Category Archives: Essex County Parks

Welcome to the Essex County Environmental Center!


Welcome to the Essex County Environmental Center (ECEC)!

Essex County Environmental Center

Essex County Environmental Center

ECEC is part of the Essex County Park System and features about 1 mile of hiking trails, a canoe launch on the Passaic River, frog pond & a Wigwam  among other points of interests. ECEC hosts many fine environmental education programs. Click here for more information on ECEC programs! Originally established in 1972 and closed due to funding issues in 1995, ECEC re-opened in 2005 with a new environmentally friendly building.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Partners of the ECEC include the the Sierra Club, NJ Audubon Society, Essex County Environmental Commission, Essex County Beekeepers Society & the Essex County Recreation & Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board.

Essex County Environmental Center

Essex County Environmental Center

ECEC is located in the 1,360 acre West Essex Park which primarily consists of deciduous wooded wetlands. West Essex Park was created in 1955 when the Essex County Park Commission first acquired a portion of the land. Additional land was purchased from more than 70 additional landowners through the years.

ECEC Virtual Tour

ECEC Front Desk

ECEC Front Desk

From the parking area, head to the Environmental Center to pick up a trail map and check out the indoor exhibits. (PS this tour took place in September 2012-about 1 month prior to Hurricane Sandy and thus describes the center as I found it at that time)

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Once inside, there are various exhibits regarding topics such as renewable energy.

Wind Energy

Wind Energy

After taking in the information, pick up a trail map, it’s time to explore the trails!

Start of Interpretive Trail

Start of Interpretive Trail

Head outside the center and turn right on the Lenape Trail.

Welcome to the Lenape Trail

Welcome to the Lenape Trail

Throughout the exploration numbered wooded posts will be encountered. These posts correspond to the trail map pictured below (taken from the Essex County Environment Center Website)  which we will review as we proceed.

Essex County Environmental Center Trail Map

Essex County Environmental Center Trail Map

Sweetgum Leaf

Sweetgum Leaf

The first marker is in regards to the Sweetgum Tree which is found here near its northern natural limit. Sweetgum has star shaped leaves & spiny seedpods.

Marker 2 Gray Birch

Just past marker 1 turn right on a short green blazed trail and come to marker # 2 which has the remains of a Gray Birch. Gray Birch, one of the first trees to grow after a disturbance, is a short lived species. Only the logs (located around the marker) remain of this particular Gray Birch.

Marker 3 Mother Log

Marker 3 Mother Log

Marker 3 appears just after Marker 2 and discusses the old log lying next to the post. The old log is known as a mother log because it is “nursing” the soil by slowly decomposing nutrients therefore creating a richer soil for future vegetation.

Deer Fence

Deer Fence

Behind this marker a tall deer proof fence will appear.

Habitat Restoration Area Please Stay on Trail

Habitat Restoration Area Please Stay on Trail

The fence was constructed to keep hungry white-tailed deer out so native vegetation may grow.

Frog Pond

Frog Pond

Continuing to Marker #4, a cool little body of water known as the Frog Pond appears.  While we might not see any frogs today, we know they are present. Check out the native vegetation such as cattail and arrow arum growing in the pond!

Create a Pond

Create a Pond

A sign has been strategically placed so that you can learn how to construct a pond of your own to attract frogs. From the Frog Pond, leave the green blazed trail and pass Garibaldi Hall.

Garibaldi Hall

Garibaldi Hall

Garibaldi Hall was part of the original environmental center and is still used by the Master Gardeners of Essex County.

Patriots Path

Patriots Path

Head toward Eagle Rock Avenue to Marker # 5 found at the start of the White Blazed Patriots Path.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

The flora identified by this marker is found at your feet. Garlic Mustard is its name, and, at least here in the eastern United States, establishment of itself as an invasive species is its game.  White Tail Deer do not eat Garlic Mustard and the plant has no natural predators in the US. Garlic Mustard produces a chemical which suppress mycorrhizal fungi required by most plants to grow successfully. As a result, Garlic Mustard, once established, forms a monoculture in which native plants cannot become established. Heading further on the Patriot Path I encountered these three fellows in addition to a River Birch (Marker #6):

White Tail Deer

White Tail Deer

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

After passing marker six it’s time to leave the Patriot trail by heading left to a wooden boardwalk.

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

The boardwalk  is raised above the Passaic River floodplain.

Wood Duck Box

Wood Duck Box

A wooden box will appear straight ahead near the Passaic River (Marker #7). This box has been placed for nesting Wood Ducks (a species that nests in tree cavities but will also utilize man-made structures).

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Be careful of Poison Ivy (Marker #8) as you continue your journey on the boardwalk! Poison ivy contains a clear liquid known as urushiol which causing a burning itching rash in many people.  Poison Ivy can be found as a hairy vine, a shrub reaching over three feet tall or as a trailing vine on the ground. It helps to remember the following jingles to remind you of the dangers of this vine:

“Hairy rope, don’t be a dope” & “Leaves of three, leave them be”

Leaving Poison Ivy behind, the Passaic River (Marker #9) appears to the right as we leave the boardwalk.

