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Emerson Woods Preserve Tour!


Emerson Woods Preserve

On December 4, 2011, Watershed Advocacy group Bergen SWAN (Save the Watershed Action Network) teamed with naturalist Nancy Slowik to host the first ever Emerson Woods nature walk.  Once targeted for intense development, the woods are now preserved and help protect the Oradell Reservoir from non-point source pollution.

Emerson Woods and Oradell Reservoir

Bergen SWAN played a major role in preserving Emerson Woods.  Bergen SWAN has fought for almost 24 years to help preserve the remaining forests surrounding upper Bergen County’s reservoirs.  The most recent settlement occurred in 2009 with United Water. United Water manages the Oradell, Lake Tappan and Woodcliff Lake Reservoirs in Bergen County.  After 5 years of negotiations with Bergen SWAN & the Hackensack Riverkeeper, United Water agreed to granting conservation easements on 3,100 watershed acres to the NJDEP in addition to setting aside $1 million to assist in acquiring and preserving additional land along the Hackensack River and its tributaries.  United Water has since become a close ally of Bergen SWAN by helping to sponsor events such as the 2010 “Planting in the Park” in Pascack Brook County Park and allowing Bergen SWAN to host the December 4th nature walk on United Water watershed land-land which is normally not open to the general public.

Nature Tour

Emerson Woods Nature Tour

The tour, led by naturalist Nancy Slowik, started in the United Water recreation parking lot near Lakeview Terrace in Emerson, NJ.  Once the group was organized, Bergen SWAN opened up the gate to the Oradell Reservoir providing a rare opportunity to walk along the shore of the reservoir.  Nancy directed the tour to the waterfowl present on the open water of the reservoir. Double-crested Cormorant were seen in addition to Hooded Mergansers.

Double Crested Cormorant

Heading away from the shore, the tour passed a stand of American Sycamore with their white peeling bark.

American Sycamore

Early settlers used to make buttons out of American Sycamore seedpods.  The “button” is found inside the seedpod. This practice created another name for the American Sycamore: the Buttonwood Tree. Nancy pointed out Poison Ivy growing on a dead Eastern Hemlock tree. Members of the tour were advised to never touch the hairy vine of Poison Ivy as you can still get a painful itchy rash even in winter.

Poison Ivy Rope on Dead Hemlock Tree

Palmolive dish washing liquid was recommended as an inexpensive cure for poison ivy. The tour then led participants up a gas line right of way for about ¼ a mile.

Along the way, White-Tail Deer were seen browsing in the woods west of the right of way.

White Tail Deer

As the group proceeded on, Nancy pointed out large rectangular holes found on a dead tree.

Pileated Woodpecker Holes

These holes were created by a Pileated Woodpecker, North America’s largest woodpecker.  Most likely the bird was hunting carpenter ants, one it’s favorite sources of food. While the group admired the holes, a Black-Capped Chickadee, Northern Flicker and Red-Bellied Woodpecker were heard calling.

Up ahead on the gas trail was a stand of Northern Red Oak (NJ’s state tree!) with its characteristic “ski slope” bark. Nancy informed the tour that when a Northern Red Oak gets cut it admits a foul odor.

Northern Red Oak

Shortly before turning west onto the Heck Ditch trail, the group happened upon a White Pine plantation.

White Pine Plantation

White pines make excellent habitat for Great Horned Owls and other birds of prey which frequent Emerson Woods.

Possible Hawk or Owl nest in White Pine

Cones of White Pine are sticky with the seeds found inside. Native Americans used to chew on White Pine needles to obtain Vitamin C.

As the group passed the Heck Ditch Nancy pointed out that the oily looking water surface of the ditch was caused by bacteria decomposing leaves.

Heck Ditch

Ground Pine

Ground Pine was found growing in large colonies on the other side of the Heck ditch trail. Ground Pine takes years to become established.

Scouring Rush near Cotton Wood Tree

After walking for about 15-20 minutes on the Heck Ditch trail, the tour headed south on the Equisetum trail which leads back to the United Water Recreating parking lot. Along the way, Nancy pointed out large growths of equisetum growing near massive Cottonwood trees. This collection of Equisetum is thought to consist of the largest stand in New Jersey.  Equisetum are members of an ancient order of plants and appeared well before the appearance of the first flowering plants.  Equisetum was known to early settlers as “Scouring Rush”-a name given for its ability to clean and scrub pots and pans.

