Tag Archives: plants

Exploring Rockefeller State Park Preserve’s Swan Lake!

The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Welcome to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve! Located in Sleepy Hollow, NY, the 1,000 + acre park features a variety of habitats ranging from open meadows, deciduous forest & wetlands. Rockefeller State Park Preserve is listed as an “IBA” (Important Bird Area) by the National Audubon Society. Over 180 species of birds have been documented in the preserve!

Female Yellow Warbler

Female Yellow Warbler

Common birds (depending on the time of the year) found in the preserve include the belong among others:

Virtual Tour

Welcome! Today, using the map below, we are going to explore the Swan Lake area of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve!

Trail Map

Trail map listed above taken from NY Parks.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

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

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!

Virtual Tour

After paying the minimal parking fee ($6 at the time of this writing in 2013) let’s walk over to the visitor center.

Japanese Peony

Japanese Peony

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.

Information about The Rockefeller State Park Preserve


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

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!

Fern Garden

Fern Garden

But first let’s poke around the Fern Garden found just past the visitor center. The fern garden is populated with Cinnamon, Royal & Sensitive Ferns among other species including some rather large Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants!



Leaving the Fern Garden we follow a brief trail through a forest to get to Brother’s Path.

Brother's Path

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.

Overlook Trail

Overlook Trail

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!)

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

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood, native to the eastern United States, is a common understory tree found in forest edges.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve Meadow

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.

American Beech Trees

American Beech Trees

We pass near a few American Beech trees and a Skunk Cabbage dominated wetland.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Passing the Farm Meadow Trailhead to our south we continue to follow the Brothers Path heading north.

Farm Meadow Trail Trailhead

Farm Meadow Trail Trailhead

Swan Lake is now on our left.

Swan Lake to our left

Swan Lake to our left

As we walk, we pass Canada Mayflower to our left in bloom.

Canada Mayflower in bloom

Canada Mayflower in bloom

Canada Mayflower is part of the Lily family and native to the Eastern United States.

Eastern Chipmunk near it's home

Eastern Chipmunk near it’s home

A sudden squeak makes an Eastern Chipmunk known to us.

Northern Black Racer

Northern Black Racer (Thanks Brian!)

I’m not sure if the chipmunk is sounding the alarm over us or this Northern Black Racer lurking nearby. Maybe both?

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

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.

Striped Wintergreen

Striped Wintergreen

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

Mallards near Swan Lake

Turtle 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!

Click here for directions!

Recommended Books:

1) WALKABLE WESTCHESTER – The book covers over 180 parks with almost 600 miles of trails in Westchester County.

Click here for more information!

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.

Click here for more information!

3) 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!

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

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

Wayne’s High Mountain Park Preserve!

High Mountain Park

Welcome to High Mountain Park Preserve! The preserve, aka High Mountain Park, is located in Wayne, NJ, and North Haldeon, NJ and consists of over 1,100 wooded acres.

High Mountain Park Preserve

High Mountain Park is owned and jointly managed by the Township of Wayne, the State of NJ and the New Jersey Natural Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy.

History of Site

High Mountain Park

High Mountain Park was a tree farm owned by Urban Farms, Inc., a subsidiary of McBride Enterprises of Franklin Lakes, NJ before its establishment as a preserve.  On May 19, 1993 the Wayne Council majority in an 8-1 vote accepted a deal to purchase High Mountain from Urban Farms, Inc.

Green Acres

The State of NJ committed $2.6 million in a Green Acres Grant and agreed to a 2% loan of $4 million. $901,943 was provided in other grand funds. The Nature Conservancy obtained a $500,000 state grant to assist in the purchase of High Mountain.

Funding Provided by Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders



Situated on the Second Watchung Mountain range, High Mountain Park is the largest forested area east of the NJ Highlands. The 2nd Watchung Mountain range was formed by basalt lava flows extruding over deep sedimentary rock.

Ecological communities featured in High Mountain Park include:

Rocky Headwater Stream:

Rocky Headwater Stream

Rocky headwater stream habitat includes a small to moderate sized rocky stream that lacks persistent emergent vegetation. In other words, few large rooted plants are found but mosses and algae are usually present. The stream flows over bedrock near its origin and contains riffle and pool sections.

Red Maple Swamp:

Red Maple Swamp (Fall)

Red Maple Swamps (as the name suggests) are dominated by Red Maple, a tree that is moderately flood-tolerant.  Skunk Cabbage, False Hellebore, Cinnamon Fern and Spice Bush (along with many other species) are found in Red Maple Swamp habitat.

False Hellebore

In addition to Red Maple Swamps, Shrub swamps are also found in High Mountain Park. This community consists of temporarily to permanently flooded wetlands usually populated with Skunk Cabbage, Buttonbush, Spicebush among others.

Talus Slope Community:

Talus Slope

Talus Slope communities consist of sparse vegetation occurring on exposures of shale bedrock, ledges and talus. Little soil exists on the talus.

