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!
Welcome to Pyramid Mountain County Park! Pyramid Mountain is part of the Morris County Park System and contains more than 1,500 acres of preserved open space. The land comprising the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area was set aside as Morris County parkland in 1989 after a long struggle to help preserve these ecologically and geologically diverse acres.
Pyramid Mountain contains a wide variety of natural habitats which support the following flora & fauna (among many other species found within Pyramid Mountain):
Welcome! Today’s virtual hike will take place in the fall. You are in for a treat today! We’re going to see some views, explore some stone ruins, see a scenic waterfall and head down 100 steps! Ready to begin?
From the parking area we head southeast on a section of the 3.7 mile yellow trail to the 0.7 mile red-dot trail.
Ahead of us is a wildlife blind in front of a large marsh. You might say this is a swamp but that would be incorrect. A swamp contains woody vegetation whereas in front of is an open marsh. What’s that noise to our left? A White-Tailed Deer is running away with its white tail held up high. What’s that noise we are hearing? It sounds like Spring Peepers! Spring Peepers in the fall? Yep, it happens! Spring Peepers sometimes sound out in the fall during the period that day lengths and temperatures resemble those that occur in the spring.
Ready to continue? Let’s retrace our steps on the red dot trail back to the yellow trail.
Once back on yellow trail we pass a large wetland to our north as we head southeast. From here we come to an intersection with the 1.5 mile blue blazed Butler-Montville Trail. Let’s take it!
Butler-Montville Trail Bridge over Lake Valhalla Tributary
Heading northeast on blue blazed Butler-Montville trail we cross over a Lake Valhalla tributary and pass a large wetland on our left.
Waterfall Trail Trailhead
From here we will take a right on the 1.5 mile green blazed Waterfall trail.
Lake Valhalla View
Wow! What a view! We have come to the Lake Valhalla overlook. Lake Valhalla is a private lake surrounded by homes.
After resting and taking in the views we continue on the green trail and come to stone ruins. The stone ruins were a cabin which was never completed due to the construction of the nearby power lines. Someone must be waiting for Santa to come down the chimney because we find a mini Christmas stocking hanging up.
Cabin Ruins Fireplace
Near the ruins of the cabin a strikingly beautiful red bush appears. This is “Winged Burning Bush” an invasive plant. Invasive plants have no known predators to keep them in check and can take over a natural area preventing native plants (which native insects and birds depend on) from establishing.
We have now arrived at an intersection with the 0.9 mile Red trail and pass under some massive powerlines.
From here we have a great view of NYC off in the distance.
Let’s continue east on the green blazed Waterfall trail so we can see what this trail is named after! Let’s go!
As we walk east on the green blazed Waterfall trail the 3.7 mile Yellow trail joins the Waterfall trail from the south. From here we will take the joint Waterfall/Yellow trail heading north to the North Valhalla Brook waterfall.
As we approach the North Valhalla Brook waterfall the 3.7 Yellow trail branches off heading northeast.
North Valhalla Brook Waterfall
Nice! The recent rains in the past few days have turned the North Valhalla brook waterfalls into a raging rush of water!
North Valhalla Brook
After enjoying the scenic waterfall we turn left on the green blazed Waterfall trail heading northwest and start to climb with North Valhalla Brook to our right. North Valhalla Brook is a tributary to the Rockaway River which in itself is a tributary of the Passaic River. North Valhalla Brook (aka Crooked Brook) is labeled by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as FW2-NT (C2). What this means is that North Valhalla Brook is non-trout (NT) and is a freshwater stream.
As we walk through the Highlands Forest, let’s discuss a bit about the forest found all around us. Historically, this forest was termed an “Oak-Chestnut” forest until the demise of the American Chestnut over 100 years ago. Today, despite Hickories being a more minor part of the forest, this forest is a “Oak-Hickory” forest. The most common Oak trees found in the New Jersey Highlands include:
We have now come to the end of the yellow trail. We are 890 feet above sea level, just two feet shy of the top of Turkey Mountain! We are an intersection with the red trail. We are going to head to a section of Turkey Mountain known as the “100 steps”. Here we take a right on the red trail to continue our journey.
That was a quick walk!
We are now at the intersection of the blue blazed 1.5 mile Butler-Montville trail and the beginning of the 100 steps. We are going to take a right on the Butler-Montville Trail heading west.
