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Hiking Sterling Lake!


Sterling Forest State Park

Sterling Forest State Park

Welcome to Sterling Forest State Park! Established in 1998 and located in Tuxedo and Warwick NY, the park is one of the newest additions to the New York State Parks in the past 50 years. Most of the woodland is located in NY State but a portion of it extends into NJ and is known as Tranquility Ridge County Park.

Sterling Forest

Sterling Forest

The almost 22,000 acre park features diverse ecological communities including:

Welcome to the Sterling Forest Bird Conservation Area

Welcome to the Sterling Forest Bird Conservation Area

These diverse habitats have earned Sterling Forest State Park the designation of Bird Conservation Area by the NY DEP.

Birds found in Sterling Forest State Park include the below among many others:

Virtual Hike

Foot Trail Maintained by Volunteers NY-NJ Trail Conference

Foot Trail Maintained by Volunteers NY-NJ Trail Conference

Today we are going to hike the estimated 4.2 Blue Blazed Sterling Lake trail  (maintained by volunteers from the NYNJ Trail Conference) which starts at the Sterling Forest State Park visitor center.  The visitor center is named for the late Frank R. Lautenberg who helped preserve the forest for future generations. The Sterling Lake Lake trail loops around Sterling Lake, a natural lake formed during the last ice age.

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Visitor Center

U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Visitor Center

Let’s head inside and grab a trail map.

Sterling Forest State Park Model

Sterling Forest State Park Model

Inside there are dioramas on the Sterling Forest mining industry history, fauna exhibits and a huge model of Sterling Forest itself.

Trail

 

From the visitor center let’s head east into a brief section of forest  on a footpath.

Old Forge Road Crossing 1

Old Forge Road Crossing

After rambling through this portion of the trail we follow the Sterling Lake Loop trail east crossing Old Forge Road near private residences.

McKeages Meadow Connector

McKeages Meadow Connector

After crossing Old Forge Road the orange triangle blazed McKeages Meadow Connector trail appears to our right.

Truck Trailers Sterling Lake Loop

Truck Trailers Sterling Lake Loop

Continuing straight ahead on the Sterling Lake Trail, the trail turns from a footpath to a woods road as we pass old trailers to our left near private property.

Old Railroad Causeway

Old Railroad Causeway

Wetland

Wetland

From here we follow the Sterling Loop trail as it crosses a wetland via an old mining railroad embankment.

Second Old Forge Road Crossing

Second Old Forge Road Crossing

Long Meadow Road appears ahead but the trail turns north just missing the busy road. Crossing Old Forge Road for the second time we find ourselves heading north climbing.

Dead Hemlock

Dead Hemlock

We have reached an Eastern Hemlock dominated forest but unfortunately many of the Hemlocks are dead or dying due to the Woolly Adelgid, a non-native pest from Asia. The Adelgid feeds by sucking sap from Hemlock trees.  This exotic pest was accidently introduced to North America circa 1924 and is currently established in eleven states ranging from Georgia to Massachusetts. It is estimated that 50% of the geographical range of the Eastern Hemlock has been affected by the adelgid. Biological control (i.e. using adelgid predators to control infestations) has been the major emphasis of control since 1997.

Pine Meadow Trail Connector Trailhead

Pine Meadow Trail Connector Trailhead

As we head northwest, the 0.3 Mile Orange Blazed Pine Meadow Connector Trail appears to our right.

Sterling Lake Loop Grassy Trail

Sterling Lake Loop Grassy Trail

Our feet are in for a treat as the trail becomes a soft grassy road as we continue heading north on the Sterling Lake Loop.

First view of Sterling Lake

First view of Sterling Lake

Our first glimpses of Sterling Lake appears to our left as the trail turns northwest.

Sweetfern

Sweetfern

Whew! Let’s take a quick breather and take time to look at some of the vegetation growing near the trail. Here’s some Sweetfern native to the Eastern US. Its name is misleading as Sweetfern is not a fern at all but a deciduous shrub. The “sweet” in Sweetfern is correct as the leaves give off a sweet odor when crushed. Sweetfern typically grows in dry upland habitat.