 Trap rock Glade/Outcrop Community:

Trap Rock Glade- Outcrop Community (Winter)

The trap rock glade/outcrop community is globally rare and was the principal reason the Nature Conservancy was interested in protecting High Mountain. Trap rock Glade/Outcrop communities, a globally impaired community type, consists primarily of grasses and forbs with occasional Red Cedar.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus may also be present. Hickory-Ash-Red Cedar woodland is also dominated in the trap rock glade/outcrop community. Rare Rock Outcrop Plants include Torreys Mountain Mint and Dewey’s Sedge among other rare plants.

Hickory/Ash/Red Cedar Woodland:

Red Cedar

This community contains the trap rock outcrop community and consists of Pignut Hickory, Eastern Red Cedar, White Ash and Chestnut Oak with the understory consisting primarily of grasses and forbs. This community along with the trap rock glade/outcrop community harbor a total of 14 rare and endangered plants.

Mixed Oak Forest:

White Oak

The mixed oak hardwood forest found in High Mountain Park is dominated by White, Red & Black Oak and includes trees such as Shagbark Hickory, White Ash, Yellow birch, Tulip Poplar and Black Birch.

Tulip Poplar Leaves and Flower

Shagbark Hickory

Black Birch Coppice

Frequent disturbance is required for the oak-hickory forest to maintain itself.  Without disturbance, shade tolerant species such as Sugar Maple and American Beech regenerate replacing oaks over time.  Maple-Beech dominated woodland do not provide sufficient quality mast (i.e. acorns, hickory nuts) required for wildlife.

American Beech

The composition of the present Oak-Hickory forest found in High Mountain Park will likely change as the sapling layer is mostly populated by Sugar & Red Maple with only a few Oak saplings present. This change may be due to fire suppression.

Hemlock-Hardwood Forest:

Wooly Adelgid on Hemlock Needles

Most of the hemlocks found in High Mountain Park Preserve are dead or dying due to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.  Native to East 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.


Preakness Brook

High Mountain Park is a part of the Passaic River watershed. All streams that originate or flow through High Mountain Park drain to the Passaic River. Streams include tributaries to the Point View Reservoir found in the western section of the preserve and tributaries of the Molly Ann Brook (the last stream to drain into the Passaic River before the Great Falls in Paterson) found in the eastern portion of the preserve. The headwaters of Preakness (Signac) Brook are located in High Mountain Park and are classified in this location as C1 by the NJ DEP. 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”.  Numerous tributaries to the Preakness Brook are found primarily in the heart of the preserve.


There are five blazed trails ranging from 0.2 miles to 4.9 miles waiting to be explored at High Mountain Park.  All trails are maintained by volunteers of the NYNJ Trail Conference who have maintained the trails since the 1940’s. Click here for a trail map provided by the Township of Wayne.

Red Trail Trailhead College Road Parking Lot

The trailhead of the 1.7 mile Red Trail is accessible from the small parking lot off of College Road.

Red Trail

From the kiosk in the parking area, the Red Trail heads east on a gravel trail in an open field adjacent to College Road and enters the woods heading in a north to northwest direction.

Massive Boulder on Red Trail

After entering the forest, a large boulder is visible to the west near a sign advertising High Mountain.

To High MTN

From here, the Red Trail passes a stream & wetlands.

Wetlands near Red Trail

At half a mile, the southern trailhead of the Yellow Trail is accessible on the east. Past the trailhead of the Yellow Trail, the Red Trail passes the southern trailhead of the White Trail Trailhead to the west .6 of a mile. Once past the trailhead of the White Trail, the Red Trail crosses a stream and wetlands before continuing in a northwest direction.

Waterfall off of Red Trail

Another stream with a waterfall eventually appears to the east of the Red Trail. The Red Trail crosses the stream proceeding a short distance to its northern terminus at Reservoir Drive in Franklin Lakes.

Reservoir Drive Red Trail End

White Trail Trailhead

The southern trailhead of the 1.6 mile White Trail is accessible from the Red Trail about .6 of a mile from the Red Trail’s trailhead at College Road.

From its trailhead, the White Trail heads west through the wetlands of a Preakness Brook tributary stream. Continuing west the White Trail reaches another Preakness brook tributary and its wetlands.

North Jersey Country Club

From here, the White Trail turns north passing the North Jersey Country Club. Continuing north past the North Jersey Country Club, the White Trail passes a reservoir used for the ponds found in the country club.

North Jersey Country Club Reservoir

From here the White Trail continues north and goes through talus slopes while paralleling and eventually crossing another Preakness Brook tributary. The White Trail ends at the Yellow Trail near Beech Mountain.

White Trail End

Yellow Trail Trailhead from Red Trail

At 4.9 miles, the Yellow Trail is the longest trail present in High Mountain Park.  The southern trailhead of the Yellow Trail is accessible from the Red Trail about ½ a mile from the trailhead of the Red Trail on College Road.

