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.
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.
You can learn more about water classification in NJ by clicking here –> factsheet1
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!
The 22 acre Swan Lake was created by impounding a tributary of the Pocantico River (a tributary of the Hudson River).
Carriage Road Rockefeller State Park Preserve
The carriage roads we will be walking on were developed by John D Rockefeller Sr & John D Rockefeller Jr between the years 1910-1950. Every winter the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve evaluates which trails need fresh surface material added. Drainage of trails is completed every spring to ensure carriage roads stay dry. Trail maintenance is a 12 month process!
After paying the minimal parking fee ($6 at the time of this writing in 2013) let’s walk over to the visitor center.
After picking up a trail map let’s check out the interesting flowering plants blooming nearby. These flowers are Japanese Peony and are known as the “King of Flowers” in Japan.
Just past the flowers and the visitor center there is a kiosk chock full of information about the Rockefeller State Park preserve.
Birds and Wildflowers of the Preserve
Here we can find excellent information regarding common flora and fauna of the preserve. All set? Let’s head towards Swan lake!
Leaving the Fern Garden we follow a brief trail through a forest to get to Brother’s Path.
We are going to be following the 1.1 mile Brother’s Path which encircles Swan Lake. As we start out heading south on the Brother’s Path, the trailhead of the .7 mile Overlook Trail appears to our right.
Let’s take a quick detour from Brother’s Path to walk a section of the Overlook Path for a few minutes. According to the Hudson River Audubon Society website this area is one of the best spots to view Eastern Bluebirds. Eastern Bluebirds, New York’s state bird, are a small thrush whose habitats include open woodlands and meadows such as where we are right now. Eastern Bluebird populations have experienced a decline due to strong competition from aggressive non-native birds like the House Sparrow and European Starlings.
Eastern Blue Bird (NY’s State Bird!)
As we ponder the future fate of these birds a blue blur flies by and lands on a nesting box which has been placed in the meadow by a member of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve staff. Ready to head back to the Brother’s Path? Let’s head back to continue our journey around Swan Lake. Heading south on Brother’s Path we see continuous views of Swan Lake mixed with occasional Flowering Dogwood to our left.
Flowering Dogwood, native to the eastern United States, is a common understory tree found in forest edges.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve Meadow
Continuing south an opening has appeared to our right providing a view of the sweeping meadows we sampled on the Overlook Trail. As we walk Swan Lake is becoming narrower. Turning east we cross over two Pocantico River tributaries draining Swan Lake.
I’m not sure if the chipmunk is sounding the alarm over us or this Northern Black Racer lurking nearby. Maybe both?
As we leave the chipmunk and snake we hear a sudden “meow” sound and realize that the sound is not coming from a cat but a bird! The bird is a Gray Catbird. Gray Catbirds are migratory and fly to the southeaster US, Mexico and Central America for the winter months.
Continuing north and passing the trailhead to the Ridge Trail, we spot some Striped Wintergreen, a species which is considered vulnerable in New York.
Mallards near Swan Lake
We cross over a Swan Lake feeder stream and pass a couple of Mallards and a turtle as we head west on the Brothers Path back to the parking lot to complete our hike. I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Swan Lake and that it inspired you to visit it for yourself!
2) The Nature of New York – This work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State. Author David Stradling shows how New York’s varied landscape and abundant natural resources have played a fundamental role in shaping the state’s culture and economy.
The preserve is a cooperative project of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) and the county of Passaic. Passaic County has owned 501 acres of the preserve after purchasing the land from the Borough of Butler with Green Acres funding in 1971. Public Access to the property was limited until NJCF purchased the adjacent Faustini property in 2002 bringing the total acreage to 576. The property was previously going to be developed and would have fragmented a crucial highlands forest and degraded water quality in nearby High Crest Lake. The Faustini property includes an estimated .93 of an acre pond and rock outcrops.
The forty acre Butler Reservoir is the centerpiece of the Apshawa Preserve and was formed from the impoundment of the Apshawa Brook which flows from the northwest. Once used for the Borough of Butler’s water supply, the reservoir is now only used during emergency drought situations.