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!

Giant Cottonwood

The group headed back to the parking lot as twilight descended. As we walked, we happened upon an abandoned Red-Eyed Vireo nest.  The red-eye vireo spends the winter living in South America.

The group proceeded to the parking area and the tour concluded.

Emerson Woods Preserve

A special thanks to Bergen SWAN and Nancy Slowik for offering the opportunity to explore Emerson Woods in great detail. For more information on Bergen SWAN click here.

The Emerson Woods Preserve are accessible from off of Main Street in Emerson or Lakeview Drive. Ample parking is available on Summer Street. Be sure to check out Bergen SWAN if you wish to participate in nature walks, community clean-ups and educational events in Emerson Woods.

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River Vale’s Poplar Road Wildlife Sanctuary!


Welcome to the Poplar Road Wildlife Sanctuary! The preserve has Poplar Road to the north, Lake Tappan  to the east, Cherry Brook flowing to the west and the confluence of Cherry Brook and the Hackensack River  to the south.

Poplar Road Nature Sanctuary with Lake Tappan Dam and confluence of Cherry Brook with Hackensack River

The sanctuary consists of 18 acres of White Pine plantation, upland, wetlands and a meadow with beautiful views of the Lake Tappan Reservoir.

Lake Tappan

The 1,255 acre Lake Tappan Reservoir (formed by impounding the Hackensack River via the Lake Tappan dam in 1966) is owned and operated by United Water.

The 18 wooded acres were part of a 44 acre tract of woods known as the River Vale Woods. The 44 acres were once part of United Water’s watershed buffer but were later  sold to developers who planned to turn the 44 wooded acres into high density dwellings. On December 23, 2002, after six years of wrangling, 18 of the 44 acres were bought by the township of River Vale using grants and loans from the Municipal Open Space Trust Fund, NJ Green Acres and the Bergen County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.  In 2010, 11 wooded acres off of Stanley Place near the sanctuary were preserved and will be part of the 18 acres of the Preserve bringing the total acreage to 29.  An additional 5 acres (which contain a section of Cherry Brook)  were purchased by the Township earlier in 2010. The remaining 10 acres, which are located across the street from the Poplar Road Nature Sanctuary were clear cut for a townhouse development in the summer of 2010.

Trails

Poplar Road Sanctuary Trailmap

After parking, proceed through the gate of the Poplar Road Nature Sanctuary towards the kiosk which is stored with informational brochures during the warmer months provided by Bergen SWAN.

Kiosk in White Pine Plantation

From the kiosk, head west through a White Pine plantation which is in the final stages of succession.  As time progresses and more of the White Pines succumb to storms and other natural conditions, hardwood forest trees such as Sugar Maple will take the White Pine tree place.

White Pine Plantation

Follow the trail south to the Cherry Brook floodplain. Information signage regarding Sugar Maple and Tulip Tree may be found on the right of the trail near a chain link fence which separates the sanctuary from United Water watershed land.  Turn left after skirting a brief wetland area and head east towards Lake Tappan. This section of the trail divides the White Pine plantation from the established hardwood forest.

Trail

Straight ahead is a meadow and views of Lake Tappan.

Poplar Nature Sanctuary Meadow

The meadow is a managed grassland that is periodically mowed to prevent it from becoming a forest via succession.  Leaving the meadow, head north via a United Water service road and then take a left heading west back through the White Pine plantation to the kiosk to complete the hike.

Flora that may be found in the sanctuary include:

Jewelweed

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 observed at the sanctuary and in the nearby watershed include

Directions:

From Exit 5 off the Palisades Interstate Parkway head south on Route 303; turn left (west) onto Oak Tree Road; follow it around to make a left turn (west) onto Washington Street/Old Tappan Road; turn right onto Washington Avenue north (heading northeast); follow it around to a curved turn left onto Poplar Road.  The parking area is a short ways down on the left (south side) of the road.

Great Ecology Books:

1. 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!