Passaic River Canoe and Kayak Access

Passaic River Canoe and Kayak Access

The river is located southwest behind the Environmental Center Building.  This is a great spot to launch a canoe or kayak to go explore the river.

Passaic River

Passaic River

Some quick Passaic River facts: Spanning 80 miles, the Passaic River is the second largest river in NJ and flows through Morris, Somerset, Union, Essex, Passaic, Bergen and Hudson counties. The confluence of the Rockaway River with the Passaic River is located nearby.  Fish including bass, herring & shad find a home in the Passaic River.

Pollinator Garden

Pollinator Garden

We now find ourselves back on the Lenape trail and passing a Pollinator Garden (Marker #10). Native plants are being grown here to attract bees which are our next point of interest (Marker #11).

Busy Bees at Work

Busy Bees at Work

The Essex County Beekeepers keep a selection of Honeybees here. Bee careful not to disturb it!

Marker 12 Lenape Life

Marker 12 Lenape Life

Wow! What’s this? Why it’s Marker #12 aka Lenape Life. Here you will find behind a gate a Wigwam and other items characteristic of Lenape Life. The Lenape were the original people who found a home in this area prior to European settlement.

Wigwam

Wigwam

Wigwams were created from saplings which were bent to create a dome frame. The frame was then covered with a mixture of animal skins & mats of reeds and rushes. In addition to the Wigwam, the Lenape learning center features a fire pit, meat drying rack, food cache, Lenape Gardens, fishing & tanning rack.

Red Oak

Red Oak

Looping back towards the Environmental Center a Northern Red Oak (Marker #13) appears. The Northern Red Oak is NJ’s state tree and is readily identified by its “ski-slope” bark. Northern Red Oak emits a foul odor when cut down.

Soon after Marker #13 appears Marker #14 (Forest Composition) which describes Musclewood, American Beech & Spicebush.

American Beech

American Beech

Smooth gray bark is characteristic of the American Beech. It is this feature that attracts individuals to carve their initials. This practice is detrimental to American Beech as the carvings create opportunities for disease and could very well kill the tree. In winter, American Beech leaves remain until the spring when new leaves bud out. American Beech is usually found in forest in the final stage of succession.

Spicebush

Spicebush

Spicebush is one of the first native shrubs to bloom in spring. Spicebush earns its name from the spicy scent which emits from a broken twig.  Spicebush is usually found in deciduous wooded wetlands such as those encountered at the ECEC.

Musclewood

Musclewood

Musclewood (aka Ironwood or American Hornbeam) is a small understory tree usually found in deciduous wooded wetlands. The form of the tree resembles a muscular arm. Straight ahead is the Environmental Center but we’re not quite finished with our tour yet. We still have a whole trail yet to explore!

Marker 15 Ferns

Marker 15 Ferns

Let’s turn right on the Lenape to Marker # 15 which discusses three common ferns found in the ECEC forest: Christmas fern, Hay scented Fern & Sensitive Fern.  Christmas fern is evergreen and is thought to be given the name due to its leaves having the appearance of a stocking that you would hang on your chimney. Hay scented fern is named such due to its scent resembling, well, hay. Sensitive Fern is an appropriate name indeed as this fern is one of the first to wilt come the first frosts of fall.

Bird Lane Trail

Bird Lane Trail

We’ve now come to the beginning of the blue blazed Bird Lane Trail.

Bird Lane Trail Trailhead

Bird Lane Trail Trailhead

Let’s take a right to go explore it. The first marker on the Bird Lane Trail is #16 the Fox Grape Vine. Birds such as Northern Cardinal enjoy the grapes this vine produces.

Passaic River Floodplain

Continuing on we start our loop and see Marker #17 which describes the floodplain forest found at the ECEC.  The forest here often will flood (especially in early spring when melting snow contributes to increase water flow in the Passaic River). Species here such as Red Maple flourish in the conditions provided by frequent flooding.

18 Boulder

As we start to turn back there is a large rock (Marker #18) visible in the woods. This rock is known as a glacial erratic and was carried to this spot when the last glacier (Wisconsin Glacier) came through the area around 10,000 years ago. This rock was likely carried from the nearby Watchung Mountains.

Old Equipment

Old Equipment

Continuing back towards the Lenape Trail we pass Marker #19 which describes the past land use of the ECEC. Old farming equipment such as this piece found near this marker tells us that this land was once used as farmland. Looking around you can clearly see the forest has reclaimed the land. Well, we’ve now reached our last marker (#20) which describes the Mayapple plant. The Mayapple plant blooms a single flower in early spring and first emerges before the forest has fully leafed out in springtime.

Bird Lane What will you find?

Bird Lane What will you find?

Well, we’ve now reached the end of the Bird Lane Trail!

Bird Lane Trail End

Bird Lane Trail End

And with that, our tour has concluded. I hope it has inspired you to go visit the ECEC to see if for yourself! Click here for directions!

Great Ecology Books:

1. 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!

2. 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!

3. 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 here!

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Welcome to Essex County Mills Reservation!


