Welcome to Pyramid Mountain County Park! Pyramid Mountain is part of the Morris County Park System and contains more than 1,500 acres of preserved open space. The land comprising the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area was set aside as Morris County parkland in 1989 after a long struggle to help preserve these ecologically and geologically diverse acres.
The 22 acre Swan Lake was created by impounding a tributary of the Pocantico River (a tributary of the Hudson River).
Carriage Road Rockefeller State Park Preserve
The carriage roads we will be walking on were developed by John D Rockefeller Sr & John D Rockefeller Jr between the years 1910-1950. Every winter the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve evaluates which trails need fresh surface material added. Drainage of trails is completed every spring to ensure carriage roads stay dry. Trail maintenance is a 12 month process!
After paying the minimal parking fee ($6 at the time of this writing in 2013) let’s walk over to the visitor center.
After picking up a trail map let’s check out the interesting flowering plants blooming nearby. These flowers are Japanese Peony and are known as the “King of Flowers” in Japan.
Just past the flowers and the visitor center there is a kiosk chock full of information about the Rockefeller State Park preserve.
Birds and Wildflowers of the Preserve
Here we can find excellent information regarding common flora and fauna of the preserve. All set? Let’s head towards Swan lake!
Leaving the Fern Garden we follow a brief trail through a forest to get to Brother’s Path.
We are going to be following the 1.1 mile Brother’s Path which encircles Swan Lake. As we start out heading south on the Brother’s Path, the trailhead of the .7 mile Overlook Trail appears to our right.
Let’s take a quick detour from Brother’s Path to walk a section of the Overlook Path for a few minutes. According to the Hudson River Audubon Society website this area is one of the best spots to view Eastern Bluebirds. Eastern Bluebirds, New York’s state bird, are a small thrush whose habitats include open woodlands and meadows such as where we are right now. Eastern Bluebird populations have experienced a decline due to strong competition from aggressive non-native birds like the House Sparrow and European Starlings.
Eastern Blue Bird (NY’s State Bird!)
As we ponder the future fate of these birds a blue blur flies by and lands on a nesting box which has been placed in the meadow by a member of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve staff. Ready to head back to the Brother’s Path? Let’s head back to continue our journey around Swan Lake. Heading south on Brother’s Path we see continuous views of Swan Lake mixed with occasional Flowering Dogwood to our left.
Flowering Dogwood, native to the eastern United States, is a common understory tree found in forest edges.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve Meadow
Continuing south an opening has appeared to our right providing a view of the sweeping meadows we sampled on the Overlook Trail. As we walk Swan Lake is becoming narrower. Turning east we cross over two Pocantico River tributaries draining Swan Lake.
I’m not sure if the chipmunk is sounding the alarm over us or this Northern Black Racer lurking nearby. Maybe both?
As we leave the chipmunk and snake we hear a sudden “meow” sound and realize that the sound is not coming from a cat but a bird! The bird is a Gray Catbird. Gray Catbirds are migratory and fly to the southeaster US, Mexico and Central America for the winter months.
Continuing north and passing the trailhead to the Ridge Trail, we spot some Striped Wintergreen, a species which is considered vulnerable in New York.
Mallards near Swan Lake
We cross over a Swan Lake feeder stream and pass a couple of Mallards and a turtle as we head west on the Brothers Path back to the parking lot to complete our hike. I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Swan Lake and that it inspired you to visit it for yourself!
2) The Nature of New York – This work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State. Author David Stradling shows how New York’s varied landscape and abundant natural resources have played a fundamental role in shaping the state’s culture and economy.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
2020 Trails Update – Please note the below trail descriptions were as I found it when I wrote this blog in 2011. Some of the trails have been re-blazed/re-routed since this blog post was first posted.
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.
2020 Update: Reminder: 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
As of June 2013 the Yellow Trail is closed due to Beaver Activity.
2020 Update – It is my understanding that the Yellow Trail is still closed.
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.
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.
Today there are new threats facing the eastern forest. The Emerald Ash Borer threatens all Ash trees. Purple boxes were place 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.
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!