The 2013 Pequannock River Coalition (PRC) Winter Hike took participants on an exploratory hike through the Pequannock River Watershed. Led by PRC Executive Ross Kushner, the 4 mile hike promised education & exercise.
Started in 1995, the Pequannock River Coalition provided a crucial voice in protecting the watershed of the Pequannock River, one of the cleanest rivers in New Jersey and a tributary of the Passaic River.
Ah, there you are! Welcome! Ready for the 4 mile hike? There’s plenty of snow on the ground to help us look for animal tracks.
Let’s begin by meeting Ross Kushner, the Executive Director of the Pequannock River Coalition. He’s going to lead the hike today!
Right now we are at a small gravel lot off Green Pond Road near Route 23 in the Newfoundland section of West Milford.
We will be exploring the area just north of Copperas Mountain in nearby Rockaway Township. Ross has just taken attendance and now we are heading southwest on Green Pond Road and will be heading into the woods of the vast Pequannock watershed!
What happened here? These trees appear to have collapsed like dominoes. The fallen trees were part of plantations planted in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and were to be maintained (i.e. trimmed) every 10-15 years. With the onset of WWII the plantations were all but forgotten. Fast forward to 2012, we now have a tangle of trees growing close to one another. Hurricane Sandy came and knocked the trees down. Ross explained that in general other than habitat for Northern Goshawks and Red Squirrels, plantations are a monoculture and do not provide the diversity most wildlife require.
Look at all these White-Tailed Deer prints around this fallen tree!
Hardwood trees that fell during the hurricane have become popular with White-Tailed Deer who enjoy nibbling on sections of tree normally inaccessible.
Leaving the fallen tree and coming to a small field, Ross has just found a curious looking egg pouch attached to a plant in a frozen field. This is a Praying Mantis egg case.
You can purchase Praying Mantis egg cases and use them as a natural “pesticide” for pests such as Japanese Beetles.
Heading back to Green Pond Road, Ross points out a stand of deciduous conifers near the side of the road and has identified them as American Larch. American Larch needles turn orange in the fall and fall off in winter.
Heading back on Green Pond Road, we’re now walking over a Pequannock River Tributary near Deerhaven Lane. The Pequannock River Tributary draining the marsh in the foreground was straightened to drain the marsh. Phragmites, a common plant which thrives in disturbed wetlands, is abundant.
Around 10,000 years ago the Wisconsin Glacier piled boulders on the north side and sheared off the southern side of mountains in the NJ Highlands. As the glacier retreated at the end of the ice age, they tended to melt in place. The sheered cliffs visible on Green Pond Mountain were testimony to that theory.
We’re now continuing our journey down Green Pond Road. It’s been about a quarter of a mile but we are now again entering the Pequannock River Watershed forest.
What are these ruins we are looking at? Ross is now explaining that when the City of Newark acquired the land in the early 1900’s people were living throughout the watershed property and had been for over a hundred years. Their property was taken by imminent domain to protect the water supply. Back in the 1890s and early 1900s Newark’s population was dying as their water supply was derived from the Passaic River in Newark. This section of the Passaic River was and is severely impaired.
Walking a bit further in the snow Ross has suddenly stopped. “Look at the space between these deer prints!” he says. “This guy was flying, but not from us-these are old prints”. There must be 20 feet present between the gaps of the prints!!
What is Ross looking at? It’s another American Larch tree with a good portion of its bark missing. Ross states “The bark has been taken off over the decades by Black Bears biting and rubbing their backs on the tree. The higher the bite, the bigger the bear. Sort of a territorial thing-every bear that comes by can determine what other bears have been in the area”.
Ross walks a bit further into the woods and suddenly stops.
We just happen to be by Deerhaven Lake where a number of White Pines are standing. These pines grew naturally. Though we don’t spot any today, there have been reports of Great Blue Heron nests in these pines. Ross turns around and starts heading back to Green Pond Road.
We are back on Green Pond Road on our way to a section of the white blazed 19.4 Mile Four Birds Trail. This trail, maintained by members of the NYNJ Trail Conference, is named Four Birds to represent the ecological diversity that can be encountered on the trail. Wild Turkeys, Red-Tail Hawks, Great Blue Herons & Ospreys represent the “Four Birds” in the name.
Near the beginning of the trail we see tiny footprints heading to a log. They belong to an Opossum.
It looks like we are now leaving the Four Birds Trail and are walking by a rather large American Beech with marks that look like eyes keeping watch over the forest. American Beech is considered a climax species in succession and is an indicator that the forest present here has not been disturbed in a long time.
Ross Pointed out black bear claw marks and noted that they are perfectly spaced.
Looking northwest towards Deerhaven Lake we see a large active beaver lodge with several others in the distance. Ross stated that the primary predator of beavers is the gray wolf which has been extirpated from New Jersey. Time to stop for lunch!
I find the leaf of the Northern Red Oak (NJ’s state tree) on my seat.
After eating our lunch Ross spots a White Oak tree covered with Black Bear claw marks. White Oak acorns are sweeter than other oaks such as Black or Red Oak. Black Bears love White Oak acorns so much that they will go up into the tree to retrieve them before they fall.
While checking out the claw marks we spot an out of season Firefly on the White Oak. Apparently it was tricked by the abundant sunshine.
River Otter droppings containing fish scales were spotted near an outlet of a Pequannock River tributary leaving Deerhaven Lake. River Otters are usually active near the outlet of a beaver pond and the droppings are indicators of River Otter territorial tendencies.
We even see the slides they made on the ice!
Ross is taking us on a shortcut back to our cars near the Pequannock River.
Well, we’ve reached our cars and the tour has concluded. I hope this virtual hike has inspired you to explore your local forest.