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

Emerson Woods Preserve (A Forest, Wetland & Wildlife Haven)


Emerson Woods Preserve

The Emerson Woods Preserve consists of 19.38 acres of deciduous forest and wetlands located in the borough of Emerson NJ. The preserve is surrounded by over a hundred acres of United Water watershed land. The perimeter of the preserve is within 683 feet of the Oradell Reservoir which provides water to about 750,000 residents of North Jersey.

The Emerson Woods Preserve

Emerson Woods Visitor Information

Originally farmland, the land which is now the Emerson Woods Preserve was purchased in the early 1900’s by the Hackensack Water Company (now United Water Resources) as watershed buffer land for the newly created Oradell Reservoir. In the early 1920’s and 1930’s the fields converted into forest via natural succession.  By the 1950’s the land was completely reforested. The property was slated for development by a subsidiary of United Water, United Properties Group.

Giant Cottonwoods with Scouring Rush

The Emerson Woods Preserve was purchased by the borough from United Properties Group after a lengthy campaign with assistance from Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund and NJ DEP Green Acres in December of 2001 for $7.8 million dollars.

History of Purchase

The Emerson Woods Preserve is the last major open space remaining in the borough of Emerson. In the 1980’s, after a severe drought, United Water transferred hundreds of watershed acres including the Emerson Woods Preserve to its subsidiary United Properties Group (UPG) which wished to develop these properties. Environmental groups such as Bergen SWAN sued resulting in a 1993 settlement in which 650 acres of woods, wetlands and golf courses were preserved. 225 acres including what would become the Emerson Woods Preserve were allowed to be developed. In 1996, an application for a 150 townhouse development was proposed for the 19.38 acre Emerson Woods. The current zoning for the location of Emerson Woods allowed for development only on 100 acres or more. United Properties pressed the planning board to permit a zoning change. The planning board initially agreed and passed to the borough council. Shortly after the land referendum was held, and despite the majority of voters backing the preservation, the council voted 3-1 to introduce a zoning ordinance in United Property’s favor. UPG was threatening to sue the borough as the zoning issue had remained unresolved for almost two years. Borough officials stated that denying UPG the zoning ordinance would have resulted in a costly lawsuit. The question of if the zoning change would raise the value of the land lingered.

Opponents of the development stated in addition to watershed buffer and wildlife habitat being destroyed, the development would require heavy dependence on roads, schools and municipal services. In 1997, borough officials held a non-binding referendum (meaning the borough is not under obligation to purchase the land regardless of the referendum results) regarding purchasing the property as open space with taxpayer funds. The referendum included six questions with five featuring different tax increases that would be acceptable and the sixth rejecting the purchase.  The borough council stated that it would likely heed to public response regarding preservation but ultimately would depend on how much the land would cost. The property was appraised at $4.5 million.

Emerson Woods Vernal Pond

Shortly before the referendum was held, the council withdrew its plans to apply for green acres funding to the dismay of environmentalists. Green acres would fund up to 25% whereas the remaining 75% would be a loan which would be paid back with 2% interest. Officials stated the green acres application was withdrawn so as not to influence voters. Citizens urged the council to revive the application to help preserve the land. The council stated that any application to green acres would be completed after the referendum was held.

The results indicated that the majority of voters agreed to a $135 annual tax increase in the event the borough purchased the woods.  389 voted to pay $200 in taxes, 304 voted to pay $150, 373 voted to pay $100, 195 voted to pay $50 and 201 voted to pay nothing.  The council agreed to reapply for green acres funding.

Beautiful Emerson Woods

Residents suspected the council used the zoning issue as leverage on almost $2 million in tax appeals which were filed by UPG and UWR since 1992 and filed a lawsuit. The objective of the lawsuit was to seek a temporary injunction which would prevent the ordinance from taking effect until the validity could be determined in a court of law. The lawsuit was later dropped due to a superior court judge dismissing most of the suit.

However, environmental groups Bergen SWAN and Environmental Defense Fund threatened a new lawsuit stating the development would damage the surrounding watershed.  UPG stated it would use watershed land already protected during the 1993 settlement in order to bring the development into compliance with state wetland laws.  Environmental groups stated that the NJ DEP permit if approved would allow UPG to build within the 50 foot buffer zone the law requires around wetlands. In response UPG stated that the development would help prevent the flow of road chemicals, dirt and other pollutants from reaching the Oradell Reservoir.  Environment groups state that the UPG data is flawed and that the development would increase the threat of pollution.  Apgar association hired by the environmental groups stated that the UPG engineers underestimated the rate of pollutants leaving the development because the wrong formula was used to calculate the flow.

