Category Archives: Beaver Lodge

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 Crossing 1

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

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-Lined 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

 

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

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!

Exploring the Wanaque River Watershed!


Pequannock River Coalition Preserving the Future

Pequannock River Coalition Preserving the Future

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. 2019 Update: Pequannock River Coalition has dissolved.

Ross Kushner Executive Director Pequannock River Coalition

Ross Kushner Executive Director Pequannock River Coalition

Meet Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!

Today we are going to explore four miles of the watershed of the C1 classified Wanaque River, a tributary to the Pequannock River.

PRC Spring Hike 4.14.13

PRC Spring Hike 4.14.13

Right now we are at the parking lot on Beech Road in Ringwood, NJ just east of Monksville Reservoir.

Monksville Reservoir

Monksville Reservoir

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.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

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!

Gray Birch

Gray Birch

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!

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

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!

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

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!

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

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.

Pileated Woodpecker Holes

Pileated Woodpecker Holes

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!

Tranqulity Ridge Passaic County Park System

Tranqulity Ridge Passaic County Park System

At the end of Beech Road, we find ourselves at the entrance to Tranquility Ridge County Park  (part of the Passaic County Park System).

Preserve in Natural State sign with Monks Connector Trail

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.

End of Monks Connector

End of Monks Connector

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.

Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch

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.

Yellow Birch Wolf Tree

Yellow Birch Wolf Tree

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.

On Hasenclever Iron Trail

On Hasenclever Iron Trail

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.

Beech Brook Tributary

Beech Brook Tributary

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.

Beech Farm Information

Beech Farm Information

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.

Wild Turkey Sign

Wild Turkey Sign

As we walk Ross points out dirt patches in the leaf litter on the ground. This was caused by Wild Turkeys looking for food.

Turkey Feather

Turkey Feather

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 Kushner with Turkey Call

Ross Kushner with Turkey Call

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 Kushner Squirrel Markings

Ross Kushner Squirrel Markings

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.

Edward Hewitt Interpretive Signage

Edward Hewitt Interpretive Signage

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.

Ross Kushner discussing invasive Plants

Ross Kushner discussing invasive plants

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.

Limestone Interpretive Signage

Limestone Interpretive Signage

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 Kushner Black Birch

Ross Kushner Black Birch

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.

Shagbark Hickory Grape Vine

Shagbark Hickory Grape Vine

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.

Rock Outcroppings

Rock Outcroppings

The rock outcroppings we are passing to our right are part of Big Beech Mountain.

After a brief climb on the Hasenclever trail we pass near wetlands to our right.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

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.

Hasenclever Iron Trail #1 Interpretive Signage

Hasenclever Iron Trail #1 Interpretive Signage

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.

Wanaque River

Wanaque River

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 rebuilt the bridge in 2013.

Sterling Ridge Trail Blaze

Sterling Ridge Trail Blaze

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.

Highlands Trail Blaze

Highlands Trail Blaze

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.

Tributary

Tributary

We are now following a tributary of the Wanaque River.

Eastern Hemlocks

Eastern Hemlocks

We have stopped just as we enter a cool ravine. Eastern Hemlocks favor this habitat. Indeed, Eastern Hemlocks are all around us!

Ross Kushner Iron Slag

Ross Kushner Iron Slag

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.

Wanaque River

Wanaque River

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.

Tributary Stream Crossing

Tributary Stream Crossing

Crossing the tributary on rocks we pass the Yellow Blazed Jennings Hollow Trailhead to our left and are now stopped at the base of a Tulip Tree.

Tulip Poplar

Tulip Poplar

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.

Woods Road

Woods Road

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.

Patterson Mine

Patterson Mine

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.

Abandoned Motorcyle

Abandoned Motorcyle

Check out the abandoned motorcycle to our right! It’s pretty old but it is still standing.

Vernal Pond

Vernal Pond

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.

Red Velvet Mite

Red Velvet Mite

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!