Butler Reservoir in fall
From Butler Reservoir, Apshawa Brook continues south through an old mixing pond and cascades until its confluence with the Pequannock River near Route 23.
Samples of macro invertebrates taken from the Apshawa Brook show healthy populations of Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddis flies. These species are all pollutant intolerant species. Macro indicates that the organism can be seen without the aid of a microscope whereas invertebrate indicates that the organism has no backbone. The presence of these pollutant intolerant species indicates the Apshawa Brook’s water quality is very high. The NJ DEP has classified the stream as Trout Production and labeled the brook with “C1” status which is one of the highest water classifications in NJ. According to the NJ DEP Website “Category One (C1) designation protects waterways from any discharge that produces a measurable change in the existing quality of the water”.
Passaic County Freeholders Forest Restoration Fence
In December of 2010, The New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) completed construction of a 16,800 feet (3.2 Mile), 8 feet high wire mesh deer fence on three hundred acres of the Apshawa Preserve. The NJCF states that the Apshawa Preserve is at a “deer tipping point” and that the forest is partially degraded. 18 White-Tailed Deer were observed in the fenced 300 acres during a NJCF sponsored deer drive on December 10, 2010. NJCF states that 18 deer on 300 acres equals to about 40 deer per square mile. A deciduous forest becomes degraded when deer density is greater than 20 deer per square mile.
The purpose of the fence is to keep white-tail deer from over-browsing native herbaceous plants & young tree saplings. The fence will be in place for 10 to 15 years. Assessments of native plant populations found both in and out of the fenced areas will be taken on occasion to determine the effectiveness of the fence. According to the NJCF, so much native vegetation has been consumed by the white-tail deer that non-native plants such as Mugwort, Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry and Japanese Stiltgrass have taken hold in many areas of the forest where native species once flourished. These nonnative plants crowd out beneficial native plants by forming a monoculture which offers few benefits to native wildlife. Seeds of these plants were carried via foot traffic and illegal ATV use.
The Pequannock River Coalition (PRC) has called the forest restoration project “the fence that makes no sense” and has stated that the design of the fence impedes travel of other animals such as the state endangered Bobcat and Wood Turtle. PRC published a field review of the Apshawa Preserve and fence on November 22, 2010. The report stated that while deer sign was present in the preserve, the PRC did not encounter any deer during a three mile assessment. Greenbrier, which becomes scarce in areas where excessive deer browse is excessive, was found abundant in thickets in many areas. The report goes on to state that many young saplings were present indicating that the forest is regenerating. The biggest threat to new growth appears to be the dense canopy of dense shade and not excessive deer browse. The report concluded that several smaller enclosures would be more feasible to manage.
2019 Update: Please note that the Pequannock River Coalition is now defunct and the field review report is no longer available online.
Apshawa Deer Fence Gate
However, NJCF stated that managing many small enclosures is too expensive and that the design of the fence can be modified. The fence was placed tight to the ground in many places which prompted the NJ DEP to state that amphibians and snakes may have difficulties getting through to critical food supplies or breeding grounds with the current design of the fence. To accommodate, sections of the fence have been raised 7 inches high and 12 inches wide every 15-20 feet depending on the terrain. NJCF has stated that the purpose of the fence is to minimize deer presence but acknowledges that it is impossible to keep deer completely out. The PRC stated that studies have proved that hungry deer have been shown to squeeze in areas 7 inches high and 12 inches wide.
Deer Fence Animal Crossing Apshawa Preserve
Other methods to ease animal crossing include old snags (dead trees) placed over the top of the fence (seen in the picture above) to help animals such as Bobcats to cross over to the other side.
Black Bears have made a habit of breaking through sections of fence to get to the other side. The NJCF studied areas of high Black Bear traffic in the preserve and placed strategic “Bear Ladders” to aid in their crossing.
Under NJ law, almost all land modifications where there are stream corridors are governed by N.J.A.C. 7:13 aka the flood hazard control act. Fences are only exempted from this act if they are located outside of a floodway and if the fence is not designed in a way that will catch debris in a flood.
Stream Crossing Chains
The NJCF responded by placing heavy chains at the bottom of the fence to prevent debris from catching and permitting the flow of water. It is hoped that if White-Tail Deer feel the heavy chains on their heads they will turn around.
