Category Archives: Sensitive Fern

Hiking Brinton Brook Sanctuary!


Saw Mill River Audubon Brinton Brook Sanctuary

Saw Mill River Audubon Brinton Brook Sanctuary

Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary! Brinton Brook Sanctuary, located in Croton-on -Hudson, is managed by the Saw Mill River Audubon and is its largest sanctuary at 156 acres.  The preserve originated as a donation of 112 acres to the National Audubon Society from Laura and Willard Brinton. In 1975, after Laura Brinton’s death, an additional 17 acres were added to the preserve. Saw Mill River Audubon gained full ownership of the preserve in 1991 from the National Audubon Society.

Brinton Brook Sanctuary provides necessary habitat for wildlife and includes over three miles of hiking trails.

Virtual Tour

Brinton Brook Trail Map

Brinton Brook Trail Map

Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary! Using this trail map we will be traversing through forest, meadow, wetlands and the shoreline of the 5 acre Brinton Pond.

We find the trailhead of the 1.2 mile yellow blazed Pond Loop Trail (the longest trail found in Brinton Brook Sanctuary) both to our right and right in front of us. Let’s head straight on the Pond Loop Trail and see where it takes us. The Pond Loop Trail is marked with twenty interpretive signs and traverses through woods, a meadow and around Brinton Pond before it heads southwest back to the parking lot.

#1 Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary

#1 Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary

Here we come to the first of twenty interpretive signs (please note we will see and note some but not all of the interpretive signs) which welcome us to Brinton Brook and reminds us we are in a sanctuary where all life is protected.

#2 Tulip Tree

#2 Tulip Tree

Just up the trail we spot the second interpretive sign which refers to the Tulip Trees, the tallest trees found in the eastern US. Common names are Tulip Poplar or Yellow Poplar. Tulip Trees belong to the Magnolia family and are named as such due to its tulip shaped leaves and flower which blooms around late May and early June each year. Due to the height of the trees we generally only spot the flowers once they have fallen. Since we are in early fall we missed the flowers this year. But there is always next spring!

#3 Black Locust

#3 Black Locust

The third sign we come across has to with Black Locust trees which are found all around us in this section. A member of the Pea Family, Black Locust trees are native to the southeast of the United States and are considered to be an invasive plant elsewhere due to its ability to monopolize where it has established. In May, Black Locust produces extremely sweet smelling cluster of flowers. Mature Black Locust tree trucks are deeply furrowed and its roots help fix nitrogen levels in the soil.

Kiosk with Signage

Kiosk with Signage

As we walk the trail has widened and we find a kiosk straight ahead which includes a trail map. Let’s head to the left to continue our hike on the Pond Loop Trail.

#4 Ecotone

#4 Ecotone

Shortly after the kiosk we come to interpretive signage #4 discussing an Ecotone. An Ecotone is an transition found between two different habitats (in this case forest and meadow). Sassafras Trees are plentiful in this area.

#5 Area of Change

#5 Area of Change

We have now officially left the forest and are standing in a managed meadow. This meadow must be constantly managed otherwise over time, due to ecological succession, this meadow would convert to forest.

#6 Two Kinds of Forests

#6 Two Kinds of Forests

Leaving the meadow behind we reenter the forest and come to interpretive signage # 6: Two Kinds of Forests which discusses Red Maple (the most common Maple tree found in Northeast America) & Northern Red Oak which is found primarily to our left on the hillside.

As we arrive at Brinton Brook we see a massive old growth Red Maple.

Old Growth Red Maple

Old Growth Red Maple

Nearby is interpretive signage #7: Pond View which discusses common wildlife found in and around Brinton Pond such as Wood Ducks.

#7 Pond View

#7 Pond View

We have now arrived at Brinton Pond. The pond, created by the impoundment of Brinton Brook (a tributary of the Hudson River) is man made and was created as an “ice pond”. During the winter chunks of ice were carved from the pond and stored (this was in an age before the modern refrigerator) for use. As we can see by the growth of plants in and around the pond, the pond is slowly becoming marshland.