Monksville Reservoir Near the Parking Lot

Monksville Reservoir Near the Parking Lot

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

Check out the latest bird sightings at Long Pond Ironworks State Park Here!

Check out the latest bird sightings at Tranquility Ridge Park Here!

Exploring the Pequannock River Watershed!


Pequannock River Coalition Preserving the Future

Pequannock River Coalition Preserving the Future

The 2013 Pequannock River Coalition (PRC) Winter Hike took participants on an exploratory hike through the Pequannock River Watershed.  Led by PRC Executive Ross Kushner, the 4 mile hike promised education & exercise.

Pequannock Watershed Forest

Pequannock Watershed Forest

Started in 1995, 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.

Virtual Hike

PRC 2013 Winter Hike

PRC 2013 Winter Hike

Ah, there you are! Welcome! Ready for the 4 mile hike? There’s plenty of snow on the ground to help us look for animal tracks.

Ross Kushner Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition

Ross Kushner of the Pequannock River Coalition

Let’s begin by meeting Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!

Beginning Our Hike!

Beginning Our Hike!

Right now we are at a small gravel lot off Green Pond Road near Route 23 in the Newfoundland section of West Milford.

Welcome to Rockaway Township

Welcome to Rockaway Township

We will be exploring the area just north of Copperas Mountain in nearby Rockaway Township. Ross has just taken attendance and now we are heading southwest on Green Pond Road and will be heading into the woods of the vast Pequannock watershed!

Blow Downs

Blow Downs

What happened here? These trees appear to have collapsed like dominoes. The fallen trees were part of plantations planted in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and were to be maintained (i.e. trimmed) every 10-15 years. With the onset of WWII the plantations were all but forgotten. Fast forward to 2012, we now have a tangle of trees growing close to one another. Hurricane Sandy came and knocked the trees down. Ross explained that in general other than habitat for Northern Goshawks and Red Squirrels, plantations are a monoculture and do not provide the diversity most wildlife require.

White-Tail Deer Track

White-Tail Deer Track

Look at all these white-tail deer prints around this fallen tree!

Hardwood Tree Blowdown

Hardwood Tree Blowdown

Hardwood trees that fell during the hurricane have become popular with White-Tail Deer who enjoy nibbling on sections of tree normally inaccessible.

Ross Kushner Praying Mantis Egg Case

Ross Kushner Praying Mantis Egg Case

Leaving the fallen tree and coming to a small field, Ross has just found a curious looking egg pouch attached to a plant in a frozen field.  This is a Praying Mantis egg case.

Praying Mantis Egg Case

Praying Mantis Egg Case

You can purchase Praying Mantis egg cases and use them as a natural “pesticide” for pests such as Japanese Beetles.

American Tamarack

American Larch

Heading back to Green Pond Road, Ross points out a stand of deciduous conifers near the side of the road and has identified them as American Larch. American Larch needles turn orange in the fall and fall off in winter.

Phragmites Swamp at Base of Green Pond Mountain

Phragmites Marsh at Base of Green Pond Mountain

Heading back on Green Pond Road, we’re now walking over a Pequannock River Tributary near Deerhaven Lane. The Pequannock River Tributary draining the marsh in the foreground was straightened to drain the marsh. Phragmites, a common plant which thrives in disturbed wetlands, is abundant.

Green Pond Mountain

Green Pond Mountain

Around 10,000 years ago the Wisconsin Glacier piled boulders on the north side and sheared off the southern side of mountains in the NJ Highlands. As the glacier retreated at the end of the ice age, they tended to melt in place. The sheered cliffs visible on Green Pond Mountain were testimony to that theory.

Walking along Green Pond Road

Walking along Green Pond Road

We’re now continuing our journey down Green Pond Road. It’s been about a quarter of a mile but we are now again entering the Pequannock River Watershed forest.

