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Hiking Sterling Lake!


Sterling Forest State Park

Sterling Forest State Park

Welcome to Sterling Forest State Park! Established in 1998 and located in Tuxedo and Warwick NY, the park is one of the newest additions to the New York State Parks in the past 50 years. Most of the woodland is located in NY State but a portion of it extends into NJ and is known as Tranquility Ridge County Park.

Sterling Forest

Sterling Forest

The almost 22,000 acre park features diverse ecological communities including:

Welcome to the Sterling Forest Bird Conservation Area

Welcome to the Sterling Forest Bird Conservation Area

These diverse habitats have earned Sterling Forest State Park the designation of Bird Conservation Area by the NY DEP.

Birds found in Sterling Forest State Park include the below among many others:

Virtual Hike

Foot Trail Maintained by Volunteers NY-NJ Trail Conference

Foot Trail Maintained by Volunteers NY-NJ Trail Conference

Today we are going to hike the estimated 4.2 Blue Blazed Sterling Lake trail  (maintained by volunteers from the NYNJ Trail Conference) which starts at the Sterling Forest State Park visitor center.  The visitor center is named for the late Frank R. Lautenberg who helped preserve the forest for future generations. The Sterling Lake Lake trail loops around Sterling Lake, a natural lake formed during the last ice age.

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Visitor Center

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Visitor Center

Let’s head inside and grab a trail map.

Sterling Forest State Park Model

Sterling Forest State Park Model

Inside there are dioramas on the Sterling Forest mining industry history, fauna exhibits and a huge model of Sterling Forest itself.

Trail

From the visitor center let’s head east into a brief section of forest  on a footpath.

Old Forge Road C

Old Forge Road Crossing

After rambling through this portion of the trail we follow the Sterling Lake Loop trail east crossing Old Forge Road near private residences.

McKeages Meadow Connector

McKeages Meadow Connector

After crossing Old Forge Road the orange triangle blazed McKeages Meadow Connector trail appears to our right.

Truck Trailers Sterling Lake Loop

Truck Trailers Sterling Lake Loop

Continuing straight ahead on the Sterling Lake Trail, the trail turns from a footpath to a woods road as we pass old trailers to our left near private property.

Old Railroad Causeway

Old Railroad Causeway

Wetland

Wetland

From here we follow the Sterling Loop trail as it crosses a wetland via an old mining railroad embankment.

Second Old Forge Road Crossing

Second Old Forge Road Crossing

Long Meadow Road appears ahead but the trail turns north just missing the busy road. Crossing Old Forge Road for the second time we find ourselves heading north climbing.

Dead Hemlock

Dead Hemlock

We have reached an Eastern Hemlock dominated forest but unfortunately many of the Hemlocks are dead or dying due to the Woolly Adelgid, a non-native pest from 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.

Pine Meadow Trail Connector Trailhead

Pine Meadow Trail Connector Trailhead

As we head northwest, the 0.3 Mile Orange Blazed Pine Meadow Connector Trail appears to our right.

Sterling Lake Loop Grassy Trail

Sterling Lake Loop Grassy Trail

Our feet are in for a treat as the trail becomes a soft grassy road as we continue heading north on the Sterling Lake Loop.

First view of Sterling Lake

First view of Sterling Lake

Our first glimpses of Sterling Lake appears to our left as the trail turns northwest.

Sweetfern

Sweetfern

Whew! Let’s take a quick breather and take time to look at some of the vegetation growing near the trail. Here’s some Sweetfern native to the Eastern US. Its name is misleading as Sweetfern is not a fern at all but a deciduous shrub. The “sweet” in Sweetfern is correct as the leaves give off a sweet odor when crushed. Sweetfern typically grows in dry upland habitat.