Above us and all around are massive powerlines. The good news is powerlines create permanent shrub habitat which is useful for many species of birds.
After carefully going down the rocks we arrive back at Boonton Avenue and to our car.
Thanks for walking with me on our virtual exploration of Turkey Mountain!
I hope that it inspired you to check out Turkey Mountain for yourself!
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!
Despite its close proximity to the Ramapo Mountains which are comprised of Highlands “basement” rocks, Campgaw Mountain comes from a different geological background. With a ridge expanding two miles Campgaw Mountain is comprised of basalt and is part of the Watchung Mountains. Elevations range from 300 feet to a maximum elevation of 751 feet atop Campgaw Mountain.
Campgaw Mountain contains several ecological communities including upland xeric (dry) deciduous forest, mesic (moist) deciduous forest and deciduous forest wetlands. Meadow habitat can be found along the power lines within the boundaries of the park.
The below are a sample of a list of birds that have been spotted within Campgaw Mountain:
Welcome! Today we are going to see eastern views near a ski lift, and explore an interesting pond! Ready? Let’s go!
Let’s start our journey by heading west on the joint .5 of a mile Yellow Blazed Indian Trail and Blue Blazed .90 of a mile Rocky Ridge trail.
Rocky Ridge Powerline Cut
Almost immediately the blue blazed rocky ridge trail splits off from the yellow blazed Indian Trail. Let’s take it! We’ll meet up again with the Indian Trail later. On the Rocky Ridge Trail we pass under power lines between two old buildings.
Old Cedar Trail 1
As we walk we go through an intersection with the 2.10 mile Red Blazed Old Cedar Trail.
The Rocky Ridge footpath has now changed to a gravel road which we are climbing. Looking to the sides of the trail we see lots of Japanese Barberry, which has become an established invasive plant in the understory of the forest of Campgaw Mountain.
Old Cedar Trail
As we near the top of our climb the Rocky Ridge Trail has left the gravel road and is now a rocky footpath traveling along the ridge of Campgaw Mountain (hence the trail’s name!) We pass through another intersection with the 2.10 mile Old Cedar trail.
Basalt Rocky Ridge
Turning north on the Rocky Ridge Trail we find the landscape has become even more rocky but pleasant and more open like the environment found among the ridges of nearby High Mountain Park Preserve with basalt appearing now and then.
Dutchman Breeches Rocky Ridge Trail
As we walk on the basalt of Campgaw Mountain, we spot some Dutchman Breeches along with some Hepatica flowers growing to the side of the trail. Dutchman Breeches are named as such because the flowers resembles old-fashioned breeches. Hepatica flowers are named as such because the leaves are said to resemble liver. Both are ephemeral flowers found only in the early spring before the leaves on the trees come back. As we admire the flowers we hear a Red-Tailed Hawk screech overhead.
Shagbark Hickory and Eastern Red Cedar
Looking at some of the trees as we walk we pass by Shagbark Hickory and Eastern Red Cedar. We have now arrived in an open woodland. We spot Wineberry, a common invasive plant from Asia sprouting from the forest floor. As we walk we pass several structures for Frisbee golf (aka disc golf) which is set up throughout the park.
Rocky Ridge Trail End
Arriving near the ski lefts the .50 of a mile yellow blazed Indian Trail we left when we first started reappears.
Eastern View 5 with Ski Lifts
Take a look at the view! Here we can see a clear eastern view of surrounding Bergen County.
Leaving the the Rocky Ridge Trail, we now head east on the yellow blazed Indian Trail and pass the green blazed beeches trail to our left and right.
Skunk Cabbage Wetlands
Looking to our left we spot a good amount of Skunk Cabbage as we go down the Indian Trail. Ahead of us is a swamp. Many people think that any wetland they may see is a swamp but this is not the case. A swamp contains woody vegetation whereas marshes do not.
From the Indian Trail we turn left on the orange blazed Hemlock Trail. The Hemlock Trail follows along the shore of Fyke Pond which was created from the impoundment of Fyke Brook.
As we walk along we pass several smooth bark grey trees. These are American Beech, a slow growing native deciduous tree of the eastern forest.
American Beech Hemlock Trail
Continuing on we pass to our left two massive boulders made of basalt.
Basalt Boulders Hemlock Trail
As we pass the boulders a sudden cry pierces the ear: a Blue Jay has noticed our presence and is sounding the alarm that we are in its forest.
