forested wetland to the west and crosses a Preakness Brook tributary.  Turning west, the Yellow Trail reaches a beautiful view found on a basalt outcrop of Pointview Reservoir and the distant NJ Highlands.

View of Point View Reservoir with Distant NJ Highlands from Yellow Trail Beech Mountain

The Yellow Trail continues northwest past another Preakness Brook Tributary and heads south and west past the parking lot for JVC Corporation.

Back of JVC Building on Yellow Trail

From here, the Yellow Trail heads northwest and passes the northern terminus of the Horizontal White Blaze connector trail. The Yellow Trail then turns north and traverses through the Franklin Clove.

Yellow Trail Franklin Clove

The Franklin Clove was formed by glacial action in the last ice age.  Continuing north, the Yellow Trail passes by the very short Orange Blazed Buttermilk Falls trail and then ends at Indian Drive in Franklin Lakes.

Buttermilk Falls Orange Trail Blaze

The 0.2 Mile Orange Blazed Buttermilk Falls trail begins from the Yellow Trail shortly after the Yellow Trail passes through the Franklin Clove.  It ends at Scioto Drive in Franklin Lakes. The primary feature of this trail is Buttermilk Falls which spills over fractured basalt.

Buttermilk Falls

Pancake Trail Trailhead

The 2.8 mile Blue Trail (aka the Pancake Hollow Trail) trailhead is located off of Chickapee Drive in Wayne.

Blue Trail Blaze

The Blue Trail initially heads east and turns north at the intersection of the horizontally white blazed connector trail. Heading north, the trail passes the Franklin Clove and the headwaters for Preakness Brook to the east.  The Blue Trail then turns northwest passing between housing developments to the north and south where a lean-to is present.

Lean-To off of Blue Trail

Once past the housing developments, the trail traverses the “pancake hollow” section of High Mountain Park.

Stream along Blue Trail

The Blue Trail continues west crossing over a brook and wetlands. As the blue trail approaches Berdan Avenue at the farthest western portion of High Mountain Park, the trail turns NW and then NE and then continues in a SE direction leaving the Pancake Hollow section returning the hiker in a loop fashion back to the portion of the Blue Trail previously traveled with housing developments to the north and south. From here, the hiker follows the blue trail back to the trailhead at Chickopee Drive.

Blue Trail End

Horizontal White Blaze Trailhead

The 0.2 mile Horizontal White Blaze Connector trail’s western trailhead is accessible from the Blue Trail near the Blue Trail trailhead at Chickapee Drive in Wayne.  The Horizontal White Blaze Connector Trail initially heads southeast from the Blue Trail before turning north to connect with the Yellow Trail near the Franklin Clove where it ends.

Fauna:

Fauna I’ve spotted during my hikes at High Mountain Park include:

American Goldfinch

White-Tailed Deer

White Breasted Nuthatch

American Robin

Black Rat Snake

Eastern Chipmunk

Blue Jay

Red-Tailed Hawk

Cottontail Rabbit

Directions to College Road Parking Lot: (as taken from the NYNJ Trail Conference Website)

Take Route 208 west to the second Goffle Road exit (towards Hawthorne/Paterson) and turn right at the end of the ramp. At the next light, just beyond the intersection with Goffle Hill Road, turn right onto North Watchung Drive. At a “stop” sign at the top of the hill, turn sharply right onto Rea Avenue, which becomes North Haledon Avenue and then Linda Vista Avenue. At a T-intersection with Terrace Avenue, turn right, then bear left to continue on Linda Vista Avenue, which leads into William Paterson University (Entry 6). At the next “stop” sign, turn right and continue for 0.4 mile to a small parking area on the right, with a sign “High Mountain Park.”

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!

Great Hiking/Ecology Books:

1. 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

2. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

3. Eastern Deciduous Forest, Second Edition: Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants to know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources.

Click here for more information!

4. Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State – With people as its focus, Protecting New Jersey’s Environment explores the science underpinning environmental issues and the public policy infighting that goes undocumented behind the scenes and beneath the controversies.

Click here for more information!

5. Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State:

Wild New Jersey invites readers along Wheeler’s whirlwind year-long tour of the most ecologically diverse state for its size in America.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Check out the latest bird sightings at High Mountain here!