Hog Peanut

Hog Peanut

Hey! Is this Poison Ivy? It’s got the whole “leaves of three leave ’em be” look. Nope, it’s a vine known as Hog Peanut. Hog Peanut is a member of the Bean Family (unlike Poison Ivy which is a member of the Cashew Family) and helps out plants growing nearby by correcting Nitrogen levels in the soil. Hog Peanut is common in both dry and mesic (moist) forest types.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut

Here’s American Chestnut. The American Chestnut tree was an important member of the eastern forest found in the United States. A wide variety of wildlife fed on its chestnuts. Mature American Chestnuts began to die off in 1904 due to imported Chestnut Blight from Asia. The blight,  imported to the US via Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus dispersed by spores in the air, raindrops and animals. American Chestnut now survives only in the understory as shoots sprouting from old roots (which are not affected by the blight). The American Chestnut sprouts reach about twenty feet before the blight strikes. The roots then shoots up new sprouts and the process repeats itself. The American Chestnut Foundation  is currently working to restore the once great American Chestnut back to its native range. Check out the book American Chestnut : The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree for more information. Click here!

Powerline Cut

Powerline Cut

Milkweed in Bloom

Milkweed in Bloom

Continuing north we reach a Powerline cut in the forest. Powerline cuts create permanent Shrubland which provides habitat for flora such as Milkweed, an important wildlife plant (especially for Monarch Butterflies) which does not grow in the dense shade of the forest floor.

6.01 (46)

Heading south a portion of the Yellow Blazed 6.2 mile Sterling Valley Trail joins the Sterling Lake Loop trail from the north.

Tiny Toad

Looking down as we walk on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop & Sterling Valley Loop we spot movement. Tiny toads!

Little Toads

Little Toads (Most are circled-see if you can find ones I missed!)

Let’s carefully and slowly proceed west on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake/Sterling Valley trail watching where we step.

Sterling Lake

Sterling Lake

We have now arrived at the northern tip of Sterling Lake.

Approaching a small sandy beach we spot a turtle digging in the sand.

Turtle heading back to Sterling Lake

Turtle heading back to Sterling Lake

But, as soon as we spot this turtle it takes off with surprising speed to Sterling Lake…..

Turtle back in Sterling Lake

…where it quickly disappears under the water.

Pond

Pond

Leaving the sandy beach and the now vanished turtle behind we cross an earthen causeway separating the pond above from Sterling Lake.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

Taking a closer look at the pond reveals an active beaver lodge.

5-Line Skink

5-Line Skink

Continuing west past a former boat launch a movement on a rock catches our eye. A 5-Line Skink! Native to the Eastern US, the 5-Link Skink is one of the most common lizards found in the Eastern Forest.

Blueberries

Blueberries

Heading south on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop and Sterling Valley Loop we spot some blueberries growing along the side of the trail.  The blueberries provide a refreshing treat as we continue our hike.

Sterling Valley Trail Exits

Sterling Valley Trail Exits

As we continue south Sterling Lake now appears to our left and the Yellow Blazed Sterling Valley Trail exits.

Sterling Lake View

Continuing south on the Sterling Lake Loop trail we see beautiful views of Sterling Lake.

Sterling Forest Fire Tower Connector Trail

Sterling Forest Fire Tower Connector Trail

As we walk we find the woods road the trail has been following has ended and the trail now follows a paved road (West Sterling Lake Road) passing the Fire Connector trail to our left.

Lakeville Ironworks Trail

Lakeville Ironworks Trail

Ruins

Ruins

As we walk on the pavement we pass ruins of Lakeville Ironworks and the trailhead of the 3/4 of a mile mile Lakeville Ironworks trail. These buildings are remnants of former mining operations.

More Ruins

Located in the Highlands geologic region, the hills of Sterling Forest were mined for iron ore known as magnetite beginning in 1730 and ending in the 1920’s when the last of the mines shut down.

Help Save New York's Ash Trees

Help Save New York’s Ash Trees

As we walk we notice signs tied to nearby White Ash trees. The signs are in relation to the Emerald Ash Borer, a destructive pest from Asia which threatens all ash trees. The mature emerald ash borer does not pose a threat. It is the larva of these borers which eat away at the heartwood of ash trees.

