Tag Archives: Freshwater Wetlands

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 Tail 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.



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.



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 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 (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?

Bird Lane What will you find?

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!

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!

Check out the latest Bird sightings here!


Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway!

Wildlife Sanctuary

Welcome to the Passaic River Coalition’s Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway! Both preserves are contiguous and have a combined acreage of 14.9 acres of which four are deciduous wooded wetlands. Located in Butler, NJ, The Butler Forest Preserve and Butler Raceway were purchased to prevent the development of townhouses and provide protection of the Pequannock River.

Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway

Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway

The Passaic River Coalition was established in 1969 and provides stewardship for the preservation and protection of over 1,000 miles of waterways associated with the Passaic River. The Pequannock River, a tributary of the Passaic River is labeled C1 indicating the water consists of some of the highest quality in the state of New Jersey.

Virtual Tour

American Beech Butler Forest Preserve

American Beech Butler Forest Preserve

This was how the Butler Forest Preserve and Butler Raceway appeared when I explored it near the end of September 2012, nearly a month before Hurricane Sandy arrived. I find Jericho Road to be the best entrance to the Butler Forest Preserve & Butler Raceway.

Pequannock River Tributary

Pequannock River Tributary

Entering the forest here I noticed a stream to my left (an unnamed Pequannock River Tributary) and plenty of American Beech. American Beech is part of the Beech-Sugar Maple climax forest community and are a sure indicator that this forest has not been disturbed for a very long time.

Pequannock River

Pequannock River

I carefully followed the woods down a somewhat steep slope while a steady roar increased. Thinking it was urban noise coming from nearby Route 23 and housing developments I was somewhat surprised to see the source was far more natural: The Pequannock River rushing by.



I noticed the river just as my eye caught old ruins. These ruins were part of the Butler Raceway which once provided water from the Pequannock River to power machinery to what was once the country’s largest rubber factory. The historic function of the raceway was to provide water from the Pequannock River to power machinery at the Butler Rubber Factory. The rubber factory was destroyed by fire in 1957.

Waterfall on Pequannock River

Waterfall on Pequannock River

Near the ruins is a beautiful man-made waterfall on the Pequannock River.

Butler Raceway

Butler Raceway

Carefully scrambling over the ruins I made it to the Raceway just in time for a Great Blue Heron to fly by (unfortunately too fast for me to get its picture).

Abandoned Motorcycle

Abandoned Motorcycle

After admiring the Heron I came across an abandoned motorcycle.

Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch

Continuing east Yellow Birch appeared in good numbers. Yellow Birch favors north facing slopes.

Pre-Cambrian Rocks along Butler Raceway

Pre-Cambrian Rocks along Butler Raceway

Rock Outcrops of Precambrian origin appear occasionally to the right of the path.  The Butler Raceway ends near Gifford Street. To get back to Jericho Avenue, simply turn around on the Raceway and proceed west until you come back to the cement ruins. Proceed south going up the hill until you reach Jericho Road.

Butler Forest Preserve

Butler Forest Preserve

The Butler Forest Preserve and Butler Raceway is a great place to explore. Check it out for yourself!

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


Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center!

Morris County Park Commission Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center (with Common Reed)

Welcome to Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center!

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center

The Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center (GSOEC) consists of a 44 acre portion of the Great Swamp managed since 1963 by the Morris County Parks Department. The GSOEC hosts guided nature walks, school, scout and public educational programs.

Herp Study in Progress

The GSOEC hosts periodic studies of the flora and fauna to determine the overall health of the Great Swamp.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

The estimated 7,768 acre Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge  (GSNWR) abuts the GSOEC to the west. The GSNWR is one of 553 refuges administered by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Lands comprising a National Wildlife Refuge are managed for the protection of wildlife and its habitat.

History of the Great Swamp

The origin of the Great Swamp begins with the melting and subsequent retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier around 25,000 years ago.  Debris from the glacier blocked the passage of an ancient river creating an enormous lake known as Lake Passaic. Lake Passaic is thought to have been 30 miles long and 10 miles wide.  Over time, an outlet was formed near Little Falls NJ draining the lake via the Passaic River. This drainage is still occurring today. Today the Great Swamp forms a remnant component of the once great Lake Passaic.