Brinton Pond slowly transforming to Marshland

Brinton Pond slowly transforming to Marshland

What’s that we see on a rock? It’s a female Wood Duck and its ducklings!

Female Wood Duck and ducklings

Female Wood Duck and ducklings

Heading east we come to the next interpretive signage “The Edge of the Pond”.

#8 Edge of the Pond

#8 Edge of the Pond

The sign discusses wildlife we may see near the pond and pictures a dragonfly and a Wood Frog. As we walk we don’t see any frogs but we hear plenty of Green Frogs (which sounds a bit like a banjo) and Bullfrogs (which makes a bellowing call) announcing their presence from the pond.

Pond Dam

Pond Dam

Continuing east the trail crosses over an earthen dam of the pond.

Skunk Cabbage and Sensitive Fern

Skunk Cabbage and Sensitive Fern

And here is the next interpretive sign which discusses the wetland plants found to the left of the pond. Common wetland plants found here include Skunk Cabbage, Sensitive Fern as well as Spicebush (the most common wetland shrub found in Westchester County).

Turkey Trail Trailhead

Turkey Trail Trailhead

Just past the wetland heading north is the trailhead of the blue blazed .5 of a mile Turkey Trail which climbs to the highest elevation in the sanctuary (390 feet). Let’s stretch our legs and take this trail.

TurkeyTrail (no understory)

Turkey Trail (no understory)

As we climb through the forest notice that there is little to no understory. The culprit is an overabundance of White-Tailed Deer. With no natural predators to control the herd, the deer population in the eastern United States has exploded in recent decades. All these hungry deer feed on saplings and native shrubs displacing them and give many non-native shrubs (such as Japanese Barberry which deer do not eat) a competitive advantage.

White-Tailed Deer Running

White-Tailed Deer Running

What’s that blur to our right? A White-Tailed Deer which must have heard us discussing it is running away with its tail up high.

Turkey Trail Con-Ed Powerlines

Turkey Trail Con-Ed Powerlines

 

As we head east there is an abrupt end to the hardwood forest as we come to to a meadow near Con Edison power lines. We are now at the highest elevation in Brinton Brook at 360 feet.

Coyote Trail

Coyote Trail

As we continue on the Turkey Trail heading south the entrance to the green Blazed .4 mile Coyote trail appears to our left. Let’s go ahead and take it!

Highlands Trail (Croton Arboretum)

Highlands Trail (Croton Arboretum)

Heading southwest on the Coyote trail we pass the white blazed Highlands Trail (which has arrived here from the Croton Arboretum) which now jointly follows Coyote trail.

We have now arrived at an intersection with the Red Blazed .7 of a mile Hemlock Springs Trail which is named after the stately Eastern Hemlock tree.

Unfortunately many of the Hemlocks found in Brinton Brook Sanctuary 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.

As we continue to head east, the Highlands Trail exits to the nearby Hudson National Golf Club. Now the Hemlock Springs Trail heads south west and we come to the first of two Brinton Brook crossings.

There is something that looks like a small piece of gray rope on the ground…wait a minute! It’s a ring-necked snake! These snakes are normally nocturnal so we are lucky to spot one!

Ring Necked Snake

Ring Necked Snake

Leaving the ring-necked snake we pass first entrance Yellow Blazed .5 of a mile Laurel Rock Trail. Just as we pass we hear a beautiful songbird melody. And we’ve spotted the culprit! It’s a Wood Thrush! Wood Thrushes are common in mesic (moist) forests.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

As we continue on we pass the 2nd entrance to Laurel Rock Trail and cross Brinton Brook.

Green Frog

Green Frog

As we cross over Brinton Brook there is a sudden splash! The culprit is a Green Frog. See him hiding? Green Frogs are common residents of streams, ponds and wetlands. We have now arrived back on the Pond Loop Trail which we left some time ago when we went to go explore the Turkey Trail.

Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory

While we missed some of the interpretive signs we will catch the remainder of the 20 signs now starting with sign#17 which discusses Shagbark Hickory the tree seen in the picture above. Shagbark Hickory is one of the most common Hickory trees found in the eastern forest. It is readily identifiable due to its peeling “shaggy” bark. Shagbark Hickory nuts are feasted upon by Eastern Gray Squirrels and Black Bears among others.

Sun Trap

Sun Trap

#18 A Sun Trap

#18 A Sun Trap

 

Continuing on our way we come to sign #18 which discussed the opening seen straight ahead as “a sun trap” which is a natural clearing in the forest where migratory birds may be spotted in the spring and fall.

#19 Feathery Ferns

#19 Feathery Ferns

Two more signs to go! Here we see sign # 19 “Feathery Ferns” which describes common ferns found in the Brinton Brook Sanctuary such as the Christmas Fern. The Christmas Fern is evergreen and is said to be named “Christmas Fern” due to its fronds resembling Christmas stockings.

#20 Trail end or beginning!

#20 Trail end or beginning!

We have now reached our last sign on the Pond Loop Trail #20 “Trail End or Beginning!”. For us it is the end of the trail and we are back at the parking lot! Whew! What a great hike! It is my hope that this virtual hike inspires you to check out Brinton Brook Sanctuary for yourself!

Click here for directions!

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

Feel free to Comment with Questions, Memories or Suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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!

3.60 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!

4. 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!

Hiking Mountainview Nature Park!


Mountainview Nature Park

Mountainview Nature Park

Welcome to Mountainview Nature Park!

Mountainview Nature Park

Mountainview Nature Park

Located in Central Nyack in Rockland County NY, the 83 acre park features an estimated 2.5 miles of hiking trails winding their way through an Oak-Hickory forest.

Mountainview Nature Park Forest

Mountainview Nature Park Forest

Mountainview Nature Park was acquired as a gift from the Winston Perry family by Rockland County in 1979.

Geology

Diabase Rocks

Diabase Rocks

The land comprising Mountainview Nature Park is part of the Palisades ridge. The Palisades extend from Staten Island NY to Mount Ivy NY. The rocks are known as diabase. Diabase was formed around 200 million years ago by molten magma intruding into softer sedimentary rocks.

Virtual Hike

Mountain Trail Trailhead

Mountain Trail Trailhead

From the parking area on Strawberry Hill Lane we find ourselves at the trailhead of the orange blazed Mountain Trail. At 1.15 miles, the Mountain Trail is the longest trail found in Mountainview Nature Park. We will use the below trail map (taken from the Rockland County website) to help guide us.

Trail Map

Ready? Let’s go!

Bridge over Hackensack River Tributary

Bridge over Hackensack River Tributary

Heading east on the Mountain Trail, we cross a Hackensack River tributary on a wooden bridge.

NY Thruway

NY Thruway

Dipping south we see (and hear) the NY State Thruway straight ahead near another Hackensack River tributary.

Rock Wall Mountain Trail

Rock Wall Mountain Trail

Turning north on the Mountain Trail we see several old stone walls of farms that existed here at one time.

Goat Trail Trailhead

Goat Trail Trailhead

Continuing north on the Mountain Trail the white-blazed trailhead of the .60 mile Goat Path appears to our right. Let’s take it!

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Heading southeast on the Goat Path a large American Crow size bird with a bright patch of red on its head flies over us. It’s a Pileated Woodpecker! This guy is on the ground poking through fallen snags for its favorite food: carpenter ants.

Goat Trail Climb

Goat Trail Climb

Leaving the Pileated Woodpecker behind we continue southeast on the Goat Path and start to climb uphill.

Building near Goat Path

Building near Goat Path

Coming to the edge of the eastern border of Mountainview Nature Park with a building visible straight ahead, the Goat Path turns left climbing northwest along the edge of a hillside.

Goat Path Hillside

Goat Path Hillside

Careful! We have to really watch our footsteps here. Whew! We’ve arrived near the top.

Goat Path Chestnut Oak

Goat Path Chestnut Oak

At the top of the mountain Chestnut Oak and Eastern Red Cedar are abundant.