Sterling Lake Outlet with Sterling Furnace in distance

Sterling Lake Outlet with Sterling Furnace in distance

Heading east on a footpath back in the forest we are now crossing the outlet of Sterling Lake near its dam. The Sterling Lake dam was originally built in the mid 1700’s to provide water power to the the Sterling Furnace. The dam raised the water level of Sterling Lake by 8 feet. A mine (now completely filled with water) was located directly below Sterling Lake.

Sterling Furnace

Sterling Furnace

Sterling Furnace was used until 1804 to create Pig Iron. Later, raw iron ore was shipped by trail to PA to be smelted using large coal deposits. The furnace was rebuilt by the City Investing Corporation in the 1950’s.

Remains of Lakeville Church

Remains of Lakeville Church

Near the visitor center we pass the  foundation of Lakeville’s Church. Well, we are now back at the visitor center and have completed our virtual hike of Sterling Lake! I hope you enjoyed your journey and that you check out this hike in person! Click here for directions!

Woods Road

Hiking/Ecology Books!

1. The Nature of New York – An Environmental History of the Empire State – This work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State

Click here for more information!

2. Eastern Deciduous Forest Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources!

Click here for more information!

3. Don’t miss The Highlands: Critical Resources, Treasured Landscapes! The Highlands exemplifies why protection of New Jersey’s Highlands is so important for the future of the state. It is an essential read on the multiple resources of the region.

Click here for more information!

4.60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

5. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to comment with any questions, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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Hiking Wawayanda State Park’s Cedar Swamp Natural Area!


Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park

Welcome to Wawayanda State Park! Located in the NJ Highlands, Wawayanda State Park was one of the first major acquisitions by the New Jersey Green Acres program. Wawayanda State Park was purchased in 1963 from the New Jersey Zinc Company which had proposed development for the property. The name “Wawayanda” is of Lenape origin and is said to mean water on the mountain. Many prefer to call it “way way yonder” since the park is located in a remote area of northwestern Passaic and southeastern Sussex counties.

Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park is home to a multitude of wildlife including state threatened Red-Shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl and Bobcat. The park is also a strong hold for Black Bears in NJ.

Trails

Trail

Today we are going to explore a portion of the 2,167 acre Wawayanda Swamp Natural Area-home to a globally rare inland Atlantic White Cedar Swamp and the largest natural area present in the park.

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar

Wawayanda’s Atlantic White Cedar Swamp formed around 15,000 years ago and sections of the swamp have remained unchanged since the last ice age.

Wawayanda Lake

Wawayanda Lake

Using this trail map, let’s start our journey by heading to the trail-head of the 1.6 mile yellow blazed Double Pond Trail near the camping areas of Wawayanda State Park. Double Pond Trail is named after the original name of nearby Wawayanda Lake which was once two bodies of water separated by a thin strip of land.

Wawayanda Furnace

Wawayanda Furnace

On our way to the Double Pond Trail we pass the ruins of the Wawayanda Furnace, a 37 foot tall charcoal blast furnace where pig iron, a crude form of iron, was produced for railroad car wheels. The charcoal blast-furnace is a remnant of a once-thriving village and was last used in 1857.

Double Pond Trail Trailhead

Double Pond Trail Trailhead

Leaving the furnace behind, let’s head east to the start of the Double Pond Trail.

Entering the forest we find Indian Cucumber growing alongside American Beech. Indian Cucumber is an indicator of rich moist woods. The plant can grow up to 30 inches high.

Indian Cucumber

Indian Cucumber

As we walk there are several rock outcrops comprised of ancient granite whose age is likely around 1 billion years old.

Mayapple with Rock Outcrop

Mayapple with Rock Outcrop

Here we see Mayapple sprouting near the base of one outcrop. As we continue closer to the Cedar Swamp we find an interesting small tree known as Striped Maple with bark striped green and white.