As we walk we pass by many dead and dying trees from which this trail was named after: The Eastern Hemlock. Most of the hemlocks found in Campgaw Mountain County Reserve are dead or dying due to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. Native to East Asia, the adelgid feeds by sucking sap from Hemlock trees. This exotic pest was accidently introduced to North America circa 1924 and is currently established in eleven states ranging from Georgia to Massachusetts. It is estimated that 50% of the geographical range of the Eastern Hemlock has been affected by the adelgid. Biological control (i.e. using adelgid predators to control infestations) has been the major emphasis of control since 1997.
Take a look! Some turtles have spotted us from a rock in Fyke Lake. Nice!
Turtle Fyke Lake
Near the end of the Hemlock Trail we scare away a male and female Wood Duck.
Hemlock Trail End
From here it’s a short walk back on the Indian Trail to the parking lot where our car is. I hope you enjoyed this virtual hike of Campgaw County Reservation and that it inspires you to visit it for yourself!
Campgaw Mountain is located at 200 Campgaw Road, Mahwah, NJ 07430
Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions!
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!
Welcome to Buttermilk Falls Park! Located in West Nyack, New York, the park features a scenic waterfall and two western views where on a clear day you can see up to 16,000 acres. The 75 acre Buttermilk Falls Park was purchased by Rockland County with additional acquisitions in 1981.
Buttermilk Falls Park is location in a portion of the Palisades ridge north of the Sparkill Gap. The Palisades are located along the western shoreline of the Hudson River in southeastern New York and in north eastern New Jersey. Rocks found in the Palisades are known as diabase and were formed during the Triassic period around 200 million years ago.
Buttermilk Falls consists of a mixed-oak forest community including the following species among others:
Welcome! Today, using the above trail map (taken from the Rockland County New York Website), we are going to explore some of the 75 acres that make up Buttermilk Falls Park! Along the way, we’ll see some cascades and check out some cool western views. The total hike is an estimated 1.2 miles. Ready? Let’s go!
Blue Trail Trailhead
From the parking lot we are going to head northeast on 0.9 of a mile blue blazed trail.
Entrance to the Blue Trail
Entering the park on the blue trail, the path starts flat but we find it is deceiving as we start to climb.
But before we start any kind of climbing let’s take a quick scan of some of the flora that’s sprouting near the entrance. What’s this plant that sort of looks like little bamboo shoots sprouting up everywhere alongside the trail? It’s Japanese Knotweed, a obnoxious invasive plant which, once established, is generally there for good. Japanese Knotweed forms monocultures, excludes native plants and does not provide any benefit to wildlife.
Blue Trail Steps
Leaving the Japanese Knotweed for now the Blue Trail is taking us up some wooden steps.
Taking another look at the flora coming up, what’s this 3 leaved spiked covered plant popping up all over the place? It’s Wineberry. Wineberry is native to Asia and is an established invasive plant in the United States.
Blue Trail Climb 2
Continuing on we start hearing the sound of water, a good sign as we must be approaching Buttermilk Falls!
Taking a look around the forest floor we spot the leaves of Trout Lily, a native woodland plant which blooms in early spring. And here you thought all we would be looking at is invasive plants! The “trout” in it’s name is said to come from its mottled leaves which are said to resemble wild trout.
Heading southeast on the blue trail we come to an open area on the trail with Eastern Red Cedar and occasional trap rock.
Continuing southeast on the blue trail we pass the .21 of a mile Orange Trail trail head.
Blue Trail Second Viewpoint 2
Shortly after we pass the orange trail trail head we arrive at the second westerly viewpoint. What a beautiful day! From an ecological perspective we are currently in a traprock glade/rock outcrop surrounded by dry grass and forb-dominated species.
Leaving the second and last viewpoint we continue on the blue trail and pass a small but interesting plant known as Dutchman Breeches. Dutchman Breeches are a native to the eastern US. The flowers (which have since wilted) are said to look like old fashioned breeches hence its name.
Blue Trail Rock Seat
Tired? Want to take a seat? There is a seat carved out of the diabase to our left. Neat!
After a series of switchbacks we have come to the end of the Blue trail at the intersection with the white trail. Turning right on the white trail we walk in a north west direction.
What’s that up ahead? Someone long ago dumped an old car off of the White Trail.
Rock Wall White Trail
Looking to our left we pass by an old rock wall which is a sure sign the land we are walking on was at one time farmland.