Welcome to the Mills Reservation

Welcome to Essex County’s Mills Reservation County Park! Mills reservation, located primarily in Cedar Grove, NJ became a part of the Essex County Park system in 1954 due to a donation from the Davella Mills foundation which had previously owned the land.

Mills Reservation County Park

The reservation consists of deciduous woodland and wetlands with the only development consisting of a small parking lot located off of Normal Avenue and the development of an excellent trail system.  Parking is also available on Old Quarry Road near the southern entrance to the reserve. Mills Reservation has Normal Avenue to the north, Montclair’s Mountain Side Park to the east, Reservoir Drive & the Cedar Grove Reservoir to the west and Old Quarry Road to the south.

Originally an estimated 119 acres, Mills Reservation’s total acreage was brought to 157 acres through a land swap in Newark between the years 1962 and 1967.

Geology

Volcanic Basalt

Mills Reservation is located on the 1st Watchung Mountain. The word “Watchung” is of Native American origin and means “high hill”. The rock which forms the Watchungs is known as basalt which formed when molten lava extruded out of the earth’s surface and cooled rapidly.

Mysterious Normal Avenue Purple Box Information

Emerald Ash Borer Detector

Visitors who park in the Normal Avenue parking lot may notice a strange purple box hanging from a White Ash Tree.  This purple box has been placed to detect the presence of the Emerald Ash Borer, a non-native 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. The color purple attracts the emerald ash borer. Once the insect lands on the box they become trapped on the sticky surface.

Trails

Mills Reservation Trail Map

Mills Reservation features 7 trails totaling 6.1 miles (with several trails overlapping in sections).  The main trail is known as the 1.5 mile Mills Loop Trail which consists of a large gravel road.

Mills Reservation Loop

This is the most popular trail in Mills Reservation and you are almost guaranteed to come across people walking their dogs no matter what the weather.

Dog near Mills Reservation Loop

The other six trails (including a portion of the estimated 34 mile Essex County Lenape Trail) found throughout Mills Reservation also offer the chance to explore deep into this wooded forest island.

Reservoir Trail Blaze

  • Reservoir Trail  (Red Blazes, 1 Mile) heads west from the Normal Avenue Parking Lot and follows the western border of Mills Reservation near Reservoir Drive. Seasonal peaks of the City of Newark owned Cedar Grove Reservoir may be seen to the west of the trail. The Reservoir trail ends where the southern section of the Eastview Trail begins.

    Eastview Trail

  • Eastview Trail  (Blue Blazes, 1.1 Miles) Southern portion of this trail begins near the Old Quarry Road entrance to Mills Reservation and, as the name implies, heads east to Quarry Point before turning north on the eastern portion of the reserve. Quarry Points contains volcanic basalt outcrops in addition to a very old cement platform where anti-aircraft guns were installed during World War II.

    Quarry Point Ruins

    Quarry Points offers great views of NYC and is considered one of the highlights of Mills Reservation. NJ Audubon Society hosts their Spring Hawk count at Quarry Point due to the great views.

    Manhattan View from Quarry Point

    The Eastview Trail’s northern terminus is the Normal Avenue parking lot.

    Woodland Trail Trailhead

  • Woodland Trail  (Purple Blaze .8 of a mile) The northern portion of this trail is accessible off of the red blazed Reservoir trail near the Normal Avenue parking lot.  This trail traverses down the heart of Mills Reservation heading in a mostly southwest direction before turning southeast to end near Quarry Point near the Eastview and Lenape Trail.

    Welcome to the Lenape Trail

  • Lenape Trail– is accessible from the Normal Avenue parking lot via the .1 of a mile Lenape Link Trail (Yellow on White Blazes) which heads west from the Normal Avenue parking lot to connect with the Lenape Trail which enters Mills Reservation from the northwest.

    Lenape Trail Connector to Lenape Trail

    The Lenape Trail then heads southwest crossing through the Reservoir Trail, Mills Loop Trail and the Woodland Trail before turning south to cross the Woodland Trail and Mills Loop Trail again. Once the Lenape Trail crosses the Woodland and Mills Loop Trail, it heads east to briefly meet with the Eastview Trail where it then turns east to Quarry Point. From Quarry Point the Lenape Trail heads north paralleling the Eastview Trail before turning east into Montclair’s Mountainside Park on its way to Newark.

  • Mills Gate Trail  (Orange Blaze .1 of a mile) is a side loop of the Mills Reservation Loop and can be accessed from the eastern border of Mills Reservation. The trail goes through the original and once primary entrance of Mills Reservation.

    Original Entry into Mills Reservation

    Flora

    Mills Reservation contains an interesting array of native flora including:

    Gray Birch

    American Beech

    Chestnut Oak

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!

  • Directions: (As taken from NYNJCT Botany)Take the Garden State Parkway south to exit 151 (Watchung Avenue in Montclair).  Turn west from the exit ramp onto Watchung Avenue.  Drive about two miles until the road ends at Upper Mountain Avenue.  Turn north and go 1.7 miles to the traffic light at Normal Avenue.  Turn west and drive 0.3 miles to the entrance on the left.

 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 here!