GSOEC Forest

In the late 1950’s the area now known as the Great Swamp was identified by the NYNJ Port Authority as an ideal location for a new jetport.  The Great Swamp Conservation Foundation mobilized volunteers to protect the Great Swamp. The result was the establishment of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The Great Swamp Conservation Foundation later became the North Jersey Conservation Foundation and then finally known as  New Jersey Conservation Foundation.


GSOEC features four short loop trails. Two of the four trails (Orange & Red) are interpretive and follow 16 markers listed in a self guided trail booklet available at the education center. Click here for a trail map!

The total length of the trails is 1.4 miles.

Virtual Tour:

Ready to take a virtual tour of the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center? Let’s Go!

Stop by the kiosk near the parking lot to pick up a trail map. From the kiosk, head to the education center to view the exhibits on the flora and fauna of the Great Swamp.

Outdoor Education Nature Center with Kiosk

Mammals of The Great Swamp

Endangered in New Jersey

After checking out the exhibits inside, it’s time to start our hike.

Orange Trail Trailhead

Let’s begin our virtual hike by taking the Orange Blazed trail located to the south of the education center. The Orange Trail at .61 Miles is the longest trail present in the GSOEC. It contains Markers 1-10 from the self guided trail.

Marker 1

The first marker, regarding the Red Maple tree, appears shortly after the beginning of the orange trail. Red Maple is the most common tree in the Great Swamp as well as the eastern deciduous forest.

Red Maple Leaves

Red Maple’s flowers are red in the spring and the leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall. Though the Sugar Maple may come to mind when it comes to maple syrup, Red Maple can be tapped for syrup as well. Red Maple should be tapped before budding occurs as the buds change the chemical makeup of the syrup.

Marker 2

Continuing on the orange trail, marker #2 comes into view on the right where a large depression may be found.

Large Depression

The large depression is known as a vernal pond. Vernal ponds do not support fish and may be dry or filled with water. Due to the lack of predators (i.e. fish) the vernal pond provides a safe haven for amphibians such as Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers and Blue-Spotted Salamanders among other species to breed and lay eggs.  Continuing past the vernal pond, two fenced areas appear shortly after on the left.

Marker 3 with Deer Enclosure in background

Marker # 3 explains that these sections of the GSOEC were fenced in 2009 to study how plant communities recover from the damage caused by an overpopulation of white tail deer.

Marker 4 EcoTone

Marker #4 describes an Ecotone. An Ecotone is anywhere two habitats meet and create an edge. The Ecotone present here was created by the Power line right of way. The positive aspects of this man-made Ecotone is  the creation of suitable nesting habitat for the local turtle population in addition to providing a valuable hunting ground for birds of prey. On the flipside, the disturbed ground caused by the creation of the power lines have provided ideal habitat for invasive plants  as Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, Wineberry & Japanese Barberry.

Marker 5 The Pond

Continuing in a southwest direction, the dirt path changes to a boardwalk as the trail traverses the wetland area.

Orange Trail Boardwalk

A short boardwalk appears to the right of the main boardwalk which leads to the Pond which is marker #5.

The Pond

Ponds are usually less than 18 feet deep. Eventually as plant matter and other organic material decays, the pond will begin to become a marsh, progress to a forested wetland and finally upland habitat after many years.

Painted Turtles on the Pond

The Pond at GSOEC is manmade and provides habitat for Eastern Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Belted Kingfisher and River Otters among others. Flora of the Pond includes Yellow Flowered Spatterdock & Duckweed.

Poison Ivy

Continuing on the trail leads to Marker #6 which describes Poison Ivy which is seen here growing as a hairy vine.  Poison ivy contains a clear liquid known as urushiol which causing a burning itching rash in many people.   In addition to a hairy vine Poison Ivy can be found as a shrub reaching over three feet tall or as a trailing vine on the ground.