Striped Maple

Striped Maple

Striped Maple is a common understory tree of cool mesic forests.

Striped Maple Leaves

Striped Maple Leaves

After walking about .4 of a mile on the Double Pond Trail we have reached a bridge crossing a creek.

Double Pond Trail Bridge

Double Pond Trail Bridge

Swamp

After checking out the views, let’s take the trail back into the forest passing the trailhead for the Red Dot Trail to our right.

Red Dot Trail Trailhead

Red Dot Trail Trailhead

Double Pond Trail

Double Pond Trail

Continuing on the Double Pond Trail dense Rhododendrons are appearing to the side and branching overhead forming a tunnel in places mixed with Eastern Hemlocks making this part of the park appear to be a jungle.

Cedar Swamp Trail Trailhead

Cedar Swamp Trail Trailhead

After traveling about .9 of a mile on the Double Pond Trail we find ourselves at the Trail-head of the 1.5 mile Blue Blazed Cedar Swamp Trail appearing to the right. This trail will take us right into the center of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp! Today we will hike only about half a mile of the Cedar Swamp trail since there has been much rain causing the water levels in the swamp to rise and flood most of the trail.

Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Boardwalk

Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Boardwalk

After walking a short distance through more Rhododendron tunnels we find planks of wood have been placed over permanent flooded sections of the trail.

Frog Tannin Stained Water

Frog Tannin Stained Water

We have arrived in the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. The water is shallow and tannin stained and filled with frogs.

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar occurs on hydric soils in low nutrient water usually on or near the coastal plain. This is what makes finding this pocket of thriving Atlantic White Cedar located so far away from the coastal plain so special.

Other common tree species found in Atlantic White Cedar Swamps include:

Abandoned Car

Abandoned Car

About .05 of a mile into the trail we find the remains of an old car that has been here for many years. Nature is reclaiming the car for its own. As we proceed slightly further we find the boardwalks have ended and the trails are flooded due to the recent heavy rains.

Frog

Frog

Turning around on the Cedar Swamp Trail we head back to the boardwalks and see numerous frogs in the tannin stained water of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp.

Heading back to the Double Pond Trail we hear a low grunt of a Black Bear nearby alerting us of his presence.

Possible Bear Print

Possible Bear Print

Judging by the above wet paw print on this rock we just missed him!

Wood Ducks and Mallar

Wood Ducks and Mallard

Heading back on the Wooden Bridge catch we glimpses of Wood Ducks and a solitary Mallard out on the water.

Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch

As we leave the swamp and head into mesic (moist) woods, we pass a Yellow Birch tree with its roots exposed. This tree likely began life growing on an old log that has since long ago decayed and returned to the earth.

Red Eft

Red Eft

As we walk we see a bright orange movement on the ground. It’s a Red Eft! Red Efts are juvenile terrestrial Eastern Newts. When fully mature the newt will spend the rest of its life (12-15 years) in the waters of the swamp.

We’ve now made it back to the old iron furnace! I hope you enjoyed this virtual hike of Wawayanda’s Cedar Swamp and that it inspires you to visit it for yourself!

Wawayanda's Jungle (Cedar Swamp Trail)

Wawayanda’s Jungle (Cedar Swamp Trail)

Directions: (As taken from NJ DEP Website)

Directions:
Take Route 23 north to Union Valley Road. Follow Union Valley Road about 6 miles to stop sign. From Stop sign, go to second traffic light. Turn left, travel to fork in road (about 2 miles) go left about 1/2 mile to Warwick Turnpike. Turn left. The park entrance is four miles on the left.

Great Ecology/Hiking Books!

1. 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!

2. Don’t miss The Highlands: Critical Resources, Treasured Landscapes! The Highlands exemplifies why protection of New Jersey’s Highlands is so important for the future of the state. It is an essential read on the multiple resources of the region.

Click here for more information!

3. Eastern Deciduous Forest Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources!

Click here for more information!

4.60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

5. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestion! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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