Goat Path Eastern Red Cedar

Goat Path Eastern Red Cedar

From here the Goat Path turns right heading southeast through an Oak-Hickory forest. Trees present in this forest include:

Mountain Trail Intersection

Mountain Trail Intersection

Just ahead we come to an intersection with the orange blazed Mountain Trail we left awhile ago. But for now, let’s head south on the Overlook Spur section of the Goat Path.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

As we walk on the Goat Path we spot a White-Tailed Deer  to our left watching us.

Goat Path Trailend

Goat Path Trailend

Leaving the deer we continue southwest to the Goat Path terminus.

Palisades Center Mall & NY Thruway with Ramapo Mountains in distance

Palisades Center Mall & NY Thruway with Ramapo Mountains in distance

Let’s take a breather to see the view. Directly in front of us is the Palisades Center Mall with the NY Thruway heading west towards the distant Ramapo Mountains. Ready to continue on? Let’s turn back and head back to the Mountain Trail intersection.

Mountain Trail

Mountain Trail

We are now leaving the white blazed Goat Path and heading east on the Mountain Trail.

Bear Swamp Trailhead

Bear Swamp Trailhead

Just to the left of the Mountain Trail is the western trailhead of the blue blazed .28 mile Bear Swamp Trail loop. Let’s go explore it!

Bear Swamp

Bear Swamp

The Bear Swamp Trail loops around Bear Swamp and will take us back to the Mountain Trail. Bear Swamp, which is seasonally flooded, is a hardwood swamp dominated by Red Maple, one of the more common trees found in the eastern forest. Shrubs such as Spicebush are quite abundant in the understory.

Royal Fern

Royal Fern

Ferns such as Cinnamon and Sensitive Fern are also abundant in Bear Swamp. While they are gone since we are in late fall, we still see the remains of Royal Fern.

Bear Swamp Trailend

Bear Swamp Trailend

Completing our loop, we find ourselves back on the Mountain Trail at the eastern entrance to the Bear Swamp trail. We can either continue heading east (which leads to Mountainview Avenue and the Long Path) or we can retrace our footsteps and head west. Since it’s getting late, let’s head west on the Mountain Trail.

Mountainview Nature Park Mountain Trail

Mountainview Nature Park Mountain Trail

Passing the Goat Path we are now heading west on the Mountain Trail.

Decaying Log

Decaying Log

As we walk we pass by numerous blow downs and old decaying logs. These old logs play an important ecological role in the forest. Decaying logs retain moisture and release nutrients into the ground that aid in new plant growth.

Posted Private Property

Posted Private Property

Heading southwest on the Mountain Trail, we pass near the northern boundary of the park near private property.

Hudson River Mountain Trail

Hudson River Mountain Trail

Walking southwest on the Mountain Trail we can just catch glimpses of the distant Hudson River through the remaining leaves on the trees to our left.

Mountain Trail Descent

Mountain Trail Descent

We’ve now begun our climb down the western border of the hill we climbed earlier on the Goat Path. This trail will take us back down pass the trailhead of the Goat path and back to our car.

Mountain Trail End

Mountain Trail End

We made it back to our car. Thank you so much for joining me today on this virtual hike of Mountainview Nature Park. I hope that it inspires you to visit and hike the park yourself in person!

Directions: (as taken from the NYNJ Trail Conference website)

To reach the park, take NY 303 to North Greenbush Road and follow it to Strawberry Hill Lane. Parking is available off Strawberry Hill Lane.

Feel free to Comment with Questions, Memories or Suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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!

3.60 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!

4. 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!

http://www.nynjtc.org/park/mountainview-county-nature-park

Exploring Rockefeller State Park Preserve’s Swan Lake!


The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Welcome to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve! Located in Sleepy Hollow, NY, the 1,000 + acre park features a variety of habitats ranging from open meadows, deciduous forest & wetlands. Rockefeller State Park Preserve is listed as an “IBA” (Important Bird Area) by the National Audubon Society. Over 180 species of birds have been documented in the preserve!