Several rhymes exist warning of the dangers of Poison Ivy:

“Leaves of three, let them be”

“Hairy rope, don’t be a dope”

“Hairy vine, no friend of mine”

Common plants often misidentified as Poison Ivy include Virginia Creeper and Box Elder Maple among other species.

Despite the negative publicity this native plant receives, Poison Ivy has tremendous value for wildlife.  Native birds such as Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Dark Eyed Junco and Northern Flicker eat Poison Ivy’s white berries. Mammals such as White-Tail Deer and Eastern Cottontail consume Poison Ivy’s leaves.

Mountain Laurel

At this point of the hike you may notice abundant Mountain Laurel. Marker # 7 appears here.

Marker 7 The Browse Line

Its purpose is to briefly touch upon “the browse line”. The over abundant white- tail deer have stripped all leaves of vegetation from six feet down. If the current trend continues, there may not be a forest here in the future.

From this area, the trail head of the .23 of a mile Blue trail loop appears.

Blue Trail Trailhead

Let’s take a brief break from the interpretive trail to explore this short trail.

Blue Blaze Swamp Chestnut Oak

The Blue Trail Loop goes through an upland area consisting of mostly Mountain Laurel and Swamp Chestnut Oak.

Dried Vernal Pond Blue Trail

The trail encircles a small vernal pond (the vernal pond, seen here at the end of September 2012 was dry).

Blue Trail trailend

Completing the Blue Trail Loop, head back to the Orange Trail and to Marker # 8 which describes the function of a rotting log in the forest.

Rotting Log

Standing dead trees or snags play an important role in the eastern deciduous forest. Woodpeckers including Pileated, Downy and Red-Bellied among others excavate holes in the dead trees searching for tasty insects. These excavated holes in turn create habitat for birds including Black-Capped Chickadee. Fungus will usually invade the dead wood further softening it. Eventually, the tree will fall to the forest floor where it will continue to decay creating a rich organic soil which will support future species of trees.

Marker 9 Phragmites Marsh

Proceed  east  to Marker # 9 The Phragmites Marsh. Phragmites (aka Giant Reed) is a giant species of grass which can grow from 10-20 feet.  Phragmites thrives in disturbed areas. Phragmites found in the Great Swamp are native to the eastern deciduous forest. Phragmites are considered invasive because of its aggressive growth and tendency to overwhelm all other vegetation.

Marker 10

Outdoor Study Area

From here the trail leaves the boardwalk and heads south to marker # 10 which passes an outdoor study area and leads to a Wigwam replica.


The Lenape Native Americans (the original people) created Wigwams as shelter from saplings, tree bark and Cattail Mats among others. This replica would have been big enough for two people. Marker #10 is the last marker for the orange trail.

Orange Trail Trailend

After heading back from the Wigwam, turn right on the Orange Trail and follow the trail a brief distance to its terminus.

Prayer of the Woods

The “Prayer of the Woods” sign is found right before the start of the Red Trail. After reading the Prayer and taking in its message, turn right to start hiking the .39 mile Red Trail to continue the interpretive trail.

Red Trail Trailhead

The first marker on the Red Trail is #11 which identifies trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.

Marker 11 Deciduous Forest

Trees found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest include the below among others:


Black Oak

Pin Oak



The term “deciduous” indicates that the trees comprising this type of forest lose their leaves each fall and grow new leaves in the spring.

Marker 12 Transmission Lines and Marsh

Continuing on the red trail leads Marker #12 “Transmission Lines and Marsh”.

Red Trail Power Cut

Here, vegetation is periodically removed or trimmed back so as to not interfere with the power lines. This wet marsh provides habitat to Wood Ducks, Mallards, Muskrats and Red-Wing Blackbirds among others.

Red Trail to Education Center

From here turn left at the sign leading to the education center to go to Marker # 13.

Marker 13 Stream

The Red Trail approaches Marker #13 as it crosses a stream.

