Welcome! Today we are going to hike two of the four Pompton Aquatic Parks trails. We will use the below trail map (provided by thePompton Lakes Open Space Committee) to guide us.
We will have views of the adjacent Pompton River and a hike through a preserved floodplain forest. Ready? Let’s go!
Blue-Blazed Pompton Aquatic Trail
Starting from Woodlawn Avenue in Pompton Lakes we will head straight going west at the intersection near the trailhead of the .59 of a mile Pompton Aquatic Park Trail. The entire trail is through fresh water wetlands. Its good we picked the month of August to walk through when it is nice and dry! In fact, if we didn’t look at the vegetation growing we might not even know we were walking through wetlands. Common wetland vegetation growing along the trail as we walk include:
All of the above flora are native except for Purple Loosestrife and Japanese Knotweed which are considered invasive plants, that is, they displace and prevent native plants from growing because there are no natural predators native to the US to stop the spread of these plants.
Intersection of the Blue Blazed Pompton Aquatic Trail with the Yellow Blazed Rivercrest Trail
From here we will follow the 1 mile yellow blazed Rivercrest Trail which is the longest trail found in Pompton Aquatic Park. We will head north on this out and back trail (meaning we will retrace our steps). Out and back trails are a good way to verify if you missed something as you walked.
And there is the Pompton River! The Pompton River formed just north of Aquatic Park through the confluence of the Pequannock, Wanaque and Ramapo Rivers. The river above the park is technically still called the Pequannock River. The Pompton River is classified FW2-NT (fresh water non-trout production or maintenance) by the NJ DEP. The Pompton River is a major tributary to the Passaic River.
Painted Turtles in the Pompton River
As we walk along we spot some painted turtles bobbing in the Pompton River. Don’t they have the life! Not a care in the world!
Invasive Mile-a-Minute Plant
We see jumbles of arrow shaped leaves everywhere. It’s a Mile-a-Minute Plant another invasive. It is native to Asia.
We’ve been spotted! A white-tailed deer family is watching us closely. Let’s keep going!
Well, we have made it to the end of the Rivercrest Trail at Joe’s Grill Field (which is part of the Pompton Lakes park system.). Time to head back the way we came to get to our cars. Glad you could make it! It is my hope that this ‘virtual tour’ of Pompton Aquatic Park inspires you to visit and check it out for yourself!
Feel free to comment with any memories, wildlife sightings or any other comments about Pompton Aquatic Park! Thank you and have fun exploring!
The trailhead discussed in this post is located off of Woodlawn Avenue in Pompton Lakes NJ.
Check out some great books below to learn more about NJ’s plants and wetlands!
The history of the Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary began in 1965 when the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS) received a land donation of 125 acres from a Mr. & Mrs. Harry Scherman. 10 years later Frederick Hoffman of Hoffman Beverage Company donated adjacent acres of land. Upon his death in 1981, the final parcels of the preserve were bequeathed from Mr.Hoffman’s estate.
Today, the Scherman-Hoffman Preserve comprises 276 beautiful acres of meadows, floodplain forest and uplands.
Located in the southeastern corner of the NJ Highlands, the Scherman-Hoffman wildlife sanctuary is south of the terminal moraine of the last glacier (Wisconsin Glacier) which stopped just north of here around 10,000 years ago. As a result, soil was not scraped away by melting ice and is deeper than the soil found further north in the NJ Highlands. Rocks found here are deemed to have originated in precambrian times.
Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education
Our virtual hike will take place in early fall when all is still green. Sound good? Let’s go! After parking, let’s head inside the NJ Audubon Center and pick up a trail map.
Before we begin our hike, let’s head upstairs to the Hawk observation deck to take in the views.
View from Hawk Viewing Platform
Leaving the nature center we find ourselves heading south towards Hardscrabble Road. Turning west, we have reached the Habitat Health Interpretive Trail. While the Habitat Health Interpretive Trail does not have any blazes, the trail is only an estimated 0.3 miles. We won’t need to worry about getting lost!
Heading north on the Habitat Health Interpretive Trail a deer proof fence appears in front of us. The deer fence was first constructed in 1999 on one acre and a half to help promote forest health. In 2005, the deer fence was expanded to 15 acres and native plants were planted throughout the enclosure. The deer fence was constructed due to the presence of an over population of White-Tail Deer. White-Tailed Deer have decimated the forest to such an extent that the forest is no longer self-sustaining.
Outside the deer fence, invasive plants like Japanese Barberry (which deer do not eat) have formed monocultures preventing native plants from becoming established. The Deer Fence helps promote a healthy forest comprising of native plants which helps create a full understory. But most importantly, the deer fence enables the forest to regenerate successfully.
As we walk on the Habitat Health Interpretive Trail, let’s keep our eyes peeled to the ground for interpretive signage. All interpretive signs are placed near the plants they represent such as we see here with Whitegrass which is found in shady mesic (moist) forest communities.
True Solomon’s Seal
Here we see True Solomon’s Seal. The name Solomon’s Seal is said to be derived from scars on the leaf stalk which resemble the ancient Hebrew seal of King Solomon.
Other native plants present on the Habitat Health Interpretive Trail as we walk north include:
(Click the links below to learn more about each plant!)
American Beech (the most common tree found in Sherman-Hoffman Sanctuary)
As we walk in a northeast direction we cross through the Red Blazed Dogwood Trail spur which leads south back to the Hoffman nature center we were in earlier.
