Category Archives: Fresh Water Wetlands

Exploring Pompton Aquatic Park! (Passaic County Parks)


Pompton Aquatic Park Passaic County Park System

Welcome! Today’s virtual hike will take us on a journey through a preserved floodplain forest of the Pompton River, a major tributary of the Passaic River.

Our hike will be in Pompton Aquatic Park (part of the Passaic County Park System). The park runs through sections of Wayne, Pompton Lakes and Pequannock. The park is about an estimated 78 acres (with 28 acres located in Wayne and Pompton Lakes and 46 acres located in Pequannock).

The park is divided in half by the Pompton River while the Ramapo River hugs the eastern shoreline. Pompton Aquatic Park provides much needed habitat to a multitude of wildlife including Great Blue Heron, Wood Turtle, White-Tailed Deer, Muskrat and other wildlife.

The land that became Pompton Aquatic Park was part of the Morris Canal. After the Morris Canal was discontinued the land was given to the Passaic County Park Commission where it sat unused as parkland for decades. Passaic County was awarded a Recreational Trails Grant in 2011 to construct trails. Trails were constructed with stone along with walkways over seasonal wetlands. The trails were blazed by the Pompton Lakes Open Space Committee.

Virtual Tour

Welcome to Pompton Aquatic Park

Welcome! Today we are going to hike two of the four Pompton Aquatic Parks trails. We will use the below trail map (provided by the Pompton Lakes Open Space Committee) to guide us.

Pompton Aquatic Park Trails

 

We will have views of the adjacent Pompton River and a hike through a preserved floodplain forest. Ready? Let’s go!

Pompton Aquatic Park Trailhead

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 Pompton Aquatic (Blue) and Willow Ave Trail (Yellow)

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.

Pompton River

Pompton River

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.

Turtles

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!

Mile-A-Minute Vine

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.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

We’ve been spotted! A white-tailed deer family is watching us closely. Let’s keep going!

Eastern Comma Butterfly

Eastern Comma Butterfly

August is a good month for butterflies! Here’s an Eastern Comma Butterfly taking a rest.

End (or beginning) of Will Ave Trail

Rivercrest Trail End (or Beginning?)

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!

  1. Wetlands
  2. Plant Communities of New Jersey

 

 

 

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!

Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway!


Wildlife Sanctuary

Welcome to the Passaic River Coalition’s Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway! Both preserves are contiguous and have a combined acreage of 14.9 acres of which four are deciduous wooded wetlands. Located in Butler, NJ, The Butler Forest Preserve and Butler Raceway were purchased to prevent the development of townhouses and provide protection of the Pequannock River.

Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway

Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway

The Passaic River Coalition was established in 1969 and provides stewardship for the preservation and protection of over 1,000 miles of waterways associated with the Passaic River. The Pequannock River, a tributary of the Passaic River is labeled C1 indicating the water consists of some of the highest quality in the state of New Jersey.

Virtual Tour

American Beech

American Beech Butler Forest Preserve

This was how the Butler Forest Preserve and Butler Raceway appeared when I explored it near the end of September 2012, nearly a month before Hurricane Sandy arrived. I find Jericho Road to be the best entrance to the Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway.

Pequannock River Tributary Stream

Pequannock River Tributary

Entering the forest here I noticed a stream to my left (an unnamed Pequannock River Tributary) and plenty of American Beech. American Beech is part of the Beech-Sugar Maple climax forest community and are a sure indicator that this forest has not been disturbed for a very long time.

Pequannock River

Pequannock River

I carefully followed the woods down a somewhat steep slope while a steady roar increased. Thinking it was urban noise coming from nearby Route 23 and housing developments I was somewhat surprised to see the source was far more natural: The Pequannock River rushing by.

Ruins

Ruins

I noticed the river just as my eye caught old ruins. These ruins were part of the Butler Raceway which once provided water from the Pequannock River to power machinery to what was once the country’s largest rubber factory. The historic function of the raceway was to provide water from the Pequannock River to power machinery at the Butler Rubber Factory. The rubber factory was destroyed by fire in 1957.

Waterfall on Pequannock River

Waterfall on Pequannock River

Near the ruins is a beautiful man-made waterfall on the Pequannock River.

Butler Raceway

Butler Raceway

Carefully scrambling over the ruins I made it to the Raceway just in time for a Great Blue Heron to fly by (unfortunately too fast for me to get its picture).

Abandoned Motorcycle

Abandoned Motorcycle

After admiring the Heron I came across an abandoned motorcycle.

Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch

Continuing east Yellow Birch appeared in good numbers. Yellow Birch favors north facing slopes.

Pre-Cambrian Rocks along Butler Raceway

Pre-Cambrian Rocks along Butler Raceway

Rock Outcrops of Precambrian origin appear occasionally to the right of the path.  The Butler Raceway ends near Gifford Street. To get back to Jericho Avenue, simply turn around on the Raceway and proceed west until you come back to the cement ruins. Proceed south going up the hill until you reach Jericho Road.

Butler Forest Preserve

Butler Forest Preserve

The Butler Forest Preserve and Butler Raceway is a great place to explore. Check it out for yourself!

Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

 

Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center!


Morris County Park Commission Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center

Morris County Park Commission Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center

Welcome to Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center!

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center

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.

Herp Study in Progress

Herp Study in Progress

The GSOEC hosts periodic studies of the flora and fauna to determine the overall health of the Great Swamp.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

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.

GSOEC Forest

GSOEC Forest

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.

Trails:

Trail

 

GSOEC features five 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.

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center Trail Map

The trail map above was taken from the Morris County Parks webpage.

The total length of the trails is 1.4 miles.

Virtual Tour:

Ready to take a virtual tour of the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center? Let’s Go!

Kiosk

 

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.

Outdoor Education Nature Center with Kiosk

Outdoor Education Nature Center with Kiosk

Mammals of The Great Swamp

Mammals of The Great Swamp

Endangered in New Jersey

Endangered in New Jersey

After checking out the exhibits inside, it’s time to start our hike.

Orange Trail Trailhead

Orange Trail Trailhead

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.

Marker 1 Red Maple

Marker 1

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 Leaves

Red Maple Leaves

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.

Marker 2 Large Depression

Marker 2

Continuing on the orange trail, marker #2 comes into view on the right where a large depression may be found.

Large Depression

Large Depression

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 with Deer Enclosure in background

Marker 3 with Deer Enclosure in background

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 EcoTone

Marker 4 EcoTone

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.

Marker 5 The Pond

Marker 5 The Pond

Continuing in a southwest direction, the dirt path changes to a boardwalk as the trail traverses the wetland area.

Orange Trail Boardwalk

Orange Trail Boardwalk

A short boardwalk appears to the right of the main boardwalk which leads to the Pond which is marker #5.

The Pond

The Pond

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.

Turtles on the Pond

Turtles on the Pond

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.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

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”

Common plants often misidentified as Poison Ivy include Virginia Creeper and Box Elder Maple among other species.

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.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

At this point of the hike you may notice abundant Mountain Laurel. Marker # 7 appears here.

Marker 7 The Browse Line

Marker 7 The Browse Line

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.

Blue Trail Trailhead

Blue Trail Trailhead

Let’s take a brief break from the interpretive trail to explore this short trail.

Blue Blaze Swamp Chestnut Oak

Blue Blaze Swamp Chestnut Oak

The Blue Trail Loop goes through an upland area consisting of mostly Mountain Laurel and Swamp Chestnut Oak.

Dried Vernal Pond Blue Trail

Dried Vernal Pond Blue Trail

The trail encircles a small vernal pond (the vernal pond, seen here is dry during our virtual tour).

Blue Trail trailend

Blue Trail end

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.

Rotting Log

Rotting Log

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.

Marker 9 Phragmites Marsh

Marker 9 Phragmites Marsh

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.

Marker 10 Wigwam Replica

Marker 10

Outdoor Study Area

Outdoor Study Area

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.

Wigwam

Wigwam

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.

Orange Trail Trailend

Orange Trail end

After heading back from the Wigwam, turn right on the Orange Trail and follow the trail a brief distance to its terminus.

Prayer of the Woods

Prayer of the Woods

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.

Red Trail Trailhead

Red Trail Trailhead

The first marker on the Red Trail is #11 which identifies trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.

Marker 11 Deciduous Forest

Marker 11 Deciduous Forest

Trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest include the below among others:

Musclewood

Musclewood

Black Oak Self Guiding Trail

Black Oak

Pin Oak

Pin Oak

Tupelo

Tupelo

Sassafras

Sassafras

The term “deciduous” indicates that the trees comprising this type of forest lose their leaves each fall and grow new leaves in the spring.

Marker 12 Transmission Lines and Marsh

Marker 12 Transmission Lines and Marsh

Continuing on the red trail leads Marker #12 “Transmission Lines and Marsh”.

Red Trail Power Cut

Red Trail Power Cut

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.

Red Trail to Education Center

Red Trail to Education Center

From here turn left at the sign leading to the education center to go to Marker # 13.