In addition, a council election in Emerson shifted the majority from those who supported the development to those who were against it. The mayor however stated that purchasing the land was too costly to let it sit fallow while developing it would bring $500,000 in tax revenues.  UPG was unconcerned about the change in council and stated it already had Emerson’s planning board approval for its blueprints.  Environment groups pointed out that the DEP had required significant revisions to the blueprints in order to prevent construction near wetlands and that the blueprints would need to be reviewed by the planning board.

Meanwhile the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund approved funding for the preservation of Emerson Woods. This meant that Emerson would receive $1.25 million grant and a $750,000 loan. Green Acres stated it would provide $2 million. These grants and loans still fell short of what may be needed to purchase the land by an estimated $3-$7 million.  The money was seen as a vital first step to acquiring the land.  Emerson also applied for Bergen County’s open space trust fund and was approved for $2.93 million. Given the then recent flooding caused by tropical storm Floyd, the county’s priority focused on protecting land around watersheds.  What remained to be seen was if UPG was willing to sell the land to the borough.  If it denied the borough, Emerson could move to condemn the land.

Shortly after the announcement of the grants the borough council rejected a proposed agreement with UPG because a new draft was submitted with revised blueprints. The council needed time to examine the documents. The revised blueprints reduced the number of townhouses in order to comply with DEP regulations regarding building near wetlands. Emerson council ordered UPG to draft a new developer’s agreement. The agreement specifies terms the developer agrees to in exchange for approval such as affordable housing.  In light of the developer’s agreement, UPG doubled what it was offering to help Emerson pay its affordable housing obligations.

A vote was held on an ordinance in which Emerson will offer UPG $4.5 million for the woods and launch condemnation proceedings if the offer is rejected by UPG. The preservation resolution initially passed in April 2000.  The council voted 4-1 on the ordinance to buy the property from UPG. Shortly after, United Water was ready to leave the real estate business and was willing to talk to Emerson to work out a suitable solution.  The council of Emerson and UPG came to an agreement where the borough would pay $7.8 million for the property. The Borough Council voted 4-0 to save the woods.  The council agreed to pay almost 3 million more because the development would have cost the town more money in services such as extra police, more schools etc.

Trails

Nature Trail

Emerson Woods Preserve features an excellent self-guided nature trail which highlights flora found throughout the forest and the surrounding watershed land through the use of 18 markers.

Emerson Woods Preserve Trail Map

Numbered Marker

A kiosk may be found near the southern entrance of the trail near Lakeview Terrace. The kiosk contains pamphlets which describe the 18 markers in detail.

Emerson Woods Kiosk

A vernal pond is located east of the main trail and may be accessed by a short pond overlook trail off the main trail. The pond (which is created by melting snow and spring rains) provides critical breeding habitat for amphibians such as salamanders and frogs. The pond is usually dry by summer and does not support aquatic life which would feast upon the eggs of the amphibians. Buttonbush, which can reach up to ten feet in height, is found near the vernal pond. Mallards and Wood Ducks eat the seed heads the Buttonbush produce.  Its clusters of white flowers bloom in early to mid summer and are a source of nectar for butterflies and bees.  Canada Mayflower (which consists of a carpet of leaves which blooms white flowers in May) and Swamp Smartweed (pinkish flowers on spikes which grow to 30 inches tall in mid to late summer) are also found near the  pond overlook trail.

Vernal Pond

As of 2011,  Bergen SWAN is planning a reroute for the narrow ditch trail which crosses the main trail near the small concrete bridge. The ditch, (known as Heck’s Ditch) is a tributary of the Oradell Reservoir and is experiencing severe erosion which threatens to undermine the existing trail which travels alongside of it.

Nature Marker on the ditch trail

Plans to slow down the rate of erosion include the construction of dams made out of small boulders, reshaping the existing ditch and/or planting native trees and shrubs to absorb some of the runoff.  The ditch trail features the final three markers on the nature trail which correspond to the guide found at the kiosk. The last three markers discuss the role of American Beech in the eastern deciduous forest, conditions in which moss thrives and information regarding Cinnamon and Royal Fern.