Female Yellow Warbler

Female Yellow Warbler

Common birds (depending on the time of the year) found in the preserve include the belong among others:

Virtual Tour

Welcome! Today, using the map below, we are going to explore the Swan Lake area of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve!

Trail Map

Trail map listed above taken from NY Parks.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

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

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!

Virtual Tour

After paying the minimal parking fee ($6 at the time of this writing in 2013) let’s walk over to the visitor center.

Japanese Peony

Japanese Peony

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.

Information about The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

 

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

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!

Fern Garden

Fern Garden

But first let’s poke around the Fern Garden found just past the visitor center. The fern garden is populated with Cinnamon, Royal & Sensitive Ferns among other species including some rather large Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants!

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Leaving the Fern Garden we follow a brief trail through a forest to get to Brother’s Path.

Brother's Path

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.

Overlook Trail

Overlook Trail

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!)

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

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood, native to the eastern United States, is a common understory tree found in forest edges.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve Meadow

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.

American Beech Trees

American Beech Trees

We pass near a few American Beech trees and a Skunk Cabbage dominated wetland.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Passing the Farm Meadow Trailhead to our south we continue to follow the Brothers Path heading north.

Farm Meadow Trail Trailhead

Farm Meadow Trail Trailhead

Swan Lake is now on our left.

Swan Lake to our left

Swan Lake to our left

As we walk, we pass Canada Mayflower to our left in bloom.

Canada Mayflower in bloom

Canada Mayflower in bloom

Canada Mayflower is part of the Lily family and native to the Eastern United States.

Eastern Chipmunk near it's home

Eastern Chipmunk near it’s home

A sudden squeak makes an Eastern Chipmunk known to us.

Northern Black Racer

Northern Black Racer (Thanks Brian!)

I’m not sure if the chipmunk is sounding the alarm over us or this Northern Black Racer lurking nearby. Maybe both?

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

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.

Striped Wintergreen

Striped Wintergreen

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

Mallards near Swan Lake

Turtle 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!

Click here for directions!

Recommended Books:

1) WALKABLE WESTCHESTER – The book covers over 180 parks with almost 600 miles of trails in Westchester County.

Click here for more information!

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.

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!

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

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

Welcome to the Essex County Environmental Center!


Welcome to the Essex County Environmental Center (ECEC)!

Essex County Environmental Center

Essex County Environmental Center

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.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension

 

Partners of the ECEC include the the Sierra Club, NJ Audubon Society, Essex County Environmental Commission, Essex County Beekeepers Society & the Essex County Recreation & Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board.

Essex County Environmental Center

Essex County Environmental Center

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

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)

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Once inside, there are various exhibits regarding topics such as renewable energy.

Wind Energy

Wind Energy

After taking in the information, pick up a trail map, it’s time to explore the trails!

Start of Interpretive Trail

Start of Interpretive Trail

Head outside the center and turn right on the Lenape Trail.

Welcome to the Lenape Trail

Welcome to the Lenape Trail

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

Essex County Environmental Center Trail Map

Sweetgum Leaf

Sweetgum Leaf

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.

Marker 2 Gray Birch

 

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 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.

Deer Fence

Deer Fence

Behind this marker a tall deer proof fence will appear.

Habitat Restoration Area Please Stay on Trail

Habitat Restoration Area Please Stay on Trail

The fence was constructed to keep hungry white-tailed deer out so native vegetation may grow.

Frog Pond

Frog Pond

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

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.

Garibaldi Hall

Garibaldi Hall

Garibaldi Hall was part of the original environmental center and is still used by the Master Gardeners of Essex County.

Patriots Path

Patriots Path

Head toward Eagle Rock Avenue to Marker # 5 found at the start of the White Blazed Patriots Path.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

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):

White Tail Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

After passing marker six it’s time to leave the Patriot trail by heading left to a wooden boardwalk.

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

The boardwalk  is raised above the Passaic River floodplain.

Wood Duck Box

Wood Duck Box

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).

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

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

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.

Passaic River

Passaic 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.

Pollinator Garden

Pollinator Garden

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

Busy Bees at Work

The Essex County Beekeepers keep a selection of Honeybees here. Bee careful not to disturb it!

Marker 12 Lenape Life

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.

Wigwam

Wigwam

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.

Red Oak

Red Oak

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.

Soon after Marker #13 appears Marker #14 (Forest Composition) which describes Musclewood, American Beech & Spicebush.

American Beech

American Beech

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

Spicebush

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

Musclewood

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

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

Bird Lane Trail

We’ve now come to the beginning of the blue blazed Bird Lane Trail.

Bird Lane Trail Trailhead

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.

Passaic River Floodplain

 

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.

18 Boulder

 

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.

Old Equipment

Old Equipment

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.

Bird Lane What will you find (2)

Well, we’ve now reached the end of the Bird Lane Trail!

Bird Lane Trail End

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!

Click here for directions!

Check Out the Latest Bird Sightings Here!

Great Ecology Books:

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!

3. Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State:

Wild New Jersey invites readers along Wheeler’s whirlwind year-long tour of the most ecologically diverse state for its size in America.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Westchester County’s Cranberry Lake Preserve!


Welcome to Cranberry Lake Preserve!

Welcome to Westchester County’s Cranberry Lake Preserve! Cranberry Lake Preserve (CLP), purchased by Westchester County in 1967, contains 190 acres of deciduous woodland, wetlands, an old quarry, several bodies of water and old ruins.

In the early 1900’s the land that was to become CLP was an active quarry utilized for the construction of the nearby Kensico Dam which holds NYC drinking water.

Kensico Dam

Trails

Cranberry Lake Preserve Trail

Trails are open dawn to dusk.  Trail maps are available at a kiosk outside or you can click here for a digital version.

  • CLP features four blazed loop trails. All trails begin and end with blazes featuring the Westchester County Parks logo.  Periodic numbers appear on blazes occasionally which correspond to your current location on the trail map. These numbers are found on wooden posts. (Please note the numbers do not appear on the online version of the trail map)

All trails are accessible by either orange or white blaze connector trails.

To Nature Lodge

Many sections of CLP trails display signs which lead back to the Nature Lodge. Click here for a trail map!

Red Trail

Red Blaze

At 2.4 miles the red trail is the longest trail featured in CLP. The red trail follows CLP boundaries with the exception of the quarry.

Blue Trail

Blue Blaze

The Blue Trail loops around both Cranberry Lake and South Pond for a total distance of 1 mile.

Cranberry Lake

Cranberry Lake is a natural body of water formed around 18,000 years ago by glacier activity. The lake is fed by an underground spring.

Ground Pine

Ground Pine can be found growing along the Blue Trail.

Yellow Trail

Yellow Trail Trailhead

The Yellow trail traverses rocky upland and a section of Cranberry Lake.

Purple (History) Trail

Purple Trail Trailhead

The Purple Blazed History trail is a self guided trail which explores most of the preserve including the quarry. The self guided trailmap can be found by clicking here.

Exploring CLP

While CLP’s trails are open dusk to dawn, the nature lodge and its parking area are closed most days by 5PM. It is strongly recommended that you park in the designated parking area near Old Orchard Street if you plan on hiking past 5PM.

It is from the Old Orchard Street parking entrance that the below description starts out from on the way to explore CLP. Let’s go!

Eastern Chipmunk Cranberry Lake Preserve

From the parking area, walk up the road to the nature lodge.

Cranberry Lake Preserve Nature Lodge

Just to the west of the nature lodge is an interesting wetland with a dock.

Wetlands Near Nature Lodge

It was here that I saw this snake.

Head inside the nature lodge to check out the exhibits and pick up a trail map.

Inside Cranberry Lake Nature Lodge

From the nature lodge, head south to take the yellow trail down to an Orange connecting trail.

Here there is a sign advertising Cranberry Lake. The orange blazed connector trail leads to a jointly blazed yellow/blue trail with Cranberry Lake straight ahead.

Yellow Blue Blazed Trail near Cranberry Lake

Follow the Yellow/Blue blazed trail south with Cranberry Lake to your left.