From the Red Trail, the Yellow Trail turns east and crosses a stream and wetlands heading in a northwest and then northeast direction. Soon the Yellow Trail passes the summit of Mount Cecchino to the east.  From here the trail begins a steady climb to the summit of High Mountain. At 885 feet, High Mountain is the third tallest peak in the US within 20 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

High Mountain Grassy Summit Yellow Trail

The grassy summit is about 1 mile from the Yellow Trail trailhead and provides fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline, Garrett Mountain (1st Watchung) and the distant Ramapo Mountains.

Summit of High Mountain View of NYC with Black Cherry Tree in Bloom Yellow Trail

From the summit of High Mountain the Yellow Trail heads west going downhill and crosses a  stream.

After crossing the stream, the Yellow Trail comes to an intersection with the Red Trail.

Once past the intersection with the Red Trail, the Yellow Trail heads northwest to a paved circle on Reservoir Drive in Franklin Lakes and briefly travels along Reservoir Drive before reentering the forest near Winding Hollow Drive in Franklin Lakes.

Reservoir Drive Franklin Lakes NJ

Heading south, the Yellow Trail passes the northern trailhead of the White Trail and then heads south and climbs Beech Mountain. At 875 feet, Beech Mountain is the second highest peak in High Mountain Park.

Swamp Beech Mountain Yellow Trail

The Yellow Trail then traverses past a large forested wetland to the west and crosses a Preakness Brook tributary.  Turning west, the Yellow Trail reaches a beautiful view found on a basalt outcrop of Pointview Reservoir and the distant NJ Highlands.

View of Point View Reservoir with Distant NJ Highlands from Yellow Trail Beech Mountain

The Yellow Trail continues northwest past another Preakness Brook Tributary and heads south and west past the parking lot for JVC Corporation.

Back of JVC Building on Yellow Trail

From here, the Yellow Trail heads northwest and passes the northern terminus of the Horizontal White Blaze connector trail. The Yellow Trail then turns north and traverses through the Franklin Clove.

Yellow Trail Franklin Clove

The Franklin Clove was formed by glacial action in the last ice age.  Continuing north, the Yellow Trail passes by the very short Orange Blazed Buttermilk Falls trail and then ends at Indian Drive in Franklin Lakes.

Buttermilk Falls Orange Trail Blaze

The 0.2 Mile Orange Blazed Buttermilk Falls trail begins from the Yellow Trail shortly after the Yellow Trail passes through the Franklin Clove.  It ends at Scioto Drive in Franklin Lakes. The primary feature of this trail is Buttermilk Falls which spills over fractured basalt.

Buttermilk Falls

Pancake Trail Trailhead

The 2.8 mile Blue Trail (aka the Pancake Hollow Trail) trailhead is located off of Chickapee Drive in Wayne.

Blue Trail Blaze

The Blue Trail initially heads east and turns north at the intersection of the horizontally white blazed connector trail. Heading north, the trail passes the Franklin Clove and the headwaters for Preakness Brook to the east.  The Blue Trail then turns northwest passing between housing developments to the north and south where a lean-to is present.

Lean-To off of Blue Trail

Once past the housing developments, the trail traverses the “pancake hollow” section of High Mountain Park.

Stream along Blue Trail

The Blue Trail continues west crossing over a brook and wetlands. As the blue trail approaches Berdan Avenue at the farthest western portion of High Mountain Park, the trail turns NW and then NE and then continues in a SE direction leaving the Pancake Hollow section returning the hiker in a loop fashion back to the portion of the Blue Trail previously traveled with housing developments to the north and south. From here, the hiker follows the blue trail back to the trailhead at Chickopee Drive.

Blue Trail End

Horizontal White Blaze Trailhead

The 0.2 mile Horizontal White Blaze Connector trail’s western trailhead is accessible from the Blue Trail near the Blue Trail trailhead at Chickapee Drive in Wayne.  The Horizontal White Blaze Connector Trail initially heads southeast from the Blue Trail before turning north to connect with the Yellow Trail near the Franklin Clove where it ends.


Fauna I’ve spotted during my hikes at High Mountain Park include:

American Goldfinch

White-Tailed Deer

White Breasted Nuthatch

American Robin

Black Rat Snake

Eastern Chipmunk

Blue Jay

Red-Tailed Hawk

Cottontail Rabbit

Directions to College Road Parking Lot: (as taken from the NYNJ Trail Conference Website)

Take Route 208 west to the second Goffle Road exit (towards Hawthorne/Paterson) and turn right at the end of the ramp. At the next light, just beyond the intersection with Goffle Hill Road, turn right onto North Watchung Drive. At a “stop” sign at the top of the hill, turn sharply right onto Rea Avenue, which becomes North Haledon Avenue and then Linda Vista Avenue. At a T-intersection with Terrace Avenue, turn right, then bear left to continue on Linda Vista Avenue, which leads into William Paterson University (Entry 6). At the next “stop” sign, turn right and continue for 0.4 mile to a small parking area on the right, with a sign “High Mountain Park.”

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!

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!

Check out the latest bird sightings at High Mountain here!