Red Trail Stream Crossing

Sediments and rocks on the stream bottom provides habitat for a variety of Crayfish and Macro-invertebrates. Marco-invertebrates lack backbones and can be seen without the aid of a microscope.  Certain macro-invertebrates such as Caddisflies are pollutant intolerant. Presence of pollutant intolerant macro-invertebrates are one way to indicate the health of a stream. Macro- invertebrates eat many different things depending on the species-there are predators, scavengers, and herbivores among them. In turn, macro-invertebrates are a source of food for various turtles, fish and frogs.

Marker #14 The Wet Meadow

Continuing on the red trail leads to Marker #14 which discusses“The Wet Meadow”. The Wet Meadow is a man-made habitat created by a power-line cut and is home to field mice, star-nosed moles and various hawks & owls among others.

Marker #15 American Beech

Marker #15 leads to an American Beech Tree. The smooth gray bark of the American Beech Tree usually invites individuals to carve their names and other messages into the trunks. Carving in a tree trunk is similar to a cut on your finger. However, unlike your injured finger, a tree cannot put a band-aid on its wound. The carved bark is an open door for disease.


Beechdrops, seen here in this picture, lack both leaves and chlorophyll and is a parasitic plant of the American Beech Tree.

#16 The Swamp

Marker #16 The Swamp

The final marker on the red trail briefly discusses the importance of the Great Swamp. The land comprising the Great Swamp is a mix of meadows, upland woods, marsh and brush covered swamps. Only 40% of the Great Swamp is wet either part of the year or all year long whereas 60% of the Great Swamp  consists of upland forest & meadows.

Red Trail End

You are now at the end of the Red Trail.

Green Trail Blaze

At the end of the red trail head north to catch the beginning of the short .20 of a mile Green Trail near the parking area. The Green trail traverses in a short loop in an upland portion of the GSOEC.

Mushrooms Green Trail

Check out these mushrooms found growing in September 2012!

Asian Long Horn Beetle Detector

In the parking area near the end of the Green Trail you may notice a black box hanging from a tree. The Black boxes are used to detect for the presence of the Asian Long-Horn Beetle, an invasive species from Asia.

Wildlife Blind

After the Green Trail is complete, it’s time to visit the Observation Blind located off the parking lot which views the Pond looking west.

Turtles on the Pond from Wildlife Blind

This concludes our virtual hike! I hope you enjoyed it and it inspired you to take a trip to see the GSOEC for yourself!

Click here for directions!

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

Check out the latest bird sightings at Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center Here!


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


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.


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 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


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!

Montclair’s Alonzo Bonsal Wildlife Preserve!

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve

Welcome to the 20.68 acre Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve! The preserve is located and owned by the Township of Montclair, New Jersey and was purchased with NJ DEP Green Acres funds. The City of Clifton is located to the north, and residential development surrounds the preserve to the south, east and west. There are 9.12 acres of adjacent lands located to the north of the preserve which are controlled by the North Jersey District Water Commission for its Wanaque Reservoir Balancing Tank which provide additional habitat for wildlife.  A citizens group lobbied to save the woodland from development in the 1970’s. The Bonsal Preserve was named after a local resident whose family’s contribution augmented Green Acres funding of the site.

Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve

The preserve consists of remnant wetlands and uplands surrounding the Third River, a major tributary of the lower Passaic River watershed.  The Third River headwaters are located in Rifle Camp Park in Woodland Park.

Third River

The headwaters were impounded in 1899 to form the Great Notch Reservoir which greatly reduced the river’s flow. The Third River’s current name was derived from the fact that it lies north of two other Passaic River tributaries (1st & 2nd Rivers).

Years ago, the river was known as Pearl River due to the discovery of the Queen Pearl aka Paterson Pearl . Freshwater pearls are found in a river’s mussel population. The Paterson Pearl, a 93 grain pink pearl, was one of the first freshwater pearl to be discovered in the United States. Other pearls were found in the Third River but none matched the Paterson Pearl.

Today, the mussels are long gone and the name Pearl River has been replaced by Third River as designated by cartographers.

