Hiking

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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Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, NY

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One of the QR-code signposts found along the Old Croton Aqueduct.

I’m always joking that if Washington Irving wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow today, Brom Bones would never be able to ride down from Ossining in time for the Van Tassels’ party because he’d be stuck in traffic on Broadway.

Now, the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, on the other hand, just up the hill from Tarrytown’s business district…you can definitely imagine the Headless Horseman barreling through here. Yes, never mind that the aqueduct, now the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park, was built quite a bit after Irving’s time. Today, instead of water, it carries walkers, hikers, bikers, and on certain sections of the trail, horseback riders. And yours truly got to check out the trail – long an item on my hiking to-do list – during a weekend outing with the family back in November.

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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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A Mountaintop Perch: Eagle Rock Reservation, Essex County, NJ

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The green trail will take you past this brook along the western edge of the reservation.

Here in the burbs of northern New Jersey, you’d probably expect that it’s hard to find a decent patch of woods in which to go hiking. But thankfully, we have a few such patches, including one that is literally up the hill from me.

Eagle Rock Reservation is perched high up on the ridge of the First Watchung, straddling the town lines of Montclair, Verona and West Orange. Like South Mountain Reservation down in Millburn, Eagle Rock is under the aegis of the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

We finally got a weekend where the temperatures weren’t bone-chillingly freezing, or that it was either raining or snowing cats and dogs. So I spent that Sunday afternoon treating myself to a few hours of light hiking.

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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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Auld Lang Signpost

IMG_5438Another year gone by already – well, that didn’t take long. And it’s apparently that time of year again to reflect on how 2015 was for hiking.

My hiking time this fall was a bit limited, especially due to a rather brain-draining graduate school project that I had to wrap up over the last few weeks. (It’s also the reason why the blog’s been a little quiet of late. So I beg your indulgence on that one, oh trail heads.)

All things considered, it was a pretty awesome year for outdoor pursuits.  I got to take on a short chunk of the Appalachian Trail back in June, during a National Trails Day gathering up at Bear Mountain. Took a first run out on some cool multi-use trails, including the Columbia Trail out in western New Jersey and the Pine Creek Rail Trail out in central Pennsylvania.

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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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Big Boys, Swizzle Sticks and Swampers: Lessons in Trail Maintenance

The participants in the Intro to Trail Maintenance: Trail U 1000 workshop assemble in the parking area off East Shore Road as Peter Dolan (center, green shirt), gives start-of-day instructions.

The participants in the Intro to Trail Maintenance: Trail U 1000 workshop assemble in the parking area off East Shore Road as Peter Dolan (center, green shirt), gives start-of-day instructions.

One recent Saturday morning in northern New Jersey, a group of people went outside to do some yard work.

In this case, however, the “yard” was a loop trail going through the Long Pond Ironworks State Park in West Milford. And the group of people, yours truly included, was out to learn the basics of keeping a trail in hike-able condition.

This was one of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s series of Introduction to Trail Maintenance workshops. And it was a milestone, too: the 1,000th scheduled course. So there was a hint that the day could cap off with some sparkling cider.

Our target for the day was the Jennings Hollow loop trail (yellow-blazed). It looks kind of like an elongated lollipop on the map – on its southeastern edge, the long connector trail will take you over to the Highland Trail as it heads toward upstate New York.

The trail was in need of some serious TLC, having not had very much in the way of maintenance since Hurricane Irene.

So this is where we came in.

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Pine Creek Rail Trail: Darling Run to Tiadaghton, Tioga County, Pa.

A horse-drawn wagon tour comes down the Pine Creek Rail Trail at Darling Run.

A horse-drawn wagon tour comes down the Pine Creek Rail Trail at Darling Run.

Did you know that Pennsylvania’s got its own Grand Canyon? I wasn’t either, truth be told, before we came out there earlier in August. But this particular Grand Canyon runs north-south down Tioga County in the north-central part of the state, the result of glaciers having run roughshod over the area back during the Ice Age. The result is the Pine Creek Gorge.

Pine Creek was an important travel route in the area for a very long time; the Senecas had a well-traveled footpath along the creek banks. Starting in the nineteenth century, the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek and Buffalo Railroad (which connected to the New York and Central Railroad) ran down through this gorge along the banks of Pine Creek, as the region became home to a thriving lumber industry.

The train tracks, the stations and the rail towns are (mostly) gone now, but the rail bed still exists, repurposed as the Pine Creek Rail Trail starting in the 1990s. The trail and the two nearby state parks are all part of the Tioga State Forest.

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