The Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center (GSOEC) consists of a 44 acre portion of the Great Swamp managed since 1963 by the Morris County Parks Department. The GSOEC hosts guided nature walks, school, scout and public educational programs.
The GSOEC hosts periodic studies of the flora and fauna to determine the overall health of the Great Swamp.
The estimated 7,768 acre Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (GSNWR) abuts the GSOEC to the west. The GSNWR is one of 553 refuges administered by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Lands comprising a National Wildlife Refuge are managed for the protection of wildlife and its habitat.
History of the Great Swamp
The origin of the Great Swamp begins with the melting and subsequent retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier around 25,000 years ago. Debris from the glacier blocked the passage of an ancient river creating an enormous lake known as Lake Passaic. Lake Passaic is thought to have been 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. Over time, an outlet was formed near Little Falls NJ draining the lake via the Passaic River. This drainage is still occurring today. Today the Great Swamp forms a remnant component of the once great Lake Passaic.
In the late 1950’s the area now known as the Great Swamp was identified by the NYNJ Port Authority as an ideal location for a new jetport. The Great Swamp Conservation Foundation mobilized volunteers to protect the Great Swamp. The result was the establishment of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The Great Swamp Conservation Foundation later became the North Jersey Conservation Foundation and then finally known as New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
GSOEC features four short loop trails. Two of the four trails (Orange & Red) are interpretive and follow 16 markers listed in a self guided trail booklet available at the education center. Click here for a trail map!
The total length of the trails is 1.4 miles.
Ready to take a virtual tour of the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center? Let’s Go!
Stop by the kiosk near the parking lot to pick up a trail map. From the kiosk, head to the education center to view the exhibits on the flora and fauna of the Great Swamp.
After checking out the exhibits inside, it’s time to start our hike.
Let’s begin our virtual hike by taking the Orange Blazed trail located to the south of the education center. The Orange Trail at .61 Miles is the longest trail present in the GSOEC. It contains Markers 1-10 from the self guided trail.
The first marker, regarding the Red Maple tree, appears shortly after the beginning of the orange trail. Red Maple is the most common tree in the Great Swamp as well as the eastern deciduous forest.
Red Maple’s flowers are red in the spring and the leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall. Though the Sugar Maple may come to mind when it comes to maple syrup, Red Maple can be tapped for syrup as well. Red Maple should be tapped before budding occurs as the buds change the chemical makeup of the syrup.
Continuing on the orange trail, marker #2 comes into view on the right where a large depression may be found.
The large depression is known as a vernal pond. Vernal ponds do not support fish and may be dry or filled with water. Due to the lack of predators (i.e. fish) the vernal pond provides a safe haven for amphibians such as Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers and Blue-Spotted Salamanders among other species to breed and lay eggs. Continuing past the vernal pond, two fenced areas appear shortly after on the left.
Marker # 3 explains that these sections of the GSOEC were fenced in 2009 to study how plant communities recover from the damage caused by an overpopulation of white tail deer.
Marker #4 describes an Ecotone. An Ecotone is anywhere two habitats meet and create an edge. The Ecotone present here was created by the Power line right of way. The positive aspects of this man-made Ecotone is the creation of suitable nesting habitat for the local turtle population in addition to providing a valuable hunting ground for birds of prey. On the flipside, the disturbed ground caused by the creation of the power lines have provided ideal habitat for invasive plants as Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, Wineberry & Japanese Barberry.
Continuing in a southwest direction, the dirt path changes to a boardwalk as the trail traverses the wetland area.
A short boardwalk appears to the right of the main boardwalk which leads to the Pond which is marker #5.
Ponds are usually less than 18 feet deep. Eventually as plant matter and other organic material decays, the pond will begin to become a marsh, progress to a forested wetland and finally upland habitat after many years.
The Pond at GSOEC is manmade and provides habitat for Eastern Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Belted Kingfisher and River Otters among others. Flora of the Pond includes Yellow Flowered Spatterdock & Duckweed.
Continuing on the trail leads to Marker #6 which describes Poison Ivy which is seen here growing as a hairy vine. Poison ivy contains a clear liquid known as urushiol which causing a burning itching rash in many people. In addition to a hairy vine Poison Ivy can be found as a shrub reaching over three feet tall or as a trailing vine on the ground.
