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.
The almost 22,000 acre park features diverse ecological communities including:
Birds found in Sterling Forest State Park include the below among many others:
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Broad-Winged Hawk
- Blue-Winged Warbler
- Scarlet Tanager
- American Woodcock
- Louisiana Waterthrush
- Red-Eyed Vireo
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.
Let’s head inside and grab a trail map.
Inside there are dioramas on the Sterling Forest mining industry history, fauna exhibits and a huge model of Sterling Forest itself.
From the visitor center let’s head east into a brief section of forest on a footpath.
After rambling through this portion of the trail we follow the Sterling Lake Loop trail east crossing Old Forge Road near private residences.
After crossing Old Forge Road the orange triangle blazed McKeages Meadow Connector trail appears to our right.
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.
From here we follow the Sterling Loop trail as it crosses a wetland via an old mining railroad embankment.
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.
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.
As we head northwest, the 0.3 Mile Orange Blazed Pine Meadow Connector Trail appears to our right.
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.
Our first glimpses of Sterling Lake appears to our left as the trail turns northwest.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Heading south a portion of the Yellow Blazed 6.2 mile Sterling Valley Trail joins the Sterling Lake Loop trail from the north.
Looking down as we walk on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop & Sterling Valley Loop we spot movement. Tiny toads!
Let’s carefully and slowly proceed west on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake/Sterling Valley trail watching where we step.
We have now arrived at the northern tip of Sterling Lake.
Approaching a small sandy beach we spot a turtle digging in the sand.
But, as soon as we spot this turtle it takes off with surprising speed to Sterling Lake…..
…where it quickly disappears under the water.
Leaving the sandy beach and the now vanished turtle behind we cross an earthen causeway separating the pond above from Sterling Lake.
Taking a closer look at the pond reveals an active beaver lodge.
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.
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.
As we continue south Sterling Lake now appears to our left and the Yellow Blazed Sterling Valley Trail exits.
Continuing south on the Sterling Lake Loop trail we see beautiful views of Sterling Lake.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
Welcome to the Pequannock River Coalition’s 2013 Spring Hike! The Pequannock River Coalition provides a crucial voice in protecting the watershed of the Pequannock River (one of the cleanest rivers in New Jersey and a tributary of the Passaic River) since 1995. 2019 Update: Pequannock River Coalition has dissolved.
Meet Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!
Ross begins by explaining that the Monksville Reservoir was created in 1987 by impounding the 2.8 mile Wanaque River and the .4 mile Beech Brook (a Wanaque River tributary). The land comprising Monksville Reservoir was formerly a river valley. Dead Trees (snags) still poke through the water where dry land once existed.
Looking out at the reservoir a large white bird has caught Ross’s attention. The bird is a Mute Swan, he explains. Mute Swans originated from Europe and are not native to the US. The Mute Swan, according to legend, is silent all its life until right before it dies where the bird sings an achingly beautiful melody known as a “Swan Song“. The real story is Mute Swans are not mute but actually make a deep grunting territorial sound. Click here to hear a Mute Swan for yourself!
Standing near the reservoir Ross points to a stand of Gray Birch Trees across the water. Gray Birch is a pioneer species that is one of the first trees to grow following a disturbance and can be found growing on poor soils. Ross says we’ll see two additional species of Birch on the hike. Let’s begin!
As we walk a Tree Swallow is seen flying erratically over the water. Tree Swallows prefer inland wetland ecosystems and are among the first in the American Swallow family to migrate back after winter. You can hear a Tree Swallow Sing by clicking here!
A second after seeing the Tree Swallow a Red-Winged Blackbird makes its presence known. Red-Winged Blackbirds are usually found in wetlands such as those found in the intact woodlands surrounding Monksville Reservoir. Click here to hear a Red-Winged Blackbird!
Near the northern edge of the reservoir Ross points out an active Beaver Lodge to us. A beaver lodge is the home of the American Beaver and is created from sticks, mud and rocks. A small opening at the top of the lodge provides air.
As we walk closer to the woods we stop in front of an old Eastern Hemlock tree which has been punctured with large rectangular holes. The holes were created by a Pileated Woodpecker looking for one of their favorite foods: Carpenter Ants. Pileated Woodpeckers are North America’s largest living woodpecker and provided the model for the famous cartoon Woody Woodpecker. Their habitat is large mature forest such as the woods which surround Monksville Reservoir. Click here to hear a Pileated Woodpecker!