2020 Trails Update – Please note the below trail descriptions were as I found it when I wrote this blog in 2011. Some of the trails have been re-blazed/re-routed since this blog post was first posted.
There are almost 7 miles of blazed trails to be explored in the Apshawa Preserve. These trails were created with the assistance of volunteers and funding was provided through the National Recreation Trails Program.
2020 Update: Reminder: Please note the trail descriptions below were from 2011. Trails have been re-blazed since then. If you go (and I hope you do!) please pick up a trail map from the kiosk in the parking lot or print a trail map from the NJ Conservation website.
All trails are accessible from the white trail whose trailhead may be found in the Apshawa Preserve parking lot. Be sure to stay on the marked trails as there are unmarked trails throughout the preserve. There are signs posted letting you know if you are going to stray from the marked trail.
Leaving Trail System
While it is possible to hike (if you start early in the day) the entire preserve in one trip, I find it best to explore the Apshawa Preserve over two separate trips. The best introduction to the Apshawa Preserve is to hike the northern section of the Apshawa Preserve to the scenic Butler Reservoir. Start by taking part of the 2 mile white trail from the parking lot.
White Trail trailhead
The white trail heads northwest and goes through a swamp and traverses to a ridge top providing excellent views of the Butler Reservoir.
One of the views from White Trail
After stopping here for a look at the surrounding highlands, follow the white trail down to shore of Butler Reservoir and look to the left for the start of the 1.25 mile red trail.
Red Trail Trailhead
The red trail traverses along the western shore of Butler Reservoir and crosses over tributaries of the Apshawa Brook located to the northwest of Butler Reservoir. Once the trail passes over the tributaries, the trail heads east to once again meet with the white trail which traverses the northern section of the Butler Reservoir. Continuing to head east, the white trail meets the .5 of a mile yellow trail which encircles an 8 acre pond.
Yellow Trail with Pond
However, I found most of the yellow trail was under water due to Beaver activity when I visited in May 2011. I spoke to a NJCF representative regarding the condition of the yellow trail and was told that a possible reroute may be possible for the future.
Yellow Trail Closed due to Beaver
As of June 2013 the Yellow Trail is closed due to Beaver Activity.
2020 Update – It is my understanding that the Yellow Trail is still closed.
Continuing on our virtual tour: Heading west away from the flooded area, the yellow trail connects to the white trail and goes southwest and then east to the parking lot.
The second hike explores the southern portion of the preserve via the 3 mile green trail.
The green trail is the longest trail created in the Apshawa Preserve. From the white trail, the green trail heads south and passes a historic mixing pond and interesting ruins from the time when this property was watershed land for the Borough of Butler.
Dam at Historic Mixing Pond on Green Trail
Ruins on Green Trail
The trail continues northwest and does a switchback climb. There are scenic views here of adjacent protected Newark watershed land which looks great in any season but looks absolutely spectacular in the fall.
View on Green Trail
From here, the green trail continues north until it reaches Butler Reservoir and the red trail. Follow the red trail east and north until you connect back to the white trail. Take the white trail east and southwest back to the parking area.
The Apshawa Preserve consists primarily of a oak-sugar maple forest. Before the Chestnut blight, American Chestnut was likely abundant. Saplings of American Chestnut still occur.
Today there are new threats facing the eastern forest. The Emerald Ash Borer threatens all Ash trees. Purple boxes were place in the preserve and throughout New Jersey to detect for the presence of this destructive pest from Asia. The mature emerald ash borer does not pose a threat. It is the larva of these borers which eat away at the heartwood. The color purple attracts the emerald ash borer. Once the insect lands on the box they become trapped on the sticky surface.
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!
GNC features 27 acres of woodland, a pond, nature trails, gardens, outdoor and indoor animal exhibits and a greenhouse.
The manor, constructed in 1918, contains nature & animal exhibits. The property was previously owned by the Hall family and was purchased for $725,000 using funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and a bond issue from the Town of Greenburgh in 1973 to prevent development of single family housing which was proposed for the property.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Inside the manor, for a fee, (free for GNC Members), visitors can tour various educational exhibits on the environment and visit the indoor animal exhibits.
