Category Archives: Essex County

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-Tailed 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 (2)

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!

Check Out the Latest Bird Sightings Here!

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!

Montclair’s Alonzo Bonsal Wildlife Preserve!


Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve Green Acres

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve

Welcome to the 20.68 acre Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve! The preserve is located and owned by the Township of Montclair, New Jersey and was purchased with NJ DEP Green Acres funds. The City of Clifton is located to the north, and residential development surrounds the preserve to the south, east and west. There are 9.12 acres of adjacent lands located to the north of the preserve which are controlled by the North Jersey District Water Commission for its Wanaque Reservoir Balancing Tank which provide additional habitat for wildlife.  A citizens group lobbied to save the woodland from development in the 1970’s. The Bonsal Preserve was named after a local resident whose family’s contribution augmented Green Acres funding of the site.

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve

The preserve consists of remnant wetlands and uplands surrounding the Third River, a major tributary of the lower Passaic River watershed.  The Third River headwaters are located in Rifle Camp Park in Woodland Park.

Third River

Third River

The headwaters were impounded in 1899 to form the Great Notch Reservoir which greatly reduced the river’s flow. The Third River’s current name was derived from the fact that it lies north of two other Passaic River tributaries (1st & 2nd Rivers).

Years ago, the river was known as Pearl River due to the discovery of the Queen Pearl aka Paterson Pearl . Freshwater pearls are found in a river’s mussel population. The Paterson Pearl, a 93 grain pink pearl, was one of the first freshwater pearl to be discovered in the United States. Other pearls were found in the Third River but none matched the Paterson Pearl.

Today, the mussels are long gone and the name Pearl River has been replaced by Third River as designated by cartographers.

The preserve has been left in its natural state with the exception of an old sewer line built in the early 1900’s. The sewer is owned by the City of Clifton. In 2008, around 10 trees in the preserve and a 12 foot wide woods road was constructed near Daniels Road, a dead end street in Clifton, to access a ruptured section of the pipe. Plans are being made to remove and reroute the sewer as of January 2014.

Trail

Bridge over Third River

Bridge over Third River

The main entrance to the Bonsal Preserve is located in a right of way off of Riverview Drive in Montclair. After crossing the bridge over the Third River, you can continue north to Daniels Drive in Clifton or head east or west to explore the wetlands near the Third River. The trails are not blazed but due to the size of the preserve, you can’t get lost physically without soon discovering a spot you previously traveled.

Trail

Small preserves in urban settings really provide a great opportunity to take your time and enjoy nature right in your own backyard.

Fauna

The richest concentration of wildlife found in the Third River watershed is found in the Bonsal Preserve. Baltimore Orioles, Red-Eyed Vireos, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Tailed Deer and Raccoon have all been spotted among others. I spotted the guys in the pictures below the day I visited:

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Flora

Because a good percentage of the Bonsal Preserve consists of forested floodplains, obligate wetland plants such as Skunk Cabbage may be found in abundance.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Other species include the below among others:

American Beech

American Beech

Black Cherry

Black Cherry

 Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey to learn more about the high diversity of plant life found in the Garden State!

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 preserve, known locally as Montclair’s paradise, is a great place to take a walk, birdwatch and just kick back and enjoy. Click here for directions!

For more information on this fantastic preserve be sure to contact Friends of the Bonsal Preserve at the email address BonsalPreserve@verizon.net.

Great Ecology/Birding Books!

1. Pocket Guide to Eastern Streams – This book is perfect for nature-lovers, hikers, anglers, naturalists, and wildlife professionals
* Includes information on restoring and preserving threatened or damaged stream ecosystems!

Click Here for more information!

2. Stream Ecology: Structure and function of running waters – Great working reference for stream ecology and related fields!

Click Here for more information!

3. Birds of Eastern North America – This wonderful book’s format allows for quick and easy reference using detailed artworks, maps and text!

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!