The 2,100 acre Tranquility Ridge County Park is an extension of New York’s Sterling Forest found just north of where we are now.
Entering the park we are now near the end of the green-blazed Monk’s Connector trail which connects to nearby Monk’s Mountain (part of Long Pond Ironworks State Park) with Tranquility Ridge County Park.
Barely inside Tranquility Ridge County Park, Ross has spotted our second birch: Yellow Birch. Yellow Birch prefers to grow near streams & wetlands. The tree’s characteristic peeling bark is visible to all. The hairy looking vine growing on the Yellow Birch is Poison Ivy.
Ross spots a massive tree in the distance branching out in all directions and surrounded by young trees. Ross explains that trees can only grow sideways or to the top but can’t do both. This “lone wolf” tree will eventually be crowded out by the young trees competing for sunlight.
We are now turning left on the Hasenclever Iron Trail. The creation of the six mile Hasenclever Iron Trail was first conceived in 2001 by the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks. The Hasenclever Iron Trail follows an old Woods Road which dates from the 1760’s. The road connected Long Pond Ironworks with ironworks located in Ringwood. The Friends of Long Pond Ironworks installed nine interpretive signs along the trail in 2007. The installation was funded with a grant from the NJ Recreation Trails Program. We’ll be passing by historical signs #’s 4 through 1 today.
After we cross a tributary to Beech Brook Ross tells us that Beech Brook contains a naturally occurring population of Brook Trout. We have now entered the 6,911 acre Long Pond Iron Works State Park.
We have just passed an unmarked trail to our right and historical marker #4. Marker #4 tells us that the unmarked trail leads to Beech farm which has long been abandoned.
As we walk Ross points out dirt patches in the leaf litter on the ground. This was caused by Wild Turkeys looking for food.
A turkey feather has just been found in the litter. Given all this Turkey sign Ross takes out a device which makes a female turkey sound that hunters use to attract the male turkeys (toms). Ross used the device but the Turkeys have moved on for now and we do not see any.
Ross strongly recommended not to play the device during Wild Turkey hunting season. Want to hear what a Wild Turkey sounds like? Click here to hear!
Ross has stopped at another Eastern Hemlock and says this tree has been designated a “marking tree” by an Eastern Gray Squirrel. Squirrels rub the glands found under their chin on trees as a sign of territory to other squirrels in the other area.
We are now at historical marker #3 which describes Edward Hewitt, who was a member of the last family to own most of Ringwood State Park before it became state land. The Hewitt family also owned hunting and fishing camps which were built in the area we are now standing.
This hike is taking place in early spring and the only plants we see blooming are invasive species like Japanese Barberry and Winged Euonymus (aka Burning Bush) both of which thrive in disturbed areas. Ross explains that invasive species are non-native species which lack natural predation to control their spread. As a result invasive plants crowd out native plants by forming a monoculture.
We’ve now at historical marker #2 which describes the role of limestone in iron making. Limestone was crushed and added to iron furnaces with iron ore where it acted as a fluxing agent to separate impurities from iron.
Ross has just found our third and final species of Birch: Black Birch. Black Birch twigs and bark have a strong scent of wintergreen when scraped. Ross is scraping away some the bark of a Black Birch to take a whiff. Wintergreen oil was derived from Black Birch for commercial purposes in the past.
Ross has stopped in front of an old Shagbark Hickory with an old Grape Vine wrapped around it. Only mature Shagbark Hickories (such as the one we are looking at here) have actual “shagbark”. Young trees have smooth bark. The grape vine wrapped around the Shagbark Hickory is probably as old as the tree itself. Grape Vines prefers to grow where sunshine is plentiful and prefers forest edge habitat.
The rock outcroppings we are passing to our right are part of Big Beech Mountain.
After a brief climb on the Hasenclever trail we pass near wetlands to our right.
The green leaves of Skunk Cabbage are starting to poke through. Skunk Cabbage is one of the first native flowering plants and generates heat to poke through ice and snow. It generally blooms in February. Skunk Cabbage earns its name due to a foul odor emitted by torn leaves.