Taking Nature’s Course
Nearly 140 reptiles and mammals are present in the indoor animal exhibit from all over the world displayed in ecologically realistic settings. Native animals include the Eastern Screech Owl and American Bullfrogs among others.
Live Animal Museum
Special nature themes of interest are also displayed from time to time. When I visited in June 2012 there was an exhibit featuring information on the wonders of dirt.
There is also information on the nearby Bronx River where a tributary from the GNC flows into. An aquarium populated with fish found in the Bronx River is also displayed.
Do You Know These Bronx River Facts?
The preserve features several outdoor exhibits such as a barnyard habitat and an Aviary among other attractions.
Goat and Wild Turkeys in Barnyard Exhibit
Birds of Prey Aviary
The Green Roof Exhibit was created in 2008 through generous sponsorship funds from Con Edison and provides an example on new views towards sustainability. Vegetation keeps buildings cooler and helps absorb storm water runoff.
The nearly 2 acre great lawn was created around 1918 when the estate was first built.
The lawn features Beehives and an organic garden.
The Greenburgh Nature Center’s Manor House was built from stones quarried from the surrounding property in 1918.
Portion of Wall from GNC Manor
The rocks found in the GNC consist of Fordham Gneiss. Rocks of Fordham Gneiss were altered by high heat and extreme pressure for around 1.1 billion years. The alteration caused the sedimentary rock to recrystallize forming black-and-white banded, metamorphic rock.
Blurry Eastern Chipmunk on Fordham Gneiss
The Orchard area of the preserve features sandstone in addition to the predominant Fordham Gneiss and is the only part of the center property that features this geologic deviation.
2020 Update: The map above is current as of June 2020. The trail map above was taken from the Greenburgh Nature Center website. The trail descriptions below were as I found them in 2012 when I visited. At the time there were only four trails.
2012 Trail Descriptions
The preserve features four trails. The trails were originally developed by the previous owners of the land for quarrying and logging purposes.
The blue blazed Forest Trail is the main trail which begins and ends at the Manor house in a loop fashion for about a third of a mile in length.
Forest Trail Path
The main focal point of the Forest Trail is Woodfrog Pond.
The Woodfrog Pond area is the main source of water for GNC fauna and features freshwater wetlands at its northern and southern borders. Woodfrog Pond originated as a vernal pond which was created from past glacial activity. In 1980, GNC dredged the pond and constructed a small dam to retain water. The water which forms the pond originates from an underground spring and from rainfall. An outflow from the pond drains to the Bronx River which in turn drains into the East River.
Woodfrog Pond is unsuitable for fish due to its warm shallow water. Amphibians such as Spring Peepers, Green Frogs, Bullfrogs and a variety of salamanders breed and lay their eggs in the pond (and yes, Wood Frogs make an appearance here too in March to lay eggs).
Turtles on log in Wooodfrog Pond
Woodfrog Pond was restored in the fall of 2008. The pond and surrounding area had become degraded due to erosion and high usage. The restoration helped to increase the biodiversity of the pond itself as well as the surrounding wetlands. The Greenburgh Nature Center received a grant from the NYC environmental fund for $9,700 to partially dredge and fortify the pond as well as replant the surrounding area with native trees and shrubs.
North Forty Trail
The North Forty Trail meanders around the northern section of the preserve and eventually connects with the Forest Trail. The North Forty Trail passes near wetlands and traverses pass the Scarsdale Country Club in an easterly direction to connect with the Forest Trail near Woodfrog Pond. The North Forty Trail is also accessible from the Oak and Orchard Trail from the west.
Scarsdale Country Club
Sylvia Stein Nature Trail
The Sylvia Stein Nature Trail is a short trail which traverses through the center of the woodlands heading in a north – south direction. The Sylvia Stein Nature Trail is accessible from the Forest Trail. Ms. Stein was active with mycological groups and led field trips for both mycological groups and the Torrey Botanical Society.
Oak and Orchard Trail
The Oak and Orchard Trail leads from the North Forty Trail and heads southwest past the great lawn to the 3 acre orchard which is also a Box Turtle nesting site.
Box Turtle Nesting and Hatching Site
Flora found at the Greenburgh Nature Center includes: