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Wildlife Diversity Tour - Ridge and Valley Region

The following Wildlife Diversity Tour is adapted from the Ridge and Valley Region section of the New Jersey Wildlife Viewing Guide. The guide is available from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. The tour includes several different viewing areas:

High Point State Park and Stokes State Forest
Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Whittingham Wildlife Management Area
Pequest Wildlife Management Area

High Point State Park and Stokes State Forest

Description: Touch the sky from High Point Monument at the northernmost tip of New Jersey. At 1,803 feet, this highest point in New Jersey provides scenic vistas of the Kittatinny Mountain Ridge as well as the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and New York. Bordering the Delaware River and Valley on the east, spectacular hawk migrations can be seen from these ridges each fall. Typical habitats include upland forest, glacial lakes, streams, hardwood swamps, and ridgetop communities with endangered plant species.

Diversity Tour Information: The many wetlands in High Point State Park and adjacent Stokes State Forest are home to many species including bears, beavers, otters and great blue herons. These areas provide excellent examples of the work of the industrious beaver in creating and expanding freshwater wetlands. What glacial activity began, beavers have perpetuated. The ability of the beaver to construct elaborate dams, lodges and bank dens, and to store food for winter make it one of the few animals capable of modifying the habitat to meet its needs. Walk along the many streams in the valleys to see the impact of beavers on vegetation. Both active dams and abandoned beaver meadows occur along the Big Flatbrook, between Deckertown Turnpike and Sawmill Lake in High Point State Park. Good examples can be seen from Sawmill Road, which runs parallel to the stream.

Look for two distinct zones of vegetation. The wetter sites are more densely covered by shrub thickets made up of alders, willow, and button bush. The less wet sites are forested typically with red maple and yellow birch. Both of these vegetation types are a favorite food source for beavers. Beaver-created wetlands are used by many wildlife species including muskrats, otters and raccoons. Mallards, wood ducks, and black ducks thrive in these small freshwater wetlands as do many reptiles and amphibians.

Take Sunrise Mountain Road to enjoy the remarkable scenery of New Jersey's ridge country complete with views into the neighboring state. The pavilion at Sunrise Mountain is a great spot to watch migrating hawks in the spring and fall.

Also look for rattlesnakes basking in the sun on rocky outcrops on Sunrise Mountain. This region is one of only a few small areas where the timber rattlesnake is still found in New Jersey. The northern New Jersey limestone rock outcroppings provide ideal denning sites. Rattlers tend to return to the same den sites year after year. Overcollecting and indiscriminate killing have reduced the timber rattlesnake to endangered species status in New Jersey.

The 850-acre Dryden Kuser Natural Area in the central portion of the park includes a distinctive cedar swamp and bog. It is the northernmost bog in New Jersey and contains many plants that are more typical of New England than New Jersey. There is a 1.5-mile loop trail around the bog from which you can view the more than 30 species of birds that make the cedar swamp their home. Over 100 species utilize it during the year. The abundant food supplied by the upland vegetation, many species of oaks, black huckleberry and lowbush blueberry, attracts many species of wildlife. White-tailed deer, porcupines, black bears, red foxes and smaller mammals are common. Listen for the pecking of a woodpecker or drumming of a grouse.

Tillman Ravine Natural Area in Stokes State Forest offers visitors another easy, enjoyable walking tour. Tillman Ravine borders Brink Road, which runs from Wallpack Center through Stokes State Forest to Route 206. Begin the one-half mile loop trail from either of the two parking areas along this road marked Tillman Falls Scenic Area. The trail wanders through a very fine example of a hemlock-mixed hardwood forest, over the Tillman Brook, and into an oak-maple forest. The hemlock ravines are important travel corridors for species like black bear and bobcat and provide nesting and feeding habitat for forest dwelling raptors like barred owls and goshawks.

In this forest, some of the trees are over 100 feet in height and almost 4 feet in diameter, and are thought to be over 150 years old. Large clumps of great rhododendron and occasional plants of mountain laurel, witch hazel, and highbush blueberry provide food and cover for black bears. Unfortunately, many of the hemlock-mixed hardwood forests of New Jersey are now infested by an introduced Asiatic insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid. This aphid-like insect sucks juices from the needles of the trees, causing the trees to lose vigor and then die. Some areas of hemlock forest have already been killed and others are likely to follow.

Areas of both High Point and Stokes are open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: High Point State Park: From New Jersey 23 in Sussex Borough, follow NJ 23 north for 7 miles. Park office will be on the left (visible from the highway). Entrance to the park is on the right. Stokes State Forest: From New Jersey 206 in Branchville Township, follow NJ 206 north for 4 miles to state forest office on the right.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Parks and Forestry (High Point State Park) - 973-875-4800; (Stokes State Forest) - 973-948-3820
Size: High Point State Park - 15,827 acres; Stokes State Forest - 16,067 acres.
Closest Towns: Colesville and Branchville

Amenities:parking, restrooms, barrier-free, picnic, camping, boat ramp, small boats, hiking, bicycling, horse trails, entry fee (seasonal)

Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge

Description: The Wallkill River bottomland is one of the few large areas of high quality waterfowl habitat remaining in northwestern New Jersey. The refuge provides critical habitat for migratory waterfowl like American black ducks, mallards, green-winged teal, common mergansers, and Canada geese. The refuge straddles two major migration corridors for waterfowl, which stop to rest and feed along the wetlands of the Wallkill River. Raptors and songbirds are plentiful during spring and fall migration.

Diversity Tour Information: Established in 1990, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge is located along a nine-mile stretch of the Wallkill River. Through ongoing acquisition efforts, this refuge has the potential to encompass 7,500 acres of fish and wildlife habitat. Habitat types will include 4,200 acres of freshwater wetlands, 800 acres of hardwood forest, and 2,500 acres of grasslands and adjacent upland. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land acquisition goals include increasing landscape linkages and wildlife travel corridors in the densely developed and populated northern New Jersey area. Tracts of undeveloped and restored habitats will provide the necessary linkages between other patches of land used for breeding, nesting and over-wintering. This relatively new refuge is a key piece in linking otherwise fragmented habitats.

Refuge management concentrates on preserving, restoring and enhancing the natural diversity of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats along the Wallkill River. Most, if not all, of the wetland areas were drained in the past. Restoration activities will include restoring some of the areas to their natural state and maintaining others as moist soil habitats for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. The grassland and forest areas are very important to raptors and songbirds and, therefore, will be maintained and enhanced for nesting and migrating species. Look for threatened grasshopper sparrows, savannah sparrows, endangered vesper sparrows and upland sandpipers in the former sod farm area which is being managed to provide habitat for both grassland birds and migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.

The Wallkill River lies within the Great Valley, which is bordered by the Kittatinny Ridge on the west and the Highlands mountain ridges on the east. Because of these features, many migratory birds are "funneled" through the Wallkill Valley. More than 225 species of birds occur on the refuge, including 21 species of water fowl, 32 species of waterbirds, 24 species of raptors, and 125 species of songbirds. Raptors and songbirds are plentiful during the fall and spring migrations. The most common mammals are eastern cottontails, gray squirrels, raccoons, beavers, muskrats, red and gray foxes, eastern coyotes and white-tailed deer. Black bears and bobcats are occasionally observed as they pass through the valley.

Early Dutch settlers followed the Wallkill up from the Hudson River. They dubbed the Wallkill River bottomland "The Drowned Lands" because the valley flooded extensively, forming a huge lake in the spring. Before it was effectively drained, settlers used the bottomland meadows as pasturage for cattle. As early as 1760, efforts were made to straighten, dredge, and drain the river corridor to make the land dry enough to farm. The effort didn't succeed until 66 years later when a large canal lowered the water table of the river. Mill owners, however, sought to keep the lands flooded and a battle ensued between the millers and the farmers who wanted the lands drained. These battles were known as the "Muskrat and Beaver" wars. The millers were known as the "beavers". The farmers were known as the "muskrats". The disputes were finally settled in the farmer's favor in 1871.

Recreational activities of all types have historically occurred on and around Wallkill River Refuge. Canoeing is especially popular. The relatively undisturbed nature of the surrounding area has also made it popular for hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. The Wallkill River Refuge is, however, currently closed to most visitor activities, and no facilities exist as of yet. As lands are acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all recreational activities will be evaluated to determine their compatibility with refuge purposes. Generally, wildlife-oriented activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, photography, and wildlife observation will be encouraged. Additionally, the Service will work to develop a public use program that will include such things as interpretive trails, wildlife viewing areas, wildlife related exhibits and educational workshops.

Directions: From Sussex Borough, Take New Jersey 23 south for 2 miles. Turn left onto County Route 565 north (CR 565 joins NJ 23 for 1 mile before turning north) and travel 1.4 miles to the refuge office on the left. Is this the correct new locations and phone- new area codes was to be 973 after May, 1997.

Ownership: US Fish and Wildlife Service - 973-702-7266
Size: 5,100 acres
Closest Towns: Sussex, NJ and Unionville, NY

Amenities:parking, hiking

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Description: The Delaware Water Gap is an amazing geological formation. The gap is a large break in the Kittatinny Ridge through which the Delaware River flows. The recreation area stretches along the northern reaches of the Delaware River in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For 37 miles, from Interstate 80 to the New York border, you can drive through mixed-deciduous woodlands interspersed with large coniferous stands. The Appalachian Trail runs along the eastern edge of the recreation area for half its length; there are a variety of other trails throughout the Recreation Area. Visitors have a good chance of seeing white-tailed deer, porcupines, river otters, wild turkey, and maybe even black bears from the many trails.

