Tag Archives: Garter Snake

West Milford’s Apshawa Preserve!

Apshawa Preserve A Passaic County Park

Welcome to the Apshawa Preserve! The 576 acre Apshawa Preserve is located in West Milford in the heart of the NJ Highlands region.

Apshawa Preserve

Apshawa Preserve

The preserve is a cooperative project of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) and the county of Passaic. Passaic County has owned 501 acres of the preserve after purchasing the land from the Borough of Butler with Green Acres funding in 1971. Public Access to the property was limited until NJCF purchased the adjacent Faustini property in 2002 bringing the total acreage to 576. The property was previously going to be developed and would have fragmented a crucial highlands forest and degraded water quality in nearby High Crest Lake. The Faustini property includes an estimated .93 of an acre pond and rock outcrops.

Apshawa Preserve

The forty acre Butler Reservoir is the centerpiece of the Apshawa Preserve and was formed from the impoundment of the Apshawa Brook which flows from the northwest. Once used for the Borough of Butler’s water supply, the reservoir is now only used during emergency drought situations.

Butler Reservoir in fall

From Butler Reservoir, Apshawa Brook continues south through an old mixing pond and cascades until its confluence with the Pequannock River near Route 23.

Apshawa Brook

Samples of macro invertebrates taken from the Apshawa Brook show healthy populations of Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddis flies. These species are all pollutant intolerant species.  Macro indicates that the organism can be seen without the aid of a microscope whereas invertebrate indicates that the organism has no backbone. The presence of these pollutant intolerant species indicates the Apshawa Brook’s water quality is very high.  The NJ DEP has classified the stream as Trout Production and labeled the brook with “C1” status which is one of the highest water classifications in NJ. According to the NJ DEP Website “Category One (C1) designation protects waterways from any discharge that produces a measurable change in the existing quality of the water”.

Apshawa Deer Fence

Passaic County Freeholders Forest Restoration Fence

In December of 2010, The New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) completed construction of a 16,800 feet (3.2 Mile), 8 feet high wire mesh deer fence on three hundred acres of the Apshawa Preserve. The NJCF states that the Apshawa Preserve is at a “deer tipping point” and that the forest is partially degraded. 18 White-Tailed Deer were observed in the fenced 300 acres during a NJCF sponsored deer drive on December 10, 2010. NJCF states that 18 deer on 300 acres equals to about 40 deer per square mile. A deciduous forest becomes degraded when deer density is greater than 20 deer per square mile.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

The purpose of the fence is to keep white-tail deer from over-browsing native herbaceous plants & young tree saplings. The fence will be in place for 10 to 15 years. Assessments of native plant populations found both in and out of the fenced areas will be taken on occasion to determine the effectiveness of the fence. According to the NJCF, so much native vegetation has been consumed by the white-tail deer that non-native plants such as Mugwort, Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry and Japanese Stiltgrass have taken hold in many areas of the forest where native species once flourished. These nonnative plants crowd out beneficial native plants by forming a monoculture which offers few benefits to native wildlife. Seeds of these plants were carried via foot traffic and illegal ATV use.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

The Pequannock River Coalition (PRC) has called the forest restoration project “the fence that makes no sense” and has stated that the design of the fence impedes travel of other animals such as the state endangered Bobcat and Wood Turtle. PRC published a field review of the Apshawa Preserve and fence on November 22, 2010. The report stated that while deer sign was present in the preserve, the PRC did not encounter any deer during a three mile assessment.  Greenbrier, which becomes scarce in areas where excessive deer browse is excessive, was found abundant in thickets in many areas. The report goes on to state that many young saplings were present indicating that the forest is regenerating. The biggest threat to new growth appears to be the dense canopy of dense shade and not excessive deer browse. The report concluded that several smaller enclosures would be more feasible to manage. 2019 Update: Please note that the Pequannock River Coalition is now defunct and the field review report is no longer available online.

Apshawa Deer Fence Gate

Apshawa Deer Fence Gate

However, NJCF stated that managing many small enclosures is too expensive and that the design of the fence can be modified. The fence was placed tight to the ground in many places which prompted the NJ DEP to state that amphibians and snakes may have difficulties getting through to critical food supplies or breeding grounds with the current design of the fence. To accommodate, sections of the fence have been raised 7 inches high and 12 inches wide every 15-20 feet depending on the terrain. NJCF has stated that the purpose of the fence is to minimize deer presence but acknowledges that it is impossible to keep deer completely out. The PRC stated that studies have proved that hungry deer have been shown to squeeze in areas 7 inches high and 12 inches wide.

Deer Fence Animal Crossing Apshawa Preserve

Deer Fence Animal Crossing Apshawa Preserve

Other methods to ease animal crossing include old snags (dead trees) placed over the top of the fence (seen in the picture above) to help animals such as Bobcats to cross over to the other side.