Several rhymes exist warning of the dangers of Poison Ivy:
“Leaves of three, let them be”
“Hairy rope, don’t be a dope”
“Hairy vine, no friend of mine”
Despite the negative publicity this native plant receives, Poison Ivy has tremendous value for wildlife. Native birds such as Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Dark Eyed Junco and Northern Flicker eat Poison Ivy’s white berries. Mammals such as White-Tail Deer and Eastern Cottontail consume Poison Ivy’s leaves.
At this point of the hike you may notice abundant Mountain Laurel. Marker # 7 appears here.
Its purpose is to briefly touch upon “the browse line”. The over abundant white- tail deer have stripped all leaves of vegetation from six feet down. If the current trend continues, there may not be a forest here in the future.
From this area, the trail head of the .23 of a mile Blue trail loop appears.
Let’s take a brief break from the interpretive trail to explore this short trail.
The Blue Trail Loop goes through an upland area consisting of mostly Mountain Laurel and Swamp Chestnut Oak.
The trail encircles a small vernal pond (the vernal pond, seen here at the end of September 2012 was dry).
Completing the Blue Trail Loop, head back to the Orange Trail and to Marker # 8 which describes the function of a rotting log in the forest.
Standing dead trees or snags play an important role in the eastern deciduous forest. Woodpeckers including Pileated, Downy and Red-Bellied among others excavate holes in the dead trees searching for tasty insects. These excavated holes in turn create habitat for birds including Black-Capped Chickadee. Fungus will usually invade the dead wood further softening it. Eventually, the tree will fall to the forest floor where it will continue to decay creating a rich organic soil which will support future species of trees.
Proceed east to Marker # 9 The Phragmites Marsh. Phragmites (aka Giant Reed) is a giant species of grass which can grow from 10-20 feet. Phragmites thrives in disturbed areas. Phragmites found in the Great Swamp are native to the eastern deciduous forest. Phragmites are considered invasive because of its aggressive growth and tendency to overwhelm all other vegetation.
From here the trail leaves the boardwalk and heads south to marker # 10 which passes an outdoor study area and leads to a Wigwam replica.
The Lenape Native Americans (the original people) created Wigwams as shelter from saplings, tree bark and Cattail Mats among others. This replica would have been big enough for two people. Marker #10 is the last marker for the orange trail.
After heading back from the Wigwam, turn right on the Orange Trail and follow the trail a brief distance to its terminus.
The “Prayer of the Woods” sign is found right before the start of the Red Trail. After reading the Prayer and taking in its message, turn right to start hiking the .39 mile Red Trail to continue the interpretive trail.
The first marker on the Red Trail is #11 which identifies trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.
Trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest include the below among others:
The term “deciduous” indicates that the trees comprising this type of forest lose their leaves each fall and grow new leaves in the spring.
Continuing on the red trail leads Marker #12 “Transmission Lines and Marsh”.
Here, vegetation is periodically removed or trimmed back so as to not interfere with the power lines. This wet marsh provides habitat to Wood Ducks, Mallards, Muskrats and Red-Wing Blackbirds among others.
From here turn left at the sign leading to the education center to go to Marker # 13.
The Red Trail approaches Marker #13 as it crosses a stream.
Sediments and rocks on the stream bottom provides habitat for a variety of Crayfish and Macro-invertebrates. Marco-invertebrates lack backbones and can be seen without the aid of a microscope. Certain macro-invertebrates such as Caddisflies are pollutant intolerant. Presence of pollutant intolerant macro-invertebrates are one way to indicate the health of a stream. Macro- invertebrates eat many different things depending on the species-there are predators, scavengers, and herbivores among them. In turn, macro-invertebrates are a source of food for various turtles, fish and frogs.
Continuing on the red trail leads to Marker #14 which discusses“The Wet Meadow”. The Wet Meadow is a man-made habitat created by a power-line cut and is home to field mice, star-nosed moles and various hawks & owls among others.
Marker #15 leads to an American Beech Tree. The smooth gray bark of the American Beech Tree usually invites individuals to carve their names and other messages into the trunks. Carving in a tree trunk is similar to a cut on your finger. However, unlike your injured finger, a tree cannot put a band-aid on its wound. The carved bark is an open door for disease.