The preserve has been left in its natural state with the exception of an old sewer line built in the early 1900’s. The sewer is owned by the City of Clifton. In 2008, around 10 trees in the preserve and a 12 foot wide woods road was constructed near Daniels Road, a dead end street in Clifton, to access a ruptured section of the pipe. Plans are being made to remove and reroute the sewer as of January 2014.


Bridge over Third River

The main entrance to the Bonsal Preserve is located in a right of way off of Riverview Drive in Montclair. After crossing the bridge over the Third River, you can continue north to Daniels Drive in Clifton or head east or west to explore the wetlands near the Third River. The trails are not blazed but due to the size of the preserve, you can’t get lost physically without soon discovering a spot you previously traveled.

Bonsal Preserve Trail

Small preserves in urban settings really provide a great opportunity to take your time and enjoy nature right in your own backyard.


The richest concentration of wildlife found in the Third River watershed is found in the Bonsal Preserve. Baltimore Orioles, Red-Eyed Vireos, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Tailed Deer and Raccoon have all been spotted among others. I spotted the guys in the pictures below the day I visited:

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

White Throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow


Because a good percentage of the Bonsal Preserve consists of forested floodplains, obligate wetland plants such as Skunk Cabbage may be found in abundance.

Skunk Cabbage

Other species include the below among others:

American Beech

Black Cherry

 Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey to learn more about the high diversity of plant life found in the Garden State!

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, known locally as Montclair’s paradise, is a great place to take a walk, birdwatch and just kick back and enjoy. Click here for directions!

For more information on this fantastic preserve be sure to contact Friends of the Bonsal Preserve at the email address BonsalPreserve@verizon.net.

Great Ecology/Birding Books!

1. Pocket Guide to Eastern Streams – This book is perfect for nature-lovers, hikers, anglers, naturalists, and wildlife professionals
* Includes information on restoring and preserving threatened or damaged stream ecosystems!

Click Here for more information!

2. Stream Ecology: Structure and function of running waters – Great working reference for stream ecology and related fields!

Click Here for more information!

3. Birds of Eastern North America – This wonderful book’s format allows for quick and easy reference using detailed artworks, maps and text!

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!

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

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.

West Milford Wallish Nature Preserve Update

Wallisch Environmental Education Trail

As part of an ongoing gas pipeline expansion and to safely position a new gas line 25 feet away from an existing 25 inch transmission, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company is seeking to access 55 year old easements on the Wallish Estates Properties. The Wallish Estates Properties is the home of a former farmland, Ramapo College wetlands mitigation site and environmental educational trail. (Click here for a NJURBANFOREST description of this trail). A quarter of an acre of the Ramapo College mitigation site will be disturbed in return for a full acre to be remediated at the preserve. Construction will not begin until West Milford agrees to widen the current 10 foot easement which TGPC needs to complete the project.

Wetlands Mitigation Site

The Wallisch Nature Preserve is accessible off of Lincoln Avenue in West Milford, NJ. Parking is available on Eisenhower Drive.

Wallisch Nature Preserve West Milford NJ

Wayne’s Dave Waks Memorial Park (formerly Barbour Pond)!

Dave Waks Memorial Park

Dave Wak’s Memorial Park

Dave Waks Memorial Park (formerly known as Barbour Pond Park) is located in the township of Wayne, NJ. It was renamed Dave Waks Memorial Park as a tribute to a former mayor of Wayne who passed away in 2007. At 103 acres, it is Wayne’s largest developed park. There’s a playground, 3 lighted softball fields, 1 lighted baseball field, three lighted soccer fields, a model airplane flying area and a half mile paved walking path around the fields. The centerpiece of the park is Barbour Pond which features a 1.96 mile hiking trail which encircles the pond.