We’ve just reached historical marker #1 on the Hasenclever Iron Trail. This is the last marker we will see today. This marker describes Long Pond Village, a long ago industrial village that supported the nearby Long Pond Ironworks.
We are now approaching the Wanaque River. The word “Wanaque” is Native American for “place of the Sassafras Tree”. A good portion of the length of the Wanaque River is impounded to form the Monksville and Wanaque Reservoirs. Ross tells us that a bridge used to cross the Wanaque River to the old Long Pond Ironworks but was washed away when Hurricane Irene struck in 2011. The NYNJ Trail Conference rebuilt the bridge in 2013.
We have now left the Hasenclever Iron trail and are turning north on the joint Sterling Ridge/Highlands Trail. The Blue-on-white 8.6 mile Sterling Ridge Trail leads to Sterling Forest State Park in New York if we kept going straight. Don’t worry! Ross has no plans to take us out of New Jersey today.
We are also sharing the same path with a section of the estimate 45 mile long interstate Highlands Trail. The Highlands Trail is a project by the NYNJ Trail Conference which highlights the unique characteristics of the Highlands region. The Highlands Trail is still a work in progress.
We are now following a tributary of the Wanaque River.
We have stopped just as we enter a cool ravine. Eastern Hemlocks favor this habitat. Indeed, Eastern Hemlocks are all around us!
What is Ross holding in his hand? It’s an old piece of iron slag left over from the iron making operations that took place here over a hundred years ago.
We are heading briefly off the marked trail and walking towards the Wanaque River. The segment of the Wanaque River seen here is draining Greenwood Lake. What a great spot for lunch! After resting we continue to walk leaving the Wanaque River and following a tributary stream.
Tulip Trees grow straight and narrow with fissured bark. The tree’s leaves actually look like Tulip Flowers! It flowers in Mid-May to early June.
We are now walking northeast on an unblazed woods road. This is the same woods road we passed to our right when we first started out on the Hasenclever Iron Trail.
As we walk, we pass a deep impression in the ground to our left. The impression is a remnant of the Patterson Mine. The Patterson Mine last saw operation at the end of the 1800’s. Ore from the Patterson Mine was sold to the local market or supplied ironworks found in the area.
Check out the abandoned motorcycle to our right! It’s pretty old but it is still standing.
Off to the left of the woods road is a vernal pond. Vernal ponds are temporary pools of water that are free of fish and provide valuable areas for amphibians such as Wood Frogs to lay eggs. Wood Frogs are found further north than any other species of frog. Ross explains that the theory is this: water found in cells will expand to the point of explosion when frozen. Wood frogs have found a way to move water molecules outside their cells when they get frozen to prevent this from happening.
We’ve just turned right on another unmarked trail following Beech Brook to our right. Ross suddenly stops. He’s found a Red Velvet Mite! Red Velvet Mites live in the soil and eat fungi and bacteria. Red Velvet Mites are harmless to humans and are part of the arachnid family (the same family spiders belong to).
Well, we’ve arrived back at the gate and back at our cars! What a great hike!
Want to check out this hike for yourself? Here are the directions to the parking lot where the hike begins!
Take exit 57 on Rt. 287 to Skyline Drive. Follow Skyline 5 miles north to Greenwood Lake Turnpike. Make a right there onto Greenwood Lake Turnpike and follow it about 4 miles to a right on Beech Road. Look for a gravel parking area at the reservoir on the left.
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!
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!
Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
The 2010 Pequannock River Coalition Spring Hike took place on May 2nd. The hike took place near Dunker Pond in the NJ Highlands Newark Watershed lands.
The group traveled on an old carriage road (and nope, no carriages were on it today!) which used to have cow pastures to the side. Old barb wire from over a hundred years ago was still embedded in some old shade trees on the side.
The group took a walk on part of the Highlands Trail to get to the pond.
We met some new friends in the woods. I believe he goes by the name of Froggy-but I was told it’s Mr. Froggy to you.
When the group got to Dunker Pond there was a beaver lodge right smack ahead.
And though the snow may be gone for now, little feet still make an impression in the mud.
Another great hike led by the Pequannock River Coalition!