Black Bears have made a habit of breaking through sections of fence to get to the other side. The NJCF studied areas of high Black Bear traffic in the preserve and placed strategic “Bear Ladders” to aid in their crossing.

Bear Climb

Bear Climb

Under NJ law, almost all land modifications where there are stream corridors are governed by N.J.A.C. 7:13 aka the flood hazard control act. Fences are only exempted from this act if they are located outside of a floodway and if the fence is not designed in a way that will catch debris in a flood.

Stream Crossing Chains

Stream Crossing Chains

The NJCF responded by placing heavy chains at the bottom of the fence to prevent debris from catching and permitting the flow of water. It is hoped that if White-Tail Deer feel the heavy chains on their heads they will turn around.


Apshawa Hike 5.29.11 and 6.21.11

There are almost 7 miles of blazed trails to be explored in the Apshawa Preserve.  These trails were created with the assistance of volunteers and funding was provided through the National Recreation Trails Program.  2019 Update: Please note the trail descriptions below were from 2011. Trails have been re-blazed since then. If you go (and I hope you do!) please pick up a trail map from the kiosk in the parking lot or print a trail map from the NJ Conservation website.

All trails are accessible from the white trail whose trailhead may be found in the Apshawa Preserve parking lot. Be sure to stay on the marked trails as there are unmarked trails throughout the preserve. There are signs posted letting you know if you are going to stray from the marked trail.

Leaving Trail System

While it is possible to hike (if you start early in the day) the entire preserve in one trip, I find it best to explore the Apshawa Preserve over two separate trips. The best introduction to the Apshawa Preserve is to hike the northern section of the Apshawa Preserve to the scenic Butler Reservoir.  Start by taking part of the 2 mile white trail from the parking lot.

White Trail trailhead

The white trail heads northwest and goes through a swamp and traverses to a ridge top providing excellent views of the Butler Reservoir.

One of the views from White Trail

After stopping here for a look at the surrounding highlands, follow the white trail down to shore of Butler Reservoir and look to the left for the start of the 1.25 mile red trail.

Red Trail Trailhead

The red trail traverses along the western shore of Butler Reservoir and crosses over tributaries of the Apshawa Brook located to the northwest of Butler Reservoir. Once the trail passes over the tributaries, the trail heads east to once again meet with the white trail which traverses the northern section of the Butler Reservoir.  Continuing to head east, the white trail meets the .5 of a mile yellow trail which encircles an 8 acre pond.

Yellow Trail with Pond

However, I found most of the yellow trail was under water due to Beaver activity when I visited in May 2011. I spoke to a NJCF representative regarding the condition of the yellow trail and was told that a possible reroute may be possible for the future.

Yellow Trail Closed due to Beaver

Yellow Trail Closed due to Beaver

As of June 2013 the Yellow Trail is closed due to Beaver Activity. Continuing on our virtual tour: Heading west away from the flooded area, the yellow trail connects to the white trail and goes southwest and then east to the parking lot.

The second hike explores the southern portion of the preserve via the 3 mile green trail.

Green Trail

The green trail is the longest trail created in the Apshawa Preserve. From the white trail, the green trail heads south and passes a historic mixing pond and interesting ruins from the time when this property was watershed land for the Borough of Butler.

Dam at Historic Mixing Pond on Green Trail

Ruins on Green Trail

The trail continues northwest and does a switchback climb. There are scenic views here of adjacent protected Newark watershed land which looks great in any season but looks absolutely spectacular in the fall.

View on Green Trail

From here, the green trail continues north until it reaches Butler Reservoir and the red trail. Follow the red trail east and north until you connect back to the white trail. Take the white trail east and southwest back to the parking area.


The Apshawa Preserve consists primarily of a oak-sugar maple forest. Before the Chestnut blight, American Chestnut was likely abundant. Saplings of American Chestnut still occur.

American Chestnut

Today there are new threats facing the eastern forest. The Emerald Ash Borer threatens all Ash trees. Purple boxes have been hung in the preserve and throughout New Jersey to detect for the presence of this destructive pest from Asia. The mature emerald ash borer does not pose a threat. It is the larva of these borers which eat away at the heartwood. The color purple attracts the emerald ash borer. Once the insect lands on the box they become trapped on the sticky surface.

Emerald Ash Borer Detection Survey Tool

Other flora found include:


Clubmoss under Mountain Laurel Shrub

False Hellebore

Jack in the Pulpit

Sensitive Fern

Sessile Bellwort

Pale Corydalis

Pale Corydalis

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 includes the below among others:

Fowler’s Toad

Garter Snake

Fox Tracks

Click here for directions and a description of the Apshawa Preserve by the NJ Conservation Foundation.

Great Hiking/Ecology Books:

1. 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!

2. 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!

3. 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!

4. 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!

5. 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!