Barbour Pond

Barbour Pond was created by impounding part of the 8.9 mile Preakness (Singnac) Brook via the Barbour Pond dam. The brook is a tributary of the Passaic River. It’s watershed is located almost entirely in Wayne. The headwaters, located in the nearby High Mountain Nature Preserve, are considered to be trout production and are classified as C1. C1is one of the highest classifications given to a stream in the state of NJ.  Preakness Brook enters Barbour Pond from Valley Road , where it ventures through (along with a tributary stream) a recently protected 17 acre woodland. Preakness Brook from Barbour Pond to its confluence with the Passaic River is non trout production and is considered impaired. Impairments include fecal coliform bacteria and habitat decline which are indicated by an increase in pollution-tolerant macro invertebrate species. Non-point source pollution is thought to be the culprit.  In 2005, William Paterson University was granted $408,586 to collect and access water quality data along the length of the stream. The purpose of the study was to reduce fecal coliform, restore macro invertebrate health and protect the C1 headwaters segment.

Preakness Brook

For more information on the streams that flow in your backyard check out the Pocketguide to Eastern Streams. This wonderful field guide covers common plants and animals found in a stream ecosystem. Click here for more information!

Ok, back to the trail! Access to the Barbour Pond trail may be obtained off the half mile paved walking path, off of Valley Road near Barbour Pond dam, or near the model airplane area. Entrance areas are marked by a wooden pole.

Entrance to the Barbour Pond trail from the paved walking path

The trail is mostly level and pleasant. There is a serene crossing over Preakness Brook and many beautiful views of Barbour Pond.

Mallards & Canadian Geese on Barbour Pond

Barbour Pond and the surrounding woodland provide much needed habitat for many animals and especially birds. I’ve spotted the below during my ventures:

Black-Capped Chickadee

Mourning Dove

Downy Woodpecker

Three Killdeer Birds right outside Barbour Pond

Ring-Necked Ducks on Barbour Pond

Bufflehead & Ring Neck Ducks

Male Yellow Warbler

Male Yellow Warbler

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

The trail contains varied flora. Flora includes:

  • Red Maple
  • Black Birch & Yellow Birch
  • American Beech
  • Red Cedar
  • Christmas Fern

    Red Cedar

    Christmas Fern

    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!

    While exploring around the pond I found some interesting graffiti found on one of the wood post and several trees.

  • Protect Nature


    Take US 80 west to exit 55B, for Union Boulevard north, Totowa. Within a short drive turn left on Crews Road. At the stop sign, go straight which connect the driver to Totowa Road. Turn right at the light after passing the Dey Mansion in Preakness Valley Park. Then take the next right for Valley Road. Pass through the intersection with Hamburg Turnpike. Take the first left turn (Barbour Pond Drive) and go .3 of a mile to the end of the road for the entrance of the park.

    Dave Waks Memorial Park (formely Barbour Pond Park)

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

    Check out the latest bird sightings here!

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 Suez 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.


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 comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! 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!

Oradell’s Lotus Woods Nature Walk!

Lotus Woods Nature Walk

The Borough of Oradell‘s Lotus Woods Nature Walk located in densely populated Bergen County NJ is a 10 acre deciduous wooded wetland preserve featuring a woodland trail next to the Van Saun Mill Brook, a tributary to the Hackensack River.

Lotus Woods Nature Walk

The woods were preserved by the Mayor and Council of Oradell in the early nineties. The trail, which follows the Van Saun Mill Brook from Amaryllis Avenue to Soldier Hill Road, has been maintained by the Oradell Boy Scouts since 1991. The boy scouts help remove invasive plants and replace them with native plants. The Lotus Woods Nature Walk is a forest island completely surrounded by dense residential development. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the photo below.

The Van Saun Mill Brook flows through the center of the woods. The Van Saun Mill Brook is monitored by the Bergen County Environmental Council further south of the preserve in nearby Van Saun Park three times a year to determine the quality of the water. The Lotus Woods help to protect the Van Saun Mill Brook from non-point source pollution

Van Suan Mill Brook

Much of the preserve is dominated by typical wetland vegetation such as Sensitive Fern and Skunk Cabbage.

Sensitive Fern

The trail is level and is an easy pleasant walk.  The main entrance  to the preserve is on Amaryllis Avenue between Seminole Street and Summit Avenue in Oradell. It’s a nice slice of nature.

Click here for directions

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