Boardwalk White Trail
Looking ahead we spot a boardwalk further down the White Trail.
Swamp White Trail
As we walk on it we come to a Red-Maple Swamp to our left. Red Maple (Acer Rubrum) are one of the most common maples found in the northeast and is a common tree in wetlands.
White Trail end
Just past the swamp we have reached the end of the White Trail at the parking lot where we started our hike. And that concludes our hike! I hope you enjoyed it and that it inspires you to visit Buttermilk Falls County Park for yourself!
Welcome to the Lenoir Preserve! Located in Yonkers, New York, the estimated 40 acre preserve features upland woodlands, a large lawn, nature center, butterfly garden, an old mansion and old ruins scattered throughout.
Heading out, we pass a picture of a map of the preserve including the route we will be taking today.
Lenoir Preserve Trail Map
Ready to begin?
White Trail Trailhead
Heading west from the nature center we find the trail-head of the estimated .70 of a mile White Trail under a stand of dense evergreen trees.
Heading southeast into the forest we pass by the trunk of a massive Tulip Tree. Found throughout the forest of the Lenoir Preserve, the Tulip Tree is native to the Eastern United States and is one of the tallest trees found on the eastern seaboard.
Building near White Trail
Continuing southeast on the white trail a large apartment building appears straight ahead through the trees. This will be the last reminder of the modern urban environment as we trek through the woods.
Old Manmade Pond
Continuing our walk we find an old man-made pond. The pond still fills with water from an old pipe buried underground.
As we walk a twisty looking plant known as Wineberry is found all around us. Wineberry is native to Asia and an established invasive plant in the United States.
A little further on a yellow trail has joined the White Trail from the west.
Stone Steps Wooden Bridge
Let’s head west briefly on the yellow trail for a moment to see where it goes.
The Yellow Trail leads right to the Croton Aqueduct trail which is a New York State Park. This trail goes over a huge old masonry water tunnel which once provided water to thirsty New Yorkers until 1965. The trail was created in 1968.
Stairs Yellow Trail
Leaving the Croton Aqueduct and heading east we temporarily pass the White Trail. Old stairs appear to the east leading to terraces. Let’s go take a look.
Archway Yellow Trail
An ancient Archway appears near the end of the yellow trail. I don’t know about you, but I feel a pair of eyes watching us.
It’s a Song Sparrow! Song Sparrows favor brushy areas such as where we spotted this one or should I say it spotted us.
Yellow Trail Beginning
Let’s head back down the Yellow trail to continue our journey on the white trail in Lenoir’s forest.
White Trail Rock Path
As we walk more ruins appear as the sun filters through the leafless trees.
White Trail Ruins
This may have been part of a fireplace of the destroyed “Ardenwold” Mansion which once existed in the site. The Ardenwold Mansion was destroyed by fire in the 1970’s.
White Blaze on Black Birch
Nearing the southern border of the Lenoir Preserve the White Trail turns east.
We’ve been spotted and the alarm has been sounded! A Northern Mockingbird is keeping careful watch over the woodlands of the Lenoir Preserve.
Leaving the woodlands an old ruined wall with an ancient looking gazebo gazes mournfully at us. We have reached the southern border of the Lenoir Preserve. The ruined wall and gazebo are part of the Alder Manor which was built around 1912 by William Boyce Thompson. The manor is private property operated by the Tara Circle, an Irish Cultural Center.
Alder Mansion Garden
Peaking through an old iron gate we see an expansive old garden.
Crows Chasing Hawk
Leaving the White Trail and heading north to the Great Lawn we spot some commotion in the open sky above. American Crows are chasing an unidentified Hawk.
Now heading north through the great lawn, the expansive Lenoir Mansion appears to our right. The mansion was built between in the mid-to late 1800’s for presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden from granite quarried on site.The mansion is named after Lenoir, North Carolina by a later owner by the name of C.C. Dula who added additional wings to the mansion.
As we walk pass the Lenoir Mansion heading north a mournful sound fills our ears. It’s source is this Mourning Dove keeping watch over us as we walk.
An old stone gazebo appears just north of the mansion as we walk. What’s that sound?
Just west of the gazebo is a massive butterfly garden which was created in 1995 by volunteers of the Hudson River Audubon Society. The garden is named after a Beverly Smith who came up with the idea to plant the garden. The garden has showcased a rare Rufous Hummingbird in the past. The Rufous Hummingbird normally occurs in the far west of North America and winters in Mexico.
