Welcome! After a long hiatus, NJUrbanForest.com is proud to be back with a new hike to virtually explore! Today’s hike will take us deep into southwest Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand Preserve via the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. I hope you got your binoculars with you because this boardwalk is chock full of flora and fauna goodness!
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!
Outdoor wildlife exhibits include two Barred Owls and a Red-Tailed Hawk. These raptors were previously injured prior to coming to the nature center and cannot survive on their own in the wild. Other attractions include the the John A. Redfield Building which includes the Stephen Minkoff Memorial Library and indoor animal exhibits.
John A. Redfield Building
Indoor Animal Exhibits
The nature center provides public & after school programs as well as a summer day camp. There is also a butterfly garden, backyard habitat exhibit, picnic area and an outdoor education pavilion.
Tenafly Nature Center & Lost Brook Preserve
The land that was to become the TNC & LBP was sold in lots by 1874. Over time, the land owners could not afford the taxes and the lots reverted back to the town. The land was purchased from Tenafly by developers in the 1950’s. In 1958, a plan to construct 225 houses was approved by Tenafly but the plan lapsed. Developer Bernard Gray proposed building a million dollar country club in 1960 but later backed out.
Diabase Boulders Tenafly Nature Center
In 1962, NY developer Norman Blankman proposed to build 300 homes and a golf course on the land. Tenafly swapped 60 acres of land with Blankman in 1963 to consolidate his land and the boroughs. The 60 acres became the Tenafly Nature Center. Soon after the consolidation, Blankman abandoned his original proposal and created a plan to develop 5 office buildings and a golf course. This development was rejected by Tenafly’s planning board. After other development ideas came and went, Blankman sold the land to Centex Developers in August of 1973 for 9 million. Centex proposed the construction of 1,780 houses, town homes and apartment complexes on the land. The land, valued at around 8.5 million dollars, was condemned by Tenafly which wanted to purchase the property for preservation purposes.
Green Acres Land & Water Conservation Fund
Tenafly completed the purchase of the land in 1976 using Green Acres funding, bonds and donations from the public. The new preserve became known as the Lost Brook Preserve. Tenafly Nature Center took over management of the Lost Brook Preserve in 2005 bringing the total acreage of TNC & LBP to 380 acres.
In 2009, the Bergen County board of chosen freeholders announced a $900,000 grant to the Borough of Tenafly to acquire once acre of land adjacent to the nature center. The nature center’s intent is to let the land revert to forest via succession. The acre is uphill of Pfister’s Pond whose streams drain into the Tenakill Brook, an important tributary of the Oradell Reservoir which is a source of drinking water for a large percentage of Bergen County.
An estimated 7 miles of blazed trails are waiting to be explored at the TNC & LBP.
All trails are directly or indirectly accessible from the estimated .5 of a mile Main Trail which can be accessed from the parking lot of the Tenafly Nature Center.
The Main Trail is the unpaved continuation of Hudson Avenue which heads from the parking lot down to Route 9W. The yellow, white (De Filiipi) and Bischoff Trail are accessible to the north of the Main Trail and the Red Trail, Allison Trail and Little-Chism Trail are accessible to the south of the Main Trail. The Main Trail passes by the historic Lambier House (private property) where Lambier Brook dead ends to the south of the trail. Beautiful viewpoints of the 3 acre Pfister’s Pond are visible to the north of the Main Trail. Wild Geranium grows along the side of the trail in springtime.
Yellow Trail Trailhead
The 1/3 of a mile interpretive Yellow Trail is the best introduction to the TNC & LBP. Numbered markers found throughout this trail match with this booklet providing excellent information on the flora & geology of the TNC & LBP including topics such as American Chestnut, New York Fern, Diabase Trap rock and much more.
Numbered Marker on interpretive yellow trail
At the end of the booklet there is a quiz to test your knowledge. The yellow trail follows the western border of Pfister’s pond and features a 50 foot watchable wildlife viewing dock that extends out on the western border of Pfister’s Pond.
Watchable Wildlife Grant Site
The trail then heads east and south to rejoin the Main Trail in a loop fashion.
De Filippi (White Trail)
The eastern side of Pfister’s Pond is accessible via the .4 of a mile white trail (aka De Filippi) trail. The white trail is accessible from the Main Trail or the western terminus of the Bischoff Trail. The trail traverses north near the eastern border of Pfister’s Pond passing the De De Filippi shelter on boardwalks before turning east and then turning south to connect either to the Bischoff Trail to the east or the Main Trail to the south.