Old Homestead

Old Homestead

What are these ruins we are looking at? Ross is now explaining that when the City of Newark acquired the land in the early 1900’s people were living throughout the watershed property and had been for over a hundred years. Their property was taken by imminent domain to protect the water supply. Back in the 1890s and early 1900s Newark’s population was dying as their water supply was derived from the Passaic River in Newark. This section of the Passaic River was and is severely impaired.

Running Deer Tracks

Running Deer Tracks

Walking a bit further in the snow Ross has suddenly stopped. “Look at the space between these deer prints!” he says. “This guy was flying, but not from us-these are old prints”. There must be 20 feet present between the gaps of the prints!!

Bear Tree (American Tamarack)

Bear Tree (American Larch)

What is Ross looking at? It’s another American Larch tree with a good portion of its bark missing. Ross states “The bark has been taken off over the decades by Black Bears biting and rubbing their backs on the tree. The higher the bite, the bigger the bear. Sort of a territorial thing-every bear that comes by can determine what other bears have been in the area”.

Ross walks a bit further into the woods and suddenly stops.

Mink Tracks

Mink Tracks

Mink tracks! Minks, a member of the Weasel family can usually be spotted by water.

White Pines

White Pines

We just happen to be by Deerhaven Lake where a number of White Pines are standing. These pines grew naturally. Though we don’t spot any today, there have been reports of Great Blue Heron nests in these pines. Ross turns around and starts heading back to Green Pond Road.

Four Birds Trail

Four Birds Trail

We are back on Green Pond Road on our way to a section of the white blazed 19.4 Mile Four Birds Trail. This trail, maintained by members of the NYNJ Trail Conference, is named Four Birds to represent the ecological diversity that can be encountered on the trail. Wild Turkeys, Red-Tail Hawks, Great Blue Herons & Ospreys represent the “Four Birds” in the name.

Opossum Tracks

Opossum Tracks

Near the beginning of the trail we see tiny footprints heading to a log. They belong to an Opossum.

American Beech Eye of the Forest

American Beech Eye of the Forest

It looks like we are now leaving the Four Birds Trail and are walking by a rather large American Beech with marks that look like eyes keeping watch over the forest.  American Beech is considered a climax species in succession and is an indicator that the forest present here has not been disturbed in a long time.

Ross Kushner American Beech Bear Claw Mark

Ross Kushner American Beech Black Bear Claw Mark

Ross Pointed out black bear claw marks and noted that they are perfectly spaced.

Beaver Lodge Deerhaven Pond

Beaver Lodge Deerhaven Lake

Looking northwest towards Deerhaven Lake we see a large active beaver lodge with several others in the distance.  Ross stated that the primary predator of beavers is the gray wolf which has been extirpated from New Jersey. Time to stop for lunch!

Northern Red Oak Leaf

Northern Red Oak Leaf

I find the leaf of the Northern Red Oak (NJ’s state tree) on my seat.

White Oak with Black Bear Claw Marks

White Oak with Black Bear Claw Marks

After eating our lunch Ross spots a White Oak tree covered with Black Bear claw marks. White Oak acorns are sweeter than other oaks such as Black or Red Oak. Black Bears love White Oak acorns so much that they will go up into the tree to retrieve them before they fall.

Firefly

Firefly

While checking out the claw marks we spot an out of season Firefly on the White Oak. Apparently it was tricked by the abundant sunshine.

Otter Scat

Otter Scat

River Otter droppings containing fish scales were spotted near an outlet of a Pequannock River tributary leaving Deerhaven Lake. River Otters are usually active near the outlet of a beaver pond and the droppings are indicators of River Otter territorial tendencies.

Otter Sliding Marks

Otter Sliding Marks

We even see the slides they made on the ice!

Pequannock River

Pequannock River

Ross is taking us on a shortcut back to our cars near the Pequannock River.

Stonefly

Stonefly

What’s this? A stonefly! Soneflies are a sure indicator of the good water quality found in the C1 Trout Production Pequannock River.

Pequannock River Watershed Forest

Well, we’ve reached our cars and the tour has concluded. I hope this virtual hike has inspired you to explore your local forest.