Welcome to Wawayanda State Park! Located in the NJ Highlands, Wawayanda State Park was one of the first major acquisitions by the New Jersey Green Acres program. Wawayanda State Park was purchased in 1963 from the New Jersey Zinc Company which had proposed development for the property. The name “Wawayanda” is of Lenape origin and is said to mean water on the mountain. Many prefer to call it “way way yonder” since the park is located in a remote area of northwestern Passaic and southeastern Sussex counties.
Today we are going to explore a portion of the 2,167 acre Wawayanda Swamp Natural Area-home to a globally rare inland Atlantic White Cedar Swamp and the largest natural area present in the park.
Atlantic White Cedar
Wawayanda’s Atlantic White Cedar Swamp formed around 15,000 years ago and sections of the swamp have remained unchanged since the last ice age.
Using this trail map, let’s start our journey by heading to the trail-head of the 1.6 mile yellow blazed Double Pond Trail near the camping areas of Wawayanda State Park. Double Pond Trail is named after the original name of nearby Wawayanda Lake which was once two bodies of water separated by a thin strip of land.
On our way to the Double Pond Trail we pass the ruins of the Wawayanda Furnace, a 37 foot tall charcoal blast furnace where pig iron, a crude form of iron, was produced for railroad car wheels. The charcoal blast-furnace is a remnant of a once-thriving village and was last used in 1857.
Double Pond Trail Trailhead
Leaving the furnace behind, let’s head east to the start of the Double Pond Trail.
Entering the forest we find Indian Cucumber growing alongside American Beech. Indian Cucumber is an indicator of rich moist woods. The plant can grow up to 30 inches high.
As we walk there are several rock outcrops comprised of ancient granite whose age is likely around 1 billion years old.
Mayapple with Rock Outcrop
Here we see Mayapple sprouting near the base of one outcrop. As we continue closer to the Cedar Swamp we find an interesting small tree known as Striped Maple with bark striped green and white.
Striped Maple is a common understory tree of cool mesic forests.
Striped Maple Leaves
After walking about .4 of a mile on the Double Pond Trail we have reached a bridge crossing a creek.
Double Pond Trail Bridge
After checking out the views, let’s take the trail back into the forest passing the trailhead for the Red Dot Trail to our right.
Red Dot Trail Trailhead
Double Pond Trail
Continuing on the Double Pond Trail dense Rhododendrons are appearing to the side and branching overhead forming a tunnel in places mixed with Eastern Hemlocks making this part of the park appear to be a jungle.
Cedar Swamp Trail Trailhead
After traveling about .9 of a mile on the Double Pond Trail we find ourselves at the Trail-head of the 1.5 mile Blue Blazed Cedar Swamp Trail appearing to the right. This trail will take us right into the center of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp! Today we will hike only about half a mile of the Cedar Swamp trail since there has been much rain causing the water levels in the swamp to rise and flood most of the trail.
Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Boardwalk
After walking a short distance through more Rhododendron tunnels we find planks of wood have been placed over permanent flooded sections of the trail.
Atlantic White Cedar occurs on hydric soils in low nutrient water usually on or near the coastal plain. This is what makes finding this pocket of thriving Atlantic White Cedar located so far away from the coastal plain so special.
Other common tree species found in Atlantic White Cedar Swamps include:
About .05 of a mile into the trail we find the remains of an old car that has been here for many years. Nature is reclaiming the car for its own. As we proceed slightly further we find the boardwalks have ended and the trails are flooded due to the recent heavy rains.
Turning around on the Cedar Swamp Trail we head back to the boardwalks and see numerous frogs in the tannin stained water of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp.
Heading back to the Double Pond Trail we hear a low grunt of a Black Bear nearby alerting us of his presence.
Possible Bear Print
Judging by the above wet paw print on this rock we just missed him!
Wood Ducks and Mallard
Heading back on the Wooden Bridge catch we glimpses of Wood Ducks and a solitary Mallard out on the water.
As we leave the swamp and head into mesic (moist) woods, we pass a Yellow Birch tree with its roots exposed. This tree likely began life growing on an old log that has since long ago decayed and returned to the earth.
As we walk we see a bright orange movement on the ground. It’s a Red Eft! Red Efts are juvenile terrestrial Eastern Newts. When fully mature the newt will spend the rest of its life (12-15 years) in the waters of the swamp.
We’ve now made it back to the old iron furnace! I hope you enjoyed this virtual hike of Wawayanda’s Cedar Swamp and that it inspires you to visit it for yourself!
Take Route 23 north to Union Valley Road. Follow Union Valley Road about 6 miles to stop sign. From Stop sign, go to second traffic light. Turn left, travel to fork in road (about 2 miles) go left about 1/2 mile to Warwick Turnpike. Turn left. The park entrance is four miles on the left.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Continuing on the orange trail, marker #2 comes into view on the right where a large depression may be found.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!