The dominant native trees found in the preserve are Northern Red Oak (NJ”s State Tree) and Red Maple. Other common native trees include:

Tulip Poplar Leaf

Spicebush, which is found throughout the preserve, is the dominant native forest understory species. Spicebush leaves are the major source of food for the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly. Other common native shrubs present in the Emerson Woods Preserve are Swamp Dewberry (produces juicy black berries which are a source of food for small mammals and birds) and Northern Arrowwood (produces bluish-black berries which are eaten by small mammals and birds). Native woodland plants include Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Wood Nettle, Pokeweed, Skunk Cabbage, Jewelweed, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily and others.  Common ferns of the Emerson Woods Preserve include New York, Sensitive, Cinnamon, Royal, Lady and Christmas.

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!

The preserve features a wide array of wildlife including:

(Check out recent bird sightings on the Emerson Woods E-Bird Hotspot)!

The Emerson Woods Preserve are accessible from off of Main Street in Emerson or Lakeview Drive. Ample parking is available on Summer Street. Be sure to check out Bergen SWAN if you wish to participate in nature walks, community clean-ups and educational events in Emerson Woods.

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

Useful Resources:

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!

Pascack Brook County Park Update


Pascack Brook County Park

On the weekend of May 15-May 16, 2010, over 80 volunteers got together thanks to the collaboration of Bergen SWAN, United Water NJ, Pascack Sustainability Group, Rutgers Water Resources Program and Bergen County Parks Department to plant 60 new native trees and  75 native shrubs over a 10,000 square foot area at the main pond at the 79 acre Pascack Brook County Park. Native trees planted included Red Maple, Green Ash, River Birch and American Sycamore among others.

The main pond at Pascack Brook County Park

A month and change after the planting NJURBANFOREST took a stroll at the park to see the fruits of the labor. The new trees look great! The new trees and shrubs act as a buffer to protect the water quality of the pond. The pond was created from an impoundment of a small tributary that leads to Pascack Brook one mile from where the brook enters the Oradell Reservoir.

Newly Planted Trees

American Sycamore

After admiring the new plantings, I took the trail leading into a forest located to the west of the main pond.

I came upon another pond where the sound of bullfrogs filled the air. Turning around I met an unexpected visitor.

White Tail Deer

Though you may not be able to recognize it due to the photo suffering from blurryitis, the visitor was a white tail deer. He was a hungry guy. Bergen SWAN is currently planning a “Planting in the Park II”. This planting will focus on adding more wildflowers and grasses to the banks of the main pond.

Bonnabel Nature Park at Lachmund’s Bend!


Bonnabel Nature Park at Lachmund’s Bend

Bonnabel Nature Park (Click Image to Enlarge)

Welcome to Old Tappan’s Bonnabel Nature Park! The park’s 3.26 acres consists of uplands and wetlands and is a pleasant respite from the suburban development that surround it. The park has the Hackensack River and its remnant watershed lands to the west and south, Old Tappan Road to the north, and additional remnant Hackensack River watershed lands to the east.

The land which became Bonnabel Nature Park at Lachmund’s Bend was purchased October 17, 2007 from the Bonnabel family by the borough of Old Tappan for $950,000 with a combination of Green Acres, Borough Open Space and Municipal Bond Ordinance funding for use as open space. The park was established in 2008.

The 3.26 acre site is situated next to the trout stocked upper Hackensack River (which is given C1 Status at this location) and United Water watershed land.

Hackensack River

Bonnabel Nature Park features trails, picnic tables, benches and fishing.

Flora at the park includes:

The property was once the site of a popular hotel called Lachmunds which existed from the late 1800’s until it was demolished in 1954. Today, instead of a hotel, the land is a beautiful nature preserve for the people of Old Tappan and surrounding communities to enjoy.

Bonnabel Nature Park at Lachmund’s Bend is located off of Old Tappan Road near Recktenwald Court by the Rivervale border. Click here for directions. Please note that Unfortunately, yahoo maps does not recognize the park’s entrance as an address. These directions will culminate to Recktenwald Court.  The park is located just southeast of Recktenwald Court on Old Tappan Road. A gravel lot in the park is provided for parking.

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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