Englewood’s Flat Rock Nature Preserve consists of 150 acres of second growth woodland, wetlands, meadows, gardens and ponds and nature building managed by Flat Rock Nature Association, a non-profit organization which hosts educational programs.
The preserve is surrounded on the north, south and west by dense residential housing. Englewood Cliffs is to the east of the preserve. Flat Rock Nature Preserve is a remnant section of a once massive hardwood forest on the western palisades. This forest remained intact until about 1859 when large scale logging occurred to provide railroad ties for the northern railroad which had extended into Englewood. Overtime, the forest grew back on land that was to become the Flat Rock Nature Preserve.
A Walk in the Woods
In the fall of 2012 a new permanent exhibit in the nature center known as “A Walk in the Woods” was completed. The exhibit showcases the four primary habitats found at Flat Rock:
Each exhibit has interactive puzzles, information fact cards & flip-books on the flora and fauna found in each habitat. Speaking of fauna, this Turtle has a home in “A Walk in the Woods”
Near the window where bird feeders have been placed are descriptions of common birds found at Flat Rock including their vocalizations!
I saw this American Goldfinch when I last visited.
The display also has exhibits on non-point source pollution and how it affects the Hackensack River watershed.
History of the Land
Over the years, several development proposals threatened the forest. In 1900, a few acres of the future nature preserve experienced quarrying which occurred until 1925. Today, the staging area of the quarry is the present day parking area of the nature center. A handicap accessible .1 of a mile boardwalk, constructed in 1989, goes near cliffs that were exposed during the quarry operations.
Around 1907, a huge cemetery was proposed for the woods of Flat Rock but was declined by the city due to the land being unsuited for this purpose. In 1927 Paterno Construction Company bought land in the future preserve in order to construct residential development. Roads were constructed throughout Flat Rock’s forest. Construction of the houses was soon to follow but the great depression occurred effectively canceling the development. The roads became the foundation of the present trails found in the nature preserve. Over the next few decades new development threats came and went but the woods remained.
In 1968, the citizens of Englewood voted to approve a city bond issue to acquire and preserve the remaining open land in Englewood. In 1973, the organization that would become Flat Rock Nature Preserve was formed to manage the preserved open space.
Flat Rock Brook
Flat Rock flows into the preserve from the north. The brook is a tributary of the Overpeck Creek (Flat Rock’s confluence with the Overpeck Creek is just south of the border between Englewood and Leonia) which is a tributary of the Hackensack River. Flat Rock Brook is classified as FW2-NT (Fresh water, non-trout). The water quality has been designated as poor as indicated by the variety and number of sampled invertebrates. The water quality was tested by the Flat Rock Brook Nature Association which formed a stream study team to evaluate the health of Flat Rock. Recently, the Flat Rock Brook Nature Association received a grant of $9, 625 to help restore Flat Rock Brook by encouraging native plant species and removing invasive exotic plants. The grant was received from the Watershed Institute.
Flat Rock Ponds
A prominent feature of Flat Rock Brook Nature Preserve is its Quarry Pond.
Quarry Pond is located to the south of the preserve near the nature center’s building. Quarry Pond has not been dredged since the 1970s. Sediment from nearby trails have been filling in the pond causing decreasing oxygen levels. Duckweed, an aquatic plant, has taken over the pond. In the fall of 2010, city officials voted to use funds from an unused 2007 bond ordinance to dredge the pond. In the summer of 2012 dredging of Quarry Pond commenced and was completed in the fall of 2012.
If Quarry pond wasn’t dredged, it would have disappeared and become a marshland which was the fate of Flat Rock’s MacFadden’s Pond. MacFadden’s Pond is now known as MacFadden’s wetland due to sedimentation filling in much of the pond. MacFadden’s wetland was formed by the damming of Flat Rock Brook as it enters the preserve from the north and is found in the northern area of the preserve.
The city of Englewood approved a dredging project for the pond in 2007 but when the cost to dredge the pond was found to be more than a million dollars, the dredging plan was canceled.
In addition to the quarry boardwalk, the preserve features over three miles of trails.
The red trail is the longest at 1.2 miles and traverses the heart of the preserve and helps to connect Macfadden’s wetland with the nature center. The white trail, at .6 encircles the nature center and goes through gardens and around Quarry Pond. The .6 orange trail traverses in the western section of the preserve near Flat Rock.
The yellow trail goes over a mystery bridge (called a mystery because the bridge appeared mysteriously one weekend) near Macfadden’s wetland and back to the red trail. Click here for a trail map.
Flora and Fauna
The preserve features flora such as:
Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey.
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!
Click here for more information!
Fauna found in Englewood’s Flat Rock Brook Nature Center includes:
The preserve is open for hiking seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Click here for directions.
Check out below for more information regarding Northern NJ’s Forest Community and environment!
1. Eastern Deciduous Forest, Second Edition: Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants to know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources.
Click here for more information!
2. Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State – With people as its focus, Protecting New Jersey’s Environment explores the science underpinning environmental issues and the public policy infighting that goes undocumented behind the scenes and beneath the controversies.
Click here for more information!
Feel free to comment with any questions, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
Leonia’s 14 acre Highwood Hills natural area was acquired by the Borough of Leonia using Green Acre funding in 1972 and 1980.The nature preserve is bordered to the east by the Plaza West Shopping Center, to the south by the borough of Palisades Park, and by dense residential housing to the north and west.
The property was acquired through the efforts of the Leonia Environmental Commission, mayor and council and citizens. The Leonia Environmental Commission, scouts and volunteers sponsor educational activities, clean-ups and special programs on occasion at Highwood Hills.
The preserve features 6 trails. The Main Trail goes in a north to south direction across the perimeter of the preserve and parallels a seasonal stream.
Sassafras saplings were found throughout the main trail. These trees grow well in open woods on moist, well-drained, sandy loam soils. This tree has three basic leave patterns making it a really interesting tree to look at. One of the types of leaves even looks like a mitten.
There are five trails which branch off the main trail. The Lizard Pond trail branches to the west of the preserve in a loop fashion. The pond leads to a vernal pond (Lizard Pond) which was mud at the time of my summer 2010 visit.
The Birch Trail, which heads to the east of the preserve in a loop fashion from the main trail, features a railroad tie staircase and bridges over the seasonal stream.
The Chestnut trail branches off the main trail at the extreme southern extent of the preserve. The Chestnut trail leads to the Gulch Trail or back to another railroad tie staircase. It was along this staircase that I found some cool turkey tail mushroom on some old logs.
The Gulch Trail either leads back to Lizard Pond Trail or the Douglas Spur Trail which connects back to the Main Trail. Each trail, regardless of the length, has character and is worth exploring.
The preserve is a unique remnant palisades forest located just minutes from the George Washington Bridge.
Contact the Leonia Environmental Commission for more information. The entrance to the preserve is located on Highwood Avenue in Leonia, NJ or off of Roff Avenue, Glen Avenue or 4th street in Palisades Park. Parking is available on Highwood Avenue near the entrance or on Roff and Glen Avenue.
Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!