Heading back towards the nature center a curious looking spotted bird is seen on the ground. It’s a Northern Flicker! Northern Flickers, such as this one, spend a lot of time searching for food in the form of ants and other insects on the ground.
Bird Feeders Rain Garden
We’ve reached the back of the nature center where bird feeders tempt hungry birds and a rain garden is present during the growing season. With that we’ve concluded our walk of the preserve. Thank you for joining me today. It is my hope that this virtual tour inspires you to visit the Lenoir Preserve to check it out for yourself!
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!
From the parking area off of Skyline Drive in Oakland, let’s head past the kiosk and head to the yellow blazed Hoeferlin Trail. The 6.0 mile Hoeferlin Trail, formerly called the Suffern-Midvale Trail, is named after Bill Hoeferlin, who was a well known north Jersey trail builder and map maker. Ready? Let’s go!
As we begin our hike a small pond appears to our right which forms the start of a Ramapo River tributary we will be following (and crossing) as we head south on the Hoeferlin trail.
Witch Hazel in Bloom
Just past the pond we spot Witch Hazel in bloom off the trail. Witch Hazel is one of the last native plants to flower in the fall and is unusual because it’s conspicuous yellow flowers stay in bloom even after the leaves have fallen off.
Ramapo River Tributary
As we walk the only noise we hear besides the crunch of newly fallen leaves under our feet is the sound of the Ramapo River tributary flowing nearby.
Continuing south we find Sassafras in fall colors. Sassafras has three types of leaves: Solid, Three Prong and Mitten Shaped. Click here to view pictures and descriptions of this unique tree! All parts of Sassafras are fragrant.
Continuing south we cross over the Ramapo River tributary and find some Mile-a-Minute weed growing at our feet. Native to eastern Asia, Mile-a-Minute is an established invasive species in New Jersey and is capable of forming a monoculture excluding native plants.
Hoeferlin-McEvoy Combined Trail Blazes
Continuing south the Hoeferlin trail briefly becomes combined with the blue blazed MacEvoy trail coming from the east.
The MacEvoy trail is named for Clifford E. MacEvoy who was a wealthy contractor of large public works. MacEvoy helped conceive and construct the nearby Wanaque Reservoir. In the 1920’s, MacEvoy bought property in the Ramapo Mountains to form the Bergen County Hunting and Fishing Club. MacEvoy’s estate was sold and purchased by the State of NJ using Green Acres and federal funds in 1976 and became what is now known as Ramapo Mountain State Forest.
Heading northwest on the dual blazed Hoeferlin/MacEvoy trail we see Ramapo Lake before us. Here the Hoeferlin trail leaves to the south and we continue on the Blue Blaze MacEvoy trail which becomes a paved road. The 120 acre Ramapo Lake is the centerpiece of Ramapo Mountain State Forest. Fish such as Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch and Pickerel among other species are found in the lake. Ramapo Lake was originally a 25 acre pond known as Roten Pond. (“Roten” is Dutch for Muskrat). English translation corrupted “Roten” to “Rotten” Lake. The pond was later dammed to form the present Ramapo Lake.
Cannonball Trail Blaze
After passing a private residence and the Cannonball Trail to our right we come to the 1.0 mile White Blazed Castle Point Trailhead.
Castle Point Trail
Leaving the MacEvoy trail we turn right to head north on Castle Point.
Castle Point Trail Climb
Almost immediately Castle Point proves to be an uphill challenge.
Distant Wanaque Reservoir
Stopping we can see glimpses of the Wanaque Reservoir to the west. The Wanaque Reservoir was constructed in 1928 and is the second largest reservoir in NJ. Water is received from the Pompton, Ramapo and Wanaque Rivers. After enjoying the view, let’s continue our climb on Castle Point.
Castle Point Climb over Old Wall
As we walk, a wall appears with the white blaze of the castle point trail. Let’s carefully climb the wall over the rocks.
Wow! What’s this? A medieval castle in the middle of the woods? The ruins we see before us were known as Van Slyke Castle. The ruins stand 350 feet above Ramapo Lake on Fox Mountain.
Ramapo Lake View
The Castle (aka Foxcroft) was a stone mansion built by a William and Alice Porter in 1909 as their summer home. William died in 1911 and Alice died in 1940. The mansion sat empty for years until vandals broke in and torched the mansion in 1959 giving the appearance we see today.
Nature reclaims castle
Castle Point Blaze on ruins
Leaving the castle behind, we head north on the Castle Point Trail.
Ruined Swimming Pool
A short distance from the ruins of the castle we come to the ruins of the castle’s swimming pool.
Leaving the pool behind we arrive at the Ramapo Water Tower which provided water to the Van Slyke Castle. The water tower is still in great shape.
Ramapo Lake View
Stopping to catch our breath we look behind us to see the distant Ramapo Lake.
Looking east we see the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan in the distance just visible to the right of High Mountain.
Ramapo Lake View
Heading northeast on the Castle Point Trail we turn around one last time to say goodbye to Ramapo Lake which appears even further in the distance.
Castle Point Trail End
We’ve now arrived at the end of the Castle Point Trail. Ahead of us is a paved road leading to private residences nearby. Let’s turn right heading south on the paved road skirting the Cannonball Trail.
Red White Trail Head
A Red and White Trailhead (Skyline Connector Trail) appears to our left. This is our route back to our cars!
Red White Trail
The Red White Trail is a brief pleasant trail…
Red White Trail-End
…which ends too soon at the parking lot where we began. I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Ramapo Mountain State Forest and that it inspires you to check it out for yourself!
Take Interstate Route 287 to Exit 57 (Skyline Drive) and proceed north on Skyline Drive for about one mile to the upper parking area for Ramapo Mountain State Forest on the left side of the road, just beyond milepost 1.4, opposite the entrance to Camp Tamarack.
Welcome to the Pequannock River Coalition’s 2013 Spring Hike! The Pequannock River Coalition provides a crucial voice in protecting the watershed of the Pequannock River (one of the cleanest rivers in New Jersey and a tributary of the Passaic River) since 1995. 2019 Update: Pequannock River Coalition has dissolved.
Ross Kushner Executive Director Pequannock River Coalition
Meet Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!
Ross begins by explaining that the Monksville Reservoir was created in 1987 by impounding the 2.8 mile Wanaque River and the .4 mile Beech Brook (a Wanaque River tributary). The land comprising Monksville Reservoir was formerly a river valley. Dead Trees (snags) still poke through the water where dry land once existed.
Looking out at the reservoir a large white bird has caught Ross’s attention. The bird is a Mute Swan, he explains. Mute Swans originated from Europe and are not native to the US. The Mute Swan, according to legend, is silent all its life until right before it dies where the bird sings an achingly beautiful melody known as a “Swan Song“. The real story is Mute Swans are not mute but actually make a deep grunting territorial sound. Click here to hear a Mute Swan for yourself!
Standing near the reservoir Ross points to a stand of Gray Birch Trees across the water. Gray Birch is a pioneer species that is one of the first trees to grow following a disturbance and can be found growing on poor soils. Ross says we’ll see two additional species of Birch on the hike. Let’s begin!
As we walk a Tree Swallow is seen flying erratically over the water. Tree Swallows prefer inland wetland ecosystems and are among the first in the American Swallow family to migrate back after winter. You can hear a Tree Swallow Sing by clicking here!
A second after seeing the Tree Swallow a Red-Winged Blackbird makes its presence known. Red-Winged Blackbirds are usually found in wetlands such as those found in the intact woodlands surrounding Monksville Reservoir. Click here to hear a Red-Winged Blackbird!
Near the northern edge of the reservoir Ross points out an active Beaver Lodge to us. A beaver lodge is the home of the American Beaver and is created from sticks, mud and rocks. A small opening at the top of the lodge provides air.
Pileated Woodpecker Holes
As we walk closer to the woods we stop in front of an old Eastern Hemlock tree which has been punctured with large rectangular holes. The holes were created by a Pileated Woodpecker looking for one of their favorite foods: Carpenter Ants. Pileated Woodpeckers are North America’s largest living woodpecker and provided the model for the famous cartoon Woody Woodpecker. Their habitat is large mature forest such as the woods which surround Monksville Reservoir. Click here to hear a Pileated Woodpecker!
Barely inside Tranquility Ridge County Park, Ross has spotted our second birch: Yellow Birch. Yellow Birch prefers to grow near streams & wetlands. The tree’s characteristic peeling bark is visible to all. The hairy looking vine growing on the Yellow Birch is Poison Ivy.
Yellow Birch Wolf Tree
Ross spots a massive tree in the distance branching out in all directions and surrounded by young trees. Ross explains that trees can only grow sideways or to the top but can’t do both. This “lone wolf” tree will eventually be crowded out by the young trees competing for sunlight.
On Hasenclever Iron Trail
We are now turning left on the Hasenclever Iron Trail. The creation of the six mile Hasenclever Iron Trail was first conceived in 2001 by the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks. The Hasenclever Iron Trail follows an old Woods Road which dates from the 1760’s. The road connected Long Pond Ironworks with ironworks located in Ringwood. The Friends of Long Pond Ironworks installed nine interpretive signs along the trail in 2007. The installation was funded with a grant from the NJ Recreation Trails Program. We’ll be passing by historical signs #’s 4 through 1 today.
Beech Brook Tributary
After we cross a tributary to Beech Brook Ross tells us that Beech Brook contains a naturally occurring population of Brook Trout. We have now entered the 6,911 acre Long Pond Iron Works State Park.
Beech Farm Information
We have just passed an unmarked trail to our right and historical marker #4. Marker #4 tells us that the unmarked trail leads to Beech farm which has long been abandoned.
Wild Turkey Sign
As we walk Ross points out dirt patches in the leaf litter on the ground. This was caused by Wild Turkeys looking for food.
A turkey feather has just been found in the litter. Given all this Turkey sign Ross takes out a device which makes a female turkey sound that hunters use to attract the male turkeys (toms). Ross used the device but the Turkeys have moved on for now and we do not see any.
Ross Kushner with Turkey Call
Ross strongly recommended not to play the device during Wild Turkey hunting season. Want to hear what a Wild Turkey sounds like? Click here to hear!
Ross Kushner Squirrel Markings
Ross has stopped at another Eastern Hemlock and says this tree has been designated a “marking tree” by an Eastern Gray Squirrel. Squirrels rub the glands found under their chin on trees as a sign of territory to other squirrels in the other area.
Edward Hewitt Interpretive Signage
We are now at historical marker #3 which describes Edward Hewitt, who was a member of the last family to own most of Ringwood State Park before it became state land. The Hewitt family also owned hunting and fishing camps which were built in the area we are now standing.
Ross Kushner discussing invasive plants
This hike is taking place in early spring and the only plants we see blooming are invasive species like Japanese Barberry and Winged Euonymus (aka Burning Bush) both of which thrive in disturbed areas. Ross explains that invasive species are non-native species which lack natural predation to control their spread. As a result invasive plants crowd out native plants by forming a monoculture.
Limestone Interpretive Signage
We’ve now at historical marker #2 which describes the role of limestone in iron making. Limestone was crushed and added to iron furnaces with iron ore where it acted as a fluxing agent to separate impurities from iron.
Ross Kushner Black Birch
Ross has just found our third and final species of Birch: Black Birch. Black Birch twigs and bark have a strong scent of wintergreen when scraped. Ross is scraping away some the bark of a Black Birch to take a whiff. Wintergreen oil was derived from Black Birch for commercial purposes in the past.
Shagbark Hickory Grape Vine
Ross has stopped in front of an old Shagbark Hickory with an old Grape Vine wrapped around it. Only mature Shagbark Hickories (such as the one we are looking at here) have actual “shagbark”. Young trees have smooth bark. The grape vine wrapped around the Shagbark Hickory is probably as old as the tree itself. Grape Vines prefers to grow where sunshine is plentiful and prefers forest edge habitat.
After a brief climb on the Hasenclever trail we pass near wetlands to our right.
The green leaves of Skunk Cabbage are starting to poke through. Skunk Cabbage is one of the first native flowering plants and generates heat to poke through ice and snow. It generally blooms in February. Skunk Cabbage earns its name due to a foul odor emitted by torn leaves.
Hasenclever Iron Trail #1 Interpretive Signage
We’ve just reached historical marker #1 on the Hasenclever Iron Trail. This is the last marker we will see today. This marker describes Long Pond Village, a long ago industrial village that supported the nearby Long Pond Ironworks.
We are now approaching the Wanaque River. The word “Wanaque” is Native American for “place of the Sassafras Tree”. A good portion of the length of the Wanaque River is impounded to form the Monksville and Wanaque Reservoirs. Ross tells us that a bridge used to cross the Wanaque River to the old Long Pond Ironworks but was washed away when Hurricane Irene struck in 2011. The NYNJ Trail Conference rebuilt the bridge in 2013.
Sterling Ridge Trail Blaze
We have now left the Hasenclever Iron trail and are turning north on the joint Sterling Ridge/Highlands Trail. The Blue-on-white 8.6 mile Sterling Ridge Trail leads to Sterling Forest State Park in New York if we kept going straight. Don’t worry! Ross has no plans to take us out of New Jersey today.
Highlands Trail Blaze
We are also sharing the same path with a section of the estimate 45 mile long interstate Highlands Trail. The Highlands Trail is a project by the NYNJ Trail Conference which highlights the unique characteristics of the Highlands region. The Highlands Trail is still a work in progress.
We are now following a tributary of the Wanaque River.
We have stopped just as we enter a cool ravine. Eastern Hemlocks favor this habitat. Indeed, Eastern Hemlocks are all around us!
Ross Kushner Iron Slag
What is Ross holding in his hand? It’s an old piece of iron slag left over from the iron making operations that took place here over a hundred years ago.
We are heading briefly off the marked trail and walking towards the Wanaque River. The segment of the Wanaque River seen here is draining Greenwood Lake. What a great spot for lunch! After resting we continue to walk leaving the Wanaque River and following a tributary stream.
Tributary Stream Crossing
Crossing the tributary on rocks we pass the Yellow Blazed Jennings Hollow Trailhead to our left and are now stopped at the base of a Tulip Tree.
Tulip Trees grow straight and narrow with fissured bark. The tree’s leaves actually look like Tulip Flowers! It flowers in Mid-May to early June.
We are now walking northeast on an unblazed woods road. This is the same woods road we passed to our right when we first started out on the Hasenclever Iron Trail.
As we walk, we pass a deep impression in the ground to our left. The impression is a remnant of the Patterson Mine. The Patterson Mine last saw operation at the end of the 1800’s. Ore from the Patterson Mine was sold to the local market or supplied ironworks found in the area.
Check out the abandoned motorcycle to our right! It’s pretty old but it is still standing.
Off to the left of the woods road is a vernal pond. Vernal ponds are temporary pools of water that are free of fish and provide valuable areas for amphibians such as Wood Frogs to lay eggs. Wood Frogs are found further north than any other species of frog. Ross explains that the theory is this: water found in cells will expand to the point of explosion when frozen. Wood frogs have found a way to move water molecules outside their cells when they get frozen to prevent this from happening.
Red Velvet Mite
We’ve just turned right on another unmarked trail following Beech Brook to our right. Ross suddenly stops. He’s found a Red Velvet Mite! Red Velvet Mites live in the soil and eat fungi and bacteria. Red Velvet Mites are harmless to humans and are part of the arachnid family (the same family spiders belong to).
Well, we’ve arrived back at the gate and back at our cars! What a great hike!
Monksville Reservoir Near the Parking Lot
Want to check out this hike for yourself? Here are the directions to the parking lot where the hike begins!
Take exit 57 on Rt. 287 to Skyline Drive. Follow Skyline 5 miles north to Greenwood Lake Turnpike. Make a right there onto Greenwood Lake Turnpike and follow it about 4 miles to a right on Beech Road. Look for a gravel parking area at the reservoir on the left.
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!
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!
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
The GSOEC hosts periodic studies of the flora and fauna to determine the overall health 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.
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.
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.
Ready to take a virtual tour of the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center? Let’s Go!
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
Mammals of The Great Swamp
Endangered in New Jersey
After checking out the exhibits inside, it’s time to start our hike.
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.
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’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.
Continuing on the orange trail, marker #2 comes into view on the right where a large depression may be found.
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 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 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
Continuing in a southwest direction, the dirt path changes to a boardwalk as the trail traverses the wetland area.
Orange Trail Boardwalk
A short boardwalk appears to the right of the main boardwalk which leads to the Pond which is marker #5.
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.
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:
At this point of the hike you may notice abundant Mountain Laurel. Marker # 7 appears here.
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
Let’s take a brief break from the interpretive trail to explore this short trail.
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
The trail encircles a small vernal pond (the vernal pond, seen here is dry during our virtual tour).
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
The first marker on the Red Trail is #11 which identifies trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.
Marker 11 Deciduous Forest
Trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest include the below among others:
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
We are now at the end of the Red Trail.
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.