Marker 13 Stream

The Red Trail approaches Marker #13 as it crosses a stream.

Red Trail Stream Crossing

Red Trail Stream Crossing

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.

#14 The Wet Meadow

Marker #14 The Wet Meadow

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 American Beech

Marker #15 American Beech

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.

Beech Drops

Beech Drops

Beechdrops, seen here in this picture, lack both leaves and chlorophyll and is a parasitic plant of the American Beech Tree.

#16 The Swamp

Marker  #16 The Swamp

Marker #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.

Red Trail End

Red Trail End

We are now at the end of the Red Trail.

Green Trail Blaze

Green Trail Blaze

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.

Mushrooms Green Trail

Gilled Mushrooms Green Trail

Check out these Gilled Mushrooms growing next to the tree stump! 

Wildlife Blind

Wildlife Blind

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.

Turtles on the Pond from Wildlife Blind

Turtles on the Pond from Wildlife Blind

This concludes our virtual hike! I hope you enjoyed it and it inspired you to take a trip to see the GSOEC for yourself!

Cinnamon Fern

The GSOEC is located at 247 Southern BLVD Chatham, NJ.

 

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 at Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center Here!

 

Westchester County’s Cranberry Lake Preserve!


Welcome to Cranberry Lake Preserve!

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.

Kensico Dam

Trails

Cranberry Lake Preserve Trail

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.

To Nature Lodge

Many sections of CLP trails display signs which lead back to the Nature Lodge. Click here for a trail map!

Red Trail

Red Blaze

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.

Blue Trail

Blue Blaze

The Blue Trail loops around both Cranberry Lake and South Pond for a total distance of 1 mile.

Cranberry Lake

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

Ground Pine can be found growing along the Blue Trail.

Yellow Trail

Yellow Trail Trailhead

The Yellow trail traverses rocky upland and a section of Cranberry Lake.

Purple (History) Trail

Purple Trail Trailhead

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.

Exploring CLP

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!

Eastern Chipmunk Cranberry Lake Preserve

From the parking area, walk up the road to the nature lodge.

Cranberry Lake Preserve Nature Lodge

Just to the west of the nature lodge is an interesting wetland with a dock.

Wetlands Near Nature Lodge

It was here that I saw this snake.

Head inside the nature lodge to check out the exhibits and pick up a trail map.

Inside Cranberry Lake Nature Lodge

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.

Yellow Blue Blazed Trail near Cranberry Lake

Follow the Yellow/Blue blazed trail south with Cranberry Lake to your left.

Bent Bridge

Continuing south, take the Orange Blazed Connector trail which will appear to your left near a wooden boardwalk known as Bent Bridge.

View of fen from 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.

Stone Chamber

Leaving Bent Bridge, the Orange blazed connector trail leads to a man-made “cave” known as the Stone Chamber.

Looking outside from inside 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.

Ruins outside Stone Chamber

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.

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.

Cascade

It’s a good spot to rest and relax in a peaceful setting.

To Quarry

From the cascade, continue east on the Purple Trail following signs for the quarry.

Abandoned Tennis Court

An abandoned tennis court will appear to your right.

Quarry Pond

The tennis court was part of the Birchwood Swim club which used the Quarry Pond for Swimming.

Tulip Poplar & Milkweed Abandoned Tennis Court

Nature is slowly reclaiming the tennis court. Birchwood Swim Club was discontinued in 1997.

Fish Quarry Pond

Once past the quarry pond the purple trail heads past old railroad car wheels which were used to haul granite during the quarry operation.

Railroad Wheels

The Purple Trail continues heading north climbing over the rocky quarry.

Quarry Trail

The height here is an estimated 450 feet above sea level.

Derrick

Derrick anchors which once held heavy quarry machinery are still fastened in the rocks along the trail.

Old Automobile on Purple 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.

Stone Cutting Shed Ruins

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

South Pond is man-made and was created during quarry activities.

Bird Tower on South Pond

A Bird Observation tower appears to your left. This tower provides great views of South Pond.

Remains of Stone Crusher

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.

Hush Pond

From here, the red trail turns west and temporarily leaves CLP & enters White Plains watershed land and passes Hush Pond to the south.

Stone Wall by Red Trail

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.

Indian Pipe

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.

Black Capped Chickadee at Cranberry Lake Preserve

Directions

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 the latest bird sightings here!

Check out David Steinberg’s description of this hike in the book “Hiking the Road to Ruins

Click here for more information!

Hiking/Ecology Books!

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!