Beechdrops, seen here in this picture, lack both leaves and chlorophyll and is a parasitic plant of the American Beech Tree.
#16 The Swamp
The final marker on the red trail briefly discusses the importance of the Great Swamp. The land comprising the Great Swamp is a mix of meadows, upland woods, marsh and brush covered swamps. Only 40% of the Great Swamp is wet either part of the year or all year long whereas 60% of the Great Swamp consists of upland forest & meadows.
You are now at the end of the Red Trail.
At the end of the red trail head north to catch the beginning of the short .20 of a mile Green Trail near the parking area. The Green trail traverses in a short loop in an upland portion of the GSOEC.
Check out these mushrooms found growing in September 2012!
In the parking area near the end of the Green Trail you may notice a black box hanging from a tree. The Black boxes are used to detect for the presence of the Asian Long-Horn Beetle, an invasive species from Asia.
After the Green Trail is complete, it’s time to visit the Observation Blind located off the parking lot which views the Pond looking west.
This concludes our virtual hike! I hope you enjoyed it and it inspired you to take a trip to see the GSOEC for yourself!
Click here for directions!
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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Welcome to Westchester County’s Cranberry Lake Preserve! Cranberry Lake Preserve (CLP), purchased by Westchester County in 1967, contains 190 acres of deciduous woodland, wetlands, an old quarry, several bodies of water and old ruins.
In the early 1900’s the land that was to become CLP was an active quarry utilized for the construction of the nearby Kensico Dam which holds NYC drinking water.
Trails are open dawn to dusk. Trail maps are available at a kiosk outside or you can click here for a digital version.
- CLP features four blazed loop trails. All trails begin and end with blazes featuring the Westchester County Parks logo. Periodic numbers appear on blazes occasionally which correspond to your current location on the trail map. These numbers are found on wooden posts. (Please note the numbers do not appear on the online version of the trail map)
All trails are accessible by either orange or white blaze connector trails.
Many sections of CLP trails display signs which lead back to the Nature Lodge. Click here for a trail map!
At 2.4 miles the red trail is the longest trail featured in CLP. The red trail follows CLP boundaries with the exception of the quarry.
The Blue Trail loops around both Cranberry Lake and South Pond for a total distance of 1 mile.
Cranberry Lake is a natural body of water formed around 18,000 years ago by glacier activity. The lake is fed by an underground spring.
Ground Pine can be found growing along the Blue Trail.
The Yellow trail traverses rocky upland and a section of Cranberry Lake.
Purple (History) Trail
The Purple Blazed History trail is a self guided trail which explores most of the preserve including the quarry. The self guided trailmap can be found by clicking here.
While CLP’s trails are open dusk to dawn, the nature lodge and its parking area are closed most days by 5PM. It is strongly recommended that you park in the designated parking area near Old Orchard Street if you plan on hiking past 5PM.
It is from the Old Orchard Street parking entrance that the below description starts out from on the way to explore CLP. Let’s go!
From the parking area, walk up the road to the nature lodge.
Just to the west of the nature lodge is an interesting wetland with a dock.
It was here that I saw this snake.
Head inside the nature lodge to check out the exhibits and pick up a trail map.
From the nature lodge, head south to take the yellow trail down to an Orange connecting trail.
Here there is a sign advertising Cranberry Lake. The orange blazed connector trail leads to a jointly blazed yellow/blue trail with Cranberry Lake straight ahead.
Follow the Yellow/Blue blazed trail south with Cranberry Lake to your left.
Continuing south, take the Orange Blazed Connector trail which will appear to your left near a wooden boardwalk known as Bent Bridge.
Bent Bridge provides a good opportunity to check out the fen located to the south of Cranberry Lake. In the summer, white water lilies appear on the water.
Leaving Bent Bridge, the Orange blazed connector trail leads to a man-made “cave” known as the Stone Chamber.
The ruins surrounding the stone chamber were the property of a farmer named Thomas Cunningham. The Stone Chamber is a very neat little man-made “cave” of sorts that is fun to explore.
