Ecology

Grazing in the Stiltgrass: Invasive species cleanup on Bear Mountain

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The Trails for People slope on Sept. 29, before…

As I write this, gentle readers, I am hearing rather loudly from my right wrist and bicep. Basically my entire right arm from the shoulder on down, which is making it hard to type.

But I keep telling myself it’s worth it. For I, along with a group of able-bodied volunteers, just waged a heroic battle against a slope’s worth of stiltgrass, mugwort and garlic mustard at the foot of Bear Mountain.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference was holding another invasive plant removal and native plantings work day on Bear Mountain today, Sept. 29. The work was being held in the Trails for People exhibit, on the slope where the Appalachian Trail comes down the mountain at the Bear Mountain Inn.

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Foraging With Bobcat: Edible Plants

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Robert “Bobcat” Saunders, center, points out a patch of lamb’s quarters, epazote and burdock along the foot of the Palisades in Alpine.

I’ve always wanted to learn more about identifying edible plants along the trail.

I can recognize blackberries and blueberries (both highbush and lowbush) in the wild, and hiking along the Long Path in the Palisades during the summer, I’ve snacked on quite a few wineberries. But what I know about foraging is far outstripped by what I don’t know.

So when I saw that the Palisades Interstate Park Commission would be hosting a talk by Robert “Bobcat” Saunders – who, let it be said, really knows his edible plants – one weekend at the Alpine Boat Basin, I decided to check it out.

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Come for the Popovers, Stay for the Bogwalk: Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park

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A view across Jordan Pond from the southeast portion of the loop trail. In the center are the Bubbles; to the right, Pemetic; to the left, Penobscot.

Taking a bit of a break from the graduate thesis writing to bring you my second posting about Acadia National Park, from our trip earlier in the summer. Last time, I told you about the joys of biking up a really steep trail to Witch’s Hole. So this time, I’m taking you down to the southern end of Acadia, to Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond is a glacial lake formed during the Ice Age, so say the geologists. It is framed in on three sides by mountains: the Bubbles to the north, Penobscot to the west and Pemetic to the east. And on the southern edge you’ll find the Jordan Pond House.

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Watching the Warblers at Watchung

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One of the trailheads for the History Trail at Watchung Reservation, near the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

Well, now, trail heads, you’ve probably been wondering where your trail head in chief has been this winter.

I wish I could tell you that I was off on a long-distance hike in Australia or South America, or perhaps off on a mountain-climbing expedition in the Rockies or the Pyrenees.

But the truth of the matter is, between some ghastly weather in New Jersey this winter, a transition into a new job and not one but two graduate school classes this winter and spring, my hiking time has been severely curtailed. And by extension, so has my blogging time.

This weekend, having finally caught up on some things, I packed up my water bottle, binoculars and copy of “Birds of Eastern North America” and headed someplace I’ve not hiked yet: Watchung Reservation in Union County.

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A three-legged rock, a birds’ nest and a visit with Lucy: Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area

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Tripod Rock, a glacial erratic consisting of a giant boulder perched atop three smaller rocks, is one of the most popular natural features on Pyramid Mountain.

How has Tripod Rock not fallen over after all these years?

That was my first thought upon coming across said natural feature at the top of Pyramid Mountain. And if you’ve ever visited Tripod Rock, that has doubtless been one of your first thoughts as well.

That is exactly what it is: a giant boulder perched atop three smaller boulders, deposited there millennia ago by a moving glacier during the Ice Age. The technical term for it, as I understand, is a glacial erratic. And there it has stood, weathering the ravages of time, storms and probably more than one would-be-vandal.

I actually saw a couple of kids and parents who were gutsy enough to go crawling around in the space underneath the main boulder, all the better for taking selfies. I myself would be a bit squeamish about having that much tonnage of rock directly above me.

So, Erin, you may ask, tell me more about where I might find this mammoth Mesozoic monstrosity? Well, sit ye down, children, and I’ll tell you all about it – and some other cool features besides.

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Everything’s coming up wildflowers: Replanting a trail at Bear Mountain

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The new sign for the Trails for People exhibit behind Bear Mountain Inn.