Hog Peanut

Hog Peanut

Hey! Is this Poison Ivy? It’s got the whole “leaves of three leave ’em be” look. Nope, it’s a vine known as Hog Peanut. Hog Peanut is a member of the Bean Family (unlike Poison Ivy which is a member of the Cashew Family) and helps out plants growing nearby by correcting Nitrogen levels in the soil. Hog Peanut is common in both dry and mesic (moist) forest types.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut

Here’s American Chestnut. The American Chestnut tree was an important member of the eastern forest found in the United States. A wide variety of wildlife fed on its chestnuts. Mature American Chestnuts began to die off in 1904 due to imported Chestnut Blight from Asia. The blight,  imported to the US via Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus dispersed by spores in the air, raindrops and animals. American Chestnut now survives only in the understory as shoots sprouting from old roots (which are not affected by the blight). The American Chestnut sprouts reach about twenty feet before the blight strikes. The roots then shoots up new sprouts and the process repeats itself. The American Chestnut Foundation  is currently working to restore the once great American Chestnut back to its native range. Check out the book American Chestnut : The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree for more information. Click here!

Powerline Cut

Powerline Cut

Milkweed in Bloom

Milkweed in Bloom

Continuing north we reach a Powerline cut in the forest. Powerline cuts create permanent Shrubland which provides habitat for flora such as Milkweed, an important wildlife plant (especially for Monarch Butterflies) which does not grow in the dense shade of the forest floor.

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Heading south a portion of the Yellow Blazed 6.2 mile Sterling Valley Trail joins the Sterling Lake Loop trail from the north.

Tiny Toad

 

Looking down as we walk on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop & Sterling Valley Loop we spot movement. Tiny toads!

Little Toads

Little Toads

Let’s carefully and slowly proceed west on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake/Sterling Valley trail watching where we step.

Sterling Lake

Sterling Lake

We have now arrived at the northern tip of Sterling Lake.

 

Approaching a small sandy beach we spot a turtle digging in the sand.

Turtle heading back to Sterling Lake

Turtle heading back to Sterling Lake

But, as soon as we spot this turtle it takes off with surprising speed to Sterling Lake…..

Turtle back in Sterling Lake

 

…where it quickly disappears under the water.

Pond

Pond

Leaving the sandy beach and the now vanished turtle behind we cross an earthen causeway separating the pond above from Sterling Lake.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge

Taking a closer look at the pond reveals an active beaver lodge.

5-Line Skink

5-Line Skink

Continuing west past a former boat launch a movement on a rock catches our eye. A 5-Lined Skink! Native to the Eastern US, the 5-Link Skink is one of the most common lizards found in the Eastern Forest.

Blueberries

Blueberries

Heading south on the jointly blazed Sterling Lake Loop and Sterling Valley Loop we spot some blueberries growing along the side of the trail.  The blueberries provide a refreshing treat as we continue our hike.

Sterling Valley Trail Exits

Sterling Valley Trail Exits

As we continue south Sterling Lake now appears to our left and the Yellow Blazed Sterling Valley Trail exits.

Sterling Lake View

 

Continuing south on the Sterling Lake Loop trail we see beautiful views of Sterling Lake.

Sterling Forest Fire Tower Connector Trail

Sterling Forest Fire Tower Connector Trail

As we walk we find the woods road the trail has been following has ended and the trail now follows a paved road (West Sterling Lake Road) passing the Fire Connector trail to our left.

Lakeville Ironworks Trail

Lakeville Ironworks Trail

Ruins

Ruins

As we walk on the pavement we pass ruins of Lakeville Ironworks and the trailhead of the 3/4 of a mile mile Lakeville Ironworks trail. These buildings are remnants of former mining operations.

More Ruins

 

Located in the Highlands geologic region, the hills of Sterling Forest were mined for iron ore known as magnetite beginning in 1730 and ending in the 1920’s when the last of the mines shut down.

Help Save New York's Ash Trees

Help Save New York’s Ash Trees

As we walk we notice signs tied to nearby White Ash trees. The signs are in relation to the Emerald Ash Borer, a destructive pest from Asia which threatens all ash trees. The mature emerald ash borer does not pose a threat. It is the larva of these borers which eat away at the heartwood of ash trees.