From here, the orange blaze connector trail leads past more stone ruins to the Purple Trail (aka History Trail). The path here follows an old railroad which separates the fen from South Pond.
You are sure to hear splashes in the warmer months of frogs jumping in the water as you walk by.
Head east on the Purple Trail to a bench strategically placed in front of a beautiful cascade.
It’s a good spot to rest and relax in a peaceful setting.
From the cascade, continue east on the Purple Trail following signs for the quarry.
An abandoned tennis court will appear to your right.
The tennis court was part of the Birchwood Swim club which used the Quarry Pond for Swimming.
Nature is slowly reclaiming the tennis court. Birchwood Swim Club was discontinued in 1997.
Once past the quarry pond the purple trail heads past old railroad car wheels which were used to haul granite during the quarry operation.
The Purple Trail continues heading north climbing over the rocky quarry.
The height here is an estimated 450 feet above sea level.
Derrick anchors which once held heavy quarry machinery are still fastened in the rocks along the trail.
From here, the trail starts to descend the quarry and heads west passing an old abandoned car.
Continuing north the Purple Trail comes across the remains of a stone cutting shed.
After exploring this area, follow the Purple Trail south until it meets with the red trail. From here, take the red trail southwest with Cranberry Lake to your right. Continuing south, retrace your steps until you pass the cascade with the bench at an intersection with the Purple Trail that you previously took into the Quarry territory. Continuing south, the red trail passes South Pond to the West.
South Pond is man-made and was created during quarry activities.
A Bird Observation tower appears to your left. This tower provides great views of South Pond.
The red trail passes near the remains of a stone crusher foundation. The stone crusher was capable of crushing up to 1000 cubic yards of gravel per day when the quarry was active.
Signs for NYC Watershed appear to east of the trail.
From here, the red trail turns west and temporarily leaves CLP & enters White Plains watershed land and passes Hush Pond to the south.
From Hush Pond, the red trail passes a couple of connector trails and turns north following an old stone wall delineating NYC watershed property from CLP. According to David Steinberg who wrote a description of Cranberry Lake Preserve in his book “Hiking the Road to Ruins” the lower, crude, sharper-tipped walls are of colonial origin and the larger, cut-stone flat-topped walls are NY DEP watershed boundaries dating from the 1960s.
It was here that I found Indian Pipe growing when I visited in June of 2012. Continue following the red trail north with the wall to your left until you reach your car.
Cranberry Lake Preserve contains diverse habitats within its 190 acres. It is worth checking out yourself!
- 1609 Old Orchard Street, North White Plains, NY
- Park hours: Park open dawn to dusk. Nature Lodge and front gate are open Wednesday-Sunday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Phone: (914) 428-1005
Click here for Directions!
Check out David Steinberg’s description of this hike in the book “Hiking the Road to Ruins”
Click here for more information!
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!
Welcome to Paramus’s Reid Park Interpretive Nature Trail!
The nature trail, created in 2004 by Boswell Engineering, meanders about .20 of a mile through part of an estimated 59 + acres of forested wetlands. The trail stretches from the Reid Park fields and playground area to Soldier Hill Road.
Most of the forest is under threat of development. As of this writing there was a partial clear cut in November 2009 which the borough of Paramus has since halted.
Two footbridges and 3 boardwalks were placed over the more saturated soil on the trail. The boardwalks actually rise with the water level and were installed without heavy machinery.
Interpretive signage describing the flora & fauna found in Reid Park has been placed throughout the entire length of the trail. Most of the signs are intentionally placed next to the items they describe.
Others are more of a chance encounter. For example, moments after reading the below Red-Tail Hawk sign on my last visit, there was a screech from a Red-Tail Hawk soaring above.
Flora found along the Reid Park Nature Trail includes:
Fauna includes the below among others:
Reid Park is located at the end of Spencer Place in Paramus, New Jersey and is definitely worth checking out.
Route 17 to the exit for Ridgewood Avenue heading towards River Edge/Oradell (eastbound). Proceed straight and go over the Garden State Parkway (GSP). Continue past the 1st light (Pascack Rd.) and turn left into Terrace Dr (Landmark: Savnio’s Pizza). Bear right at the fork in the road, then turn left on to Spencer Pl. (1st street). The field is at the end of the street.