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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 go on a hike, or better yet, become a member of the Pequannock River Coalition!

Feel free to e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestion! Thank you and have fun exploring!

HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THE PEQUANNOCK RIVER COALITION ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA BY CLICKING A BUTTON BELOW!!

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Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Wood Duck Nature Trail!


Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Wood Duck Nature Trail

Welcome to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Wood Duck Nature Trail!

Kiosk at Entrance to Wood Duck Nature Trail

The estimated 3.5 mile Wood Duck Nature Trail is part of the 5,000 + acre Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, located about 60 miles northwest of New York City, was established in 1990 along a nine mile stretch of the river in the northeastern section of Sussex County, New Jersey (in Wantage, Hardyston, and Vernon) and  in southern Orange County New York (in Minisink and Warwick).

Wood Duck Nature Trail

The trail, which opened in October of 1997, follows the path of the former New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad. This particular section of the railroad was created in 1872 and abandoned in 1958.  Most of the railroad infrastructure was removed when the line was abandoned but reminders such as moss covered railroad ties can still be found.

Old Railroad Tie

The trail was constructed by hard working dedicated volunteers and named after the Wood Duck, which may be found in the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge.

Wood Duck

The trail is flat and makes for very easy walking.

Benches & Interpretive Signage Wood Duck Nature Trail

Interpretive signage has been strategically placed throughout the trail informing visitors of the surrounding habitat and its residents.

Wood Duck Interpretive Signage

Beaver Interpretive Signage

In addition to the interpretive nature signs, there are plenty of benches and even a wildlife viewing blind.

Wildlife Viewing Blind

The trail features footbridges over Wallkill River tributaries such as Beaver Run.

Foot Bridge over Beaver Run

Habitats found along the way include red maple dominated swamps located near the beginning of the trail.

Red Maple

Red Maple is one of the most abundant native trees found in eastern North America.  It is common in swampy slow draining flats and along small sluggish streams. These habitats can be found throughout the Wood Duck Nature Trail.

This out and back trail runs for about 1.75 miles before it ends at the Wallkill River. Out and back trails always provide the opportunity to see additional wildlife or scenery you might have missed heading in. Future plans for the Wood Duck Nature Trail include a foot bridge over the Wallkill River and extending the trail by another .75 of a mile.

Wallkill River

Wallkill River

The Wallkill River, a tributary of the Hudson River, begins by draining Lake Mohawk in Sparta, New Jersey and flows about 88 miles northeast through a wide glacial valley  between the Kittatinny Mountains to the west and the Hudson Highlands to the east. The river is unusual for flowing north in between the south flowing Hudson and Delaware rivers.

Beaver Run as seen from footbridge

The Wallkill River and Beaver Run are labeled FW2-NT. (Fresh Water, Non-Trout).  Water with this classification are generally not suitable for trout because of physical, chemical or biological characteristics but may be suitable for a wide variety of other fish.

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Habitat

The Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge contains one of the last large areas of high quality waterfowl habitat left in northwestern New Jersey.  The refuge contains emergent marshes, vernal pools, wet meadows and forested wetlands surrounded by oak covered limestone ridges paralleling the Wallkill River.

Endangered Species

The Bog Turtle Recovery Plan (USFWS 2001) has identified the Wallkill River watershed as a recovery subunit making the refuge one of only two national wildlife refuges that supports the endangered Bog Turtle.

Bog Turtle

Bog Turtle

Measuring in at only 3-3.9 inches, the Bog Turtle is one of the smallest and secretive of North America’s turtle population.  Habitat suiting the bog turtle includes calcareous (limestone) fens and wet, grassy pastures which are all found within the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge.

Wet Meadows

Just like the interpretive signs of wildlife picture listed below (and found on the Wood Duck Nature Trail), you don’t have to necessarily see physical animals to know they are present.

Signs of Wildlife Interpretive Sign

Animals and birds leave tracks and other signs that they have been in the area.

Wallkill River Wood Duck Nature Trail

Given that there are an estimated 40 species of animals living in the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge, you are bound to come across some clue to key in on what species has been poking around. Animals documented include the following among others:

More than 225 species of birds have been documented in the refuge.  Birds documented include these among many others:

During my last visit, I heard a Red-Tail Hawk and observed White Breasted Nuthatches and a Blue Jay.

Blue Jay

Common amphibians and reptiles found in the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge include Redback Salamander, Spring Peeper, Eastern Garter Snake and Snapping Turtle.

Flora found in and around the Wood Duck Nature Trail includes:

Young Eastern Red Cedar

Gray Birch

American Sycamore

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!

The Wood Duck Nature Trail trailhead is located on Route 565 in Wantage, New Jersey, approximately 200 yards north of Route 23 near the Sussex Queen Diner on Route 23 North. There is a small parking lot available right outside the Wood Duck Nature Trail trailhead.

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Wood Duck Nature Trail

The refuge contains three other hiking trails in addition to the Wood Duck Nature Trail providing visitors to experience the refuge in and out. If you are in the area, be sure to check it out!

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 e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestion! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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