Bent Bridge

Continuing south, take the Orange Blazed Connector trail which will appear to your left near a wooden boardwalk known as Bent Bridge.

View of fen from Bent Bridge

Bent Bridge provides a good opportunity to check out the fen located to the south of Cranberry Lake. In the summer, white water lilies appear on the water.

Stone Chamber

Leaving Bent Bridge, the Orange blazed connector trail leads to a man-made “cave” known as the Stone Chamber.

Looking outside from inside Stone Chamber

The ruins surrounding the stone chamber were the property of a farmer named Thomas Cunningham. The Stone Chamber is a very neat little man-made “cave” of sorts that is fun to explore.

Ruins outside Stone Chamber

From here, the orange blaze connector trail leads past more stone ruins to the Purple Trail (aka History Trail). The path here follows an old railroad which separates the fen from South Pond.

South Pond

You are sure to hear splashes in the warmer months of frogs jumping in the water as you walk by.

Head east on the Purple Trail to a bench strategically placed in front of a beautiful cascade.

Cascade

It’s a good spot to rest and relax in a peaceful setting.

To Quarry

From the cascade, continue east on the Purple Trail following signs for the quarry.

Abandoned Tennis Court

An abandoned tennis court will appear to your right.

Quarry Pond

The tennis court was part of the Birchwood Swim club which used the Quarry Pond for Swimming.

Tulip Poplar & Milkweed Abandoned Tennis Court

Nature is slowly reclaiming the tennis court. Birchwood Swim Club was discontinued in 1997.

Fish Quarry Pond

Once past the quarry pond the purple trail heads past old railroad car wheels which were used to haul granite during the quarry operation.

Railroad Wheels

The Purple Trail continues heading north climbing over the rocky quarry.

Quarry Trail

The height here is an estimated 450 feet above sea level.

Derrick

Derrick anchors which once held heavy quarry machinery are still fastened in the rocks along the trail.

Old Automobile on Purple Trail

From here, the trail starts to descend the quarry and heads west passing an old abandoned car.

Continuing north the Purple Trail comes across the remains of a stone cutting shed.

Stone Cutting Shed Ruins

After exploring this area, follow the Purple Trail south until it meets with the red trail. From here, take the red trail southwest with Cranberry Lake to your right. Continuing south, retrace your steps until you pass the cascade with the bench at an intersection with the Purple Trail that you previously took into the Quarry territory. Continuing south, the red trail passes South Pond to the West.

South Pond

South Pond is man-made and was created during quarry activities.

Bird Tower on South Pond

A Bird Observation tower appears to your left. This tower provides great views of South Pond.

Remains of Stone Crusher

The red trail passes near the remains of a stone crusher foundation. The stone crusher was capable of crushing up to 1000 cubic yards of gravel per day when the quarry was active.

Signs for NYC Watershed appear to east of the trail.

Hush Pond

From here, the red trail turns west and temporarily leaves CLP & enters White Plains watershed land and passes Hush Pond to the south.

Stone Wall by Red Trail

From Hush Pond, the red trail passes a couple of connector trails and turns north following an old stone wall delineating NYC watershed property from CLP. According to David Steinberg who wrote a description of Cranberry Lake Preserve in his book “Hiking the Road to Ruins” the lower, crude, sharper-tipped walls are of colonial origin and the larger, cut-stone flat-topped walls are NY DEP watershed boundaries dating from the 1960s.

Indian Pipe

It was here that I found Indian Pipe growing when I visited in June of 2012. Continue following the red trail north with the wall to your left until you reach your car.

Black Capped Chickadee at Cranberry Lake Preserve

Directions

Cranberry Lake Preserve contains diverse habitats within its 190 acres. It is worth checking out yourself!

  • 1609 Old Orchard Street, North White Plains, NY
  • Park hours: Park open dawn to dusk. Nature Lodge and front gate are open Wednesday-Sunday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Phone: (914) 428-1005

Click here for Directions!

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

Check out David Steinberg’s description of this hike in the book “Hiking the Road to Ruins

Click here for more information!

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!