This is a public service announcement from your esteemed blogger-in-chief.

If you’re going to put in new hedging around your house, do NOT plant barberry. Please. Your friendly neighborhood invasive species removal crews will be eternally grateful. (Besides, a couple of states have made it illegal to plant barberry, because it’s such a nuisance of a plant.)

There.

As many of you probably know, it was National Trails Day on Saturday, June 4. I’d joined the Invasive Species Task Force from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference up at Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park in just-barely-upstate-New York the year before. We’d spent an energetic – albeit prickly  – morning removing barberry bushes, a shrub once popular for hedging but now deemed an invasive species, hence the PSA. I was game to try again – and crews would be planting some native species plants along the now barberry-free slope.

My mom was up for a visit and she was game to join in, so Saturday morning found us making the amble up the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

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This one’s for the birds: Forays into birdwatching

I like learning new skills to bring with me when I’m out hiking – how to box a compass, how to recognize different kinds of plants, how to geocache.

And now, your blogger-in-chief is taking an interest in birdwatching.

Some bird watchers are experts; I am of the “I can recognize robins, cardinals and finches, but for anything else I have to go looking through the guidebook” level of birdwatching skill.

Why do so many people enjoy birdwatching?

Birds are beautiful (though some might beg to differ in the case of, say, a vulture), often entertaining, and most importantly, vital to a functioning ecosystem. Basically, if you don’t have birds, then you’ve got a serious problem. After all, that’s where Rachel Carson got the title for “Silent Spring;” she noticed, one day, that there weren’t any birds singing. And birdwatching gives you a sense of how many of what kinds of species there are.

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Sugaring Sap and Syrup in the Snowy Swamp: Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, Chatham, NJ

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The view from the wildlife observation deck off the orange trail at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center.

I always figured that Vermont and Canada had pretty much cornered the market on maple syrup. Which is pretty much the case. But New Jersey has a maple sugaring season, too – granted, around here it’s much shorter than it is to the north.

I learned a few things about maple sugaring in late January, when I headed down to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham for a short group hike and a maple sugaring demo.

The center, near where Essex, Union and Morris counties come together, is part of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

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Castle Vista, Midnight Madness and Blackberries: Ole Bull State Park, Potter County, Pa.

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View from the summit of Castle Vista, the site of Ole Bull’s home in the New Norway colony.

I’d like to share with you a little bit about the last stop we made on the Pennsylvania Park Hop back in the summer; on our last full day, we paid a visit to Ole Bull State Park in Potter County.

There are quite a few hiking trails that run through the park, several of which are also graded as snowmobile trails in the winter. (In fact, in this part of Pennsylvania, you’ll see quite a few road signs marking snowmobile trails.)

The park is included in the Susquehanna Trail System – it’s an entire network of hiking trails running through the Susquehanna River Valley in Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. So you’ll find one of the trails (orange-blazed) running through the park, one of the longer walks here. There are a number of shorter walks, including the Castle Vista Trail, the Daugherty Loop and the Beaver Dam Nature Trail, all three of which we checked out.

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Looking Over the Overlook Trail: Leonard Harrison State Park, Tioga County, Pa.

The Pine Creek Gorge, seen from the Otter View platform on the Overlook Trail.

The Pine Creek Gorge, seen from the Otter View platform on the Overlook Trail.

Well, trail heads, rumor has it that it is officially fall. And considering the sudden plunge in temps that has necessitated getting my turquoise down jacket out of storage, I believe it.

So at this time of year, the blog should be talking about things like fall foliage hikes, winter gear and what the heck is up with that whole pumpkin spice thing. And I’ll get to that, I promise.

But I’m going to give you a last little taste of summer with another feature from last August’s Pennsylvania park hop.

In between Cherry Springs and Darling Run, biking, stargazing and the occasional bear sighting, we paid a quick visit to Leonard Harrison State Park, near Wellsboro in Tioga County.

This park, part of the Tioga State Forest, has a handful of hiking trails – the Pine Creek Rail Trail down at the bottom of the gorge, the steep and winding Turkey Path trail, and the Overlook Trail (which is the one we hiked). But the reason that most people come is the view – and what a view it is.

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