Field Loop Trail Vernal Pond
Turning south we’ve come to the end of the Habitat Health Interpretive Trail and the beginning of the Green Blazed Field Loop Trail. We’ve also just left the forest and entered a field. Heading east on the Field Loop Trail, we see a sign advertising a vernal pond heading south. Let’s check it out!
Turning back to the Field Loop Trail, our feet are thanking us as we walk on a mowed path through a meadow of Goldenrod and native grasses.
Welcome Please Close Gate
Arriving at the eastern exit of the deer fence enclosure, we find ourselves back at an intersection with the red blazed 1.3 mile dogwood trail.
Heading south on the Field Loop Trail we find we are not alone as the meadow is alive with grasshoppers and butterflies among others.
Continuing south on the Field Loop Trail, we leave the meadow and enter a young forest where a sign appears for the yellow blazed 0.3 mile River Trail heading to our left. Let’s take it!
The River Trail takes us near the Passaic River, the second longest river in New Jersey. This section of the Passaic River, near its headwaters, is clean and cool enough to support trout. Wood Turtles, a threatened species in New Jersey, can also be found in this section of the river. Threatened species are vulnerable because of factors such as small population size and loss of habitat.
Massive Dual Trunk Tulip Poplar
As we head north on the yellow blazed River trail we see a massive Tulip Poplar to our left.
River Trail End
Turning west and away from the Passaic River, the River Trail ends at the red blazed Dogwood Trail.
Dogwood Trail River Trail
Heading west on the Red Blazed Trail we pass a spur of the Dogwood Trail which heads back to the Hoffman center.
Our trail is taking us into typical NJ Highlands habitat, marked by climbs, precambrian rocks and upland oak-hickory forest.
As we walk south, we see trees here and there with big gaping holes.
Pileated Woodpecker Holes
These holes were created by a Pileated Woodpecker looking for its favorite food: Carpenter Ants. Pileated Woodpeckers are eastern North America’s largest Woodpecker.
Dogwood Trail Black Birch
As we walk, the Dogwood Trail is blazed by both Red Blazes and the NJ Audubon logo. Wait! What’s that sound?
As the Dogwood trail heads southeast and then northeast we catch glimpses of Hardscrabble Road through the trees.
Scherman Parking Lot Dogwood Trail
We’ve now arrived at the lower parking lot of the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary.
Leaving the Dogwood Trail and heading up the main road we find ourselves back at the Hoffman Center. I hope you enjoyed this virtual hike and that it inspires you to check out the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary for yourself! Thank you for tagging along!
Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary is located at:
11 Hardscrabble Road Bernardsville, NJ 07924.
Feel free to Comment with Questions, Memories or Suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
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.
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
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)
Once inside, there are various exhibits regarding topics such as renewable energy.
After taking in the information, pick up a trail map, it’s time to explore the trails!
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
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.
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 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.
Behind this marker a tall deer proof fence will appear.
Habitat Restoration Area Please Stay on Trail
The fence was constructed to keep hungry white-tailed deer out so native vegetation may grow.
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
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.
Head toward Eagle Rock Avenue to Marker # 5 found at the start of the White Blazed Patriots Path.
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):
Eastern Gray Squirrel
After passing marker six it’s time to leave the Patriot trail by heading left to a wooden boardwalk.
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).
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
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.
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.
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
The Essex County Beekeepers keep a selection of Honeybees here. Bee careful not to disturb it!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 (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
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
We’ve now come to the beginning of the blue blazed Bird Lane Trail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, we’ve now reached the end of the Bird Lane Trail!
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!
Walking on Little Falls Main Street, few people would suspect that a preserved woodland and forested floodplain is located behind the stores.
Passaic River Basalt
The Morris Canal Preserve is located right above the Passaic River. The river rushes by on fractured basalt . The preserve features a gentle paved path which traverses the edge between the developed landscape of Little Falls and the remnant forested floodplain of the Passaic River.
Gazebo Morris Canal Preserve
The paved path leads from a beautiful gazebo and heads in a southwest direction to its terminus near an outflow from the Passaic Valley Water Company.
You might be tempted to think that Little Falls was named after these views, but the real falls were eliminated late in the 18th century to relieve upstream flooding of the Passaic River.
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!
From Route 80 westbound, get off at the Union Avenue exit and bear left to follow Union Avenue for about one mile into Little Falls. Turn left at the light onto Main Street and then go about five blocks looking for Maple Street and Schumacher Chevrolet on the left. Turn left down Maple and continue as for the bus directions.
Alternative route by car: From Rt. 46 westbound, get off at the Great Notch/Cedar Grove exit. Bear left and follow overpass over Route 46 on to Notch Road. At the end of Notch Road turn right at the light onto Long Hill Road. Proceed on Long Hill Road for about one mile where it becomes Main Street. At Schumacher Chevrolet, turn right onto Maple Street and then follow the directions as for the bus. Look for the brick sign for the preserve on the left.
By public transportation: Take NJ TRANSIT 191/195 bus that leaves the Port Authority Bus Terminal, NY (check schedule prior to the trip) and get off on Main Street in downtown Little Falls at the corner of Maple Street Turn right on Maple and walk one block to entrance to the preserve parking lot on the left.
New Jersey’s Passaic River rises in a pristine wetland and ends in a federal Superfund site. In An American River, author and New Jersey native Mary Bruno kayaks its length in an effort to discover what happened to her hometown river.
The Morris Canal was an important component in the American Industrial Revolution. For nearly 100 years it crossed the hills of northern New Jersey, accomplishing that feat with 23 lift locks and 23 inclined planes.