Sterling Lake Outlet with Sterling Furnace in distance

Sterling Lake Outlet with Sterling Furnace in distance

Heading east on a footpath back in the forest we are now crossing the outlet of Sterling Lake near its dam. The Sterling Lake dam was originally built in the mid 1700’s to provide water power to the the Sterling Furnace. The dam raised the water level of Sterling Lake by 8 feet. A mine (now completely filled with water) was located directly below Sterling Lake.

Sterling Furnace

Sterling Furnace

Sterling Furnace was used until 1804 to create Pig Iron. Later, raw iron ore was shipped by trail to PA to be smelted using large coal deposits. The furnace was rebuilt by the City Investing Corporation in the 1950’s.

Remains of Lakeville Church

Remains of Lakeville Church

Near the visitor center we pass the  foundation of Lakeville’s Church. Well, we are now back at the visitor center and have completed our virtual hike of Sterling Lake! I hope you enjoyed your journey and that you check out this hike in person!

Click here for directions!

Woods Road

 

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

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!

3. Don’t miss The Highlands: Critical Resources, Treasured Landscapes! The Highlands exemplifies why protection of New Jersey’s Highlands is so important for the future of the state. It is an essential read on the multiple resources of the region.

Click here for more information!

4.60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

5. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

Feel free to comment with any questions, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

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

Trails

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.

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

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

Directions

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!

Walking DeKorte Park!


NJ Meadolands Commission Richard W. Dekorte Park

NJ Meadowlands Commission Richard W. Dekorte Park

DeKorte Park is an amazing environmental story. The 110 acre park is a former landfill that has been given a second chance and features trails, butterfly garden, observatory and an environmental education center.

meadowlands

Marsh View Pavilion

Kiosk

 

Near the Environmental Education center is the Jill Ann Ziemkiewicz Memorial Butterfly Garden. The garden is named after the youngest crew member of TWA Flight 800 which crashed off of Long Island in July of 1996. The centerpiece of the gardens is a bird bath hand carved to look like a sunflower.

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Sunflower Bird Bath

After I visited the butterfly garden, I took a stroll to the Lyndhurst Nature Reserve.

Transco Trail

Trail Head for Transco Trail and Lyndhurst Nature Reserve

The Lyndhurst Nature Reserve is a 3 1/2 acre island that is made entirely out of old garbage that was illegally dumped between 1969-1971.  The island is now a nature preserve covered with native grassland meadows and young woodlands. The island is surrounded by mudflats.

Black Eye Susans

Black Eye Susans

Atlantic White Cedar

Ancient Atlantic White Cedar

The mudflats surrounding the reserve at one time contained an extensive Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. Due to factors such as the construction of the Oradell dam to create the Oradell Reservoir in 1921 the water became too brackish for Atlantic White Cedar to survive. Today there are only ancient stumps remaining of the once extensive forest.

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Transco Trail

After leaving the Lyndhurst Nature Reserve, I took the eastern portion of the Transco trail which is roughly 3/4 of a mile in length.  The trail is built on a dike constructed in 1950 which contains a buried natural gas pipeline. Some flora along the trail includes Thistle, Milkweed and Pokeweed. Check out below for some pictures of the fauna found nearby.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Mallards and Canadian Geese

Forster Terns

Forster Terns

Crab

 

 

I also walked the Kingsland Overlook which offers view of the surrounding Kingsland Impoundment. The overlook was once a productive salt marsh which was turned into a dump. The former dump was turned into a park for wildlife starting in 1989. The landfill was capped with 400,000 recycled plastic soda bottles and covered with top soil. Thousands of plugs and 20 foot trees were planted. A dike was built to prevent leachate from going into the impoundment. The area is now maturing and many animals make the park their home.

DeKorte Park offers hope for all blighted areas. It is living proof that brownfields really can become greenfields with enough effort. The trail map (taken from NJSEA) is listed below:

DeKorte Park Trail Map

For more information and the official website click here. You can also check out the Meadowlands blog.

Don’t miss Jim Wright of the Meadowlands Commission’s new book “The Nature of the Meadowlands“!

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!