View of Pfisters Pond from De Fillipi Shelter
De Filippi Trail Boardwalk
The 0.6 white/red blazed Bischoff trail is accessible from the White trail from the west or off the Main Trail near 9W. From the Main Trail, the Bischoff Trail heads north and passes over a stream draining a small pond.
Bischoff Trail Swamp
From here, the trail turns west and passes to the south of the pond and traverses near Montammy Country Club to the North and the historic (private) Lambier house to the south.
The Bischoff trail then terminates when it meets the white trail.
Red Trail Trailhead
The .3 of a mile Red Trail, accessible from the Main Trail, heads south before turning east and north paralleling the east brook as it empties Pfisters Pond on its way to the Tenakill Brook.
Many wildflowers such as Spring Beauty, Dwarf Ginseng, Trout Lily, Canada Mayflower and others appear on this trail in the spring. The purple trail trailhead is accessible to the east of the red trail. The red trail continues north and terminates into the Main Trail.
Purple Trail Trail Head
The .5 of a mile Purple Trail heads southeast from the Red Trail and crosses over the east brook and the Blue Spur (short .2 of a mile trail which leads to Highland Avenue).
Blue Spur Trailhead
Once past the blue spur trail, the purple trail continues southwest crossing over Lambier Brook before terminating into the Allison Trail.
The yellow blazed 1.4 mile Allison Trail is accessible from the north via the Main Trail, the east and south via the Little-Chism Trail and the west from the purple trail. Heading southwest from the Main Trail the Allison Trail passes wetlands and interesting rock formations.
Massive Rock Formation Allison Trail
These formations are made up of rock known as diabase which was formed when molten lava cooled underground. The trail then traverses southeast where it briefly follows the Little-Chism Trail.
Little-Chism Allison Trail
From here the trail crosses the Green Brook before heading southwest once more paralleling the Green Brook to the west and its wetlands before terminating into the Little-Chism trail near East Clinton Avenue.
Allison Trail End Near East Clinton Avenue
An interesting trail that is accessible from the Allison Trail is the 0.6 of a mile orange blazed Haring Rock Trail.
Haring Rock Trail Trailhead
This trail traverses the western portion of the preserve. Heading south from the Allison Trail, the Haring Rock Trail travels in a meandering fashion passing wetlands to the east. The trail terminates at the Haring Rock.
The Haring Rock is a glacial erratic named after a Dr. John J. Haring who made sick calls in the area around the turn of the century on horseback. Doctor Haring often stopped at this rock to rest. An interesting fact about this glacial erratic is that it was originally located east of its current position on top of traprock where the Jewish Community Center is located. When the Jewish Community Center was developed the rock was moved to its current location. It was discovered that the rock would not stay put in its original position and was instead cemented in place upside down. The Haring Rock Trail ends at this rock and the Seely Trail begins here.
Seely Trail Trailhead
The 0.3 yellow/orange blazed Seely Trail is accessible from the Haring Rock Trail & connects to the Little-Chism trail once it crosses Green Brook.
Green Brook Crossing Seely Trail
The short trail traverses near East Clinton Avenue in the southern boundary of the preserve.
At 2.1 miles, the red blazed Little-Chism Trail is the longest trail featured in the TNC & LBP. The Little-Chism Trail is accessible from the Seely Trail in the south of the preserve near East Clinton Avenue, the Allison Trail in the southern boundary near Route 9W or from the north off of the Main Trail. Exploring the trail starting from the Seely Trail terminus, the trail heads east near wetlands and turns north briefly leaves the preserve and traverses next to Route 9W before heading back to the forest.
Little-Chism Trail by Route 9W
Continuing north, the trail crosses over Lost Brook where a dam is visible.
Dam on Lost Brook Little-Chism Trail
The trail joins with the Allison Trail briefly after it crosses Green Brook near more wetlands.
Green Brook Little-Chism Trail
Both the Green Brook, Lost Brook are tributaries of the nearby Hudson River. The trail then passes the trail terminus for the short Sweet Gum Trail (which leads to the nearby members only Greenbrook Sanctuary to the east).
Sweet Gum Spur Trailend
The trail continues heading north crossing over two additional tributary streams before terminating at the Main Trail near Route 9W.