Diversity Tour Information: The Visitor Center for the National Recreation Area is nestled in the water gap on the bank of the Delaware River. Stop in to get a map and current information about conditions and viewing opportunities in the park. The Delaware River Valley and water gap is an important travel corridor. For hundreds of years animals and people both used this valley for daily and seasonal movements.

Waterfowl migrate each spring and fall through the valley. A good place to see this seasonal movement is at the Poxono Boat Launch or Copper Mine Trailhead parking area. The launch area offers a great view of the river and Poxono Island where bald eagles roost in winter and osprey are seen from April through September. The area is popular with eagles because they are able to find open water in the river year-round. These fish-eating birds have made a dramatic recovery in the last 25 years. Restoration projects on the river led to improvements in water quality. And that means increases of fish populations, providing food for wildlife. The river and its tributaries also provide food and habitat for river otters. Look for common mergansers and common goldeneyes as well.

The forested ridges on your right as you continue north through historic Millbrook Village are critical habitat for New Jersey's growing black bear and bobcat populations. These mammals hunt and live in the large tracts of undisturbed forest. The wooded ridges give them cover as they travel between habitats. The forest also provides a summer home for timber rattlesnakes leaving their winter den sites in rocky outcrops along the Kittatinny Ridge. The white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and sometimes black bears that can be seen from the roads and trails, feed on acorns and hickory nuts from trees of this mixed-oak forest. Scattered clearings provide good feeding areas while the forest provides cover. In the winter forest look for evening grosbeaks, purple finches, pine grosbeaks, and common redpolls, which are most often seen in the evergreen stands. Late May to early July is the best time to see nesting pileated woodpeckers, cliff swallows, golden-crowned kinglets, solitary vireos, and blackburnian warblers.

Just over the ridge from Millbrook Village is the sparkling Flatbrook River, It's one of New Jersey's premier trout streams. The crystal clear waters support a delicate web of aquatic life that trout depend on for food. The water quality is so high because thousands of acres of forest and wetlands act as pollution filters and sediment traps. From the Flatbrook, go back toward Millbrook and take the first left toward Blue Mountain Lake. A short hike from the parking area takes you to the clear waters of a glacial lake. One of several in the area, glacial lakes were created when glaciers scoured and gouged the ridge tops thousands of years ago.

Continue past Blue Mountain Lake and Long Pine Pond to the ridge top road leading to Crater Lake. Several pull-offs along this road give you breathtaking vistas of the forest, ponds and wetlands in the valley below. These natural communities weave together into a complex that supports hundreds of wildlife species. Several state endangered animals need this unfragmented ecosystem to survive. Barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, Cooper's hawks, timber rattlesnakes and bobcats are a few that rely on these habitats. These ridge top overlooks also provide excellent opportunities to view the fall hawk migration. Look for sharp-shinned, broad-winged, and red-shouldered hawks.

As you leave this site, drive north through the park along the Delaware River. The Old Mine Road is one of the oldest roads in the region, used by Dutch copper miners in the 17th century. Today, it is one of the most beautiful drives in the state with the nationally designated scenic Delaware River on one side and the Kittatinny Ridge on the other.

The recreation area is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: From Interstate 80, take exit 53, the Delaware Water Gap exit. The visitor center is located along the Delaware River just off the exit.

Ownership: National Park Service 908-496-4458 or 570-426-2451
Size: 69,629 acres
Closest Town: Columbia

Amenities:parking, camping, small boats, hiking

Whittingham Wildlife Management Area

Description: An extensive freshwater marsh and diverse upland forests and fields provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. The wetland complex is the headwaters of the Pequest River. Numerous springs originate deep in the limestone bedrock. Bubbling to the surface, the wetlands are shaped with the calcium-rich waters of the springs.

Diversity Tour Information: This site is divided into two distinct viewing areas and habitats. One is the freshwater marsh and wetlands accessible from the parking area off of County Route 611. The other is the limestone-rich upland forests, which you can see from the Springdale Road entrance to the Wildlife Management Area. Plan to make a day of it here, to see all that this marvelous site has to offer. Spring and fall are the best viewing seasons, although summer and winter are still loaded with many great wildlife viewing opportunities.

Freshwater marshes and wetlands like the headwaters of the Pequest were, until recently, considered to be wastelands since they were too wet for most agricultural uses and not suitable as building lots. In many other places in New Jersey, these important ecosystems were drained or filled. Fortunately that was not allowed to happen here and today this wonderful natural area remains intact for wildlife and visitors alike to enjoy. Walk along the edge of the marsh to look for beavers, river otters and other wetlands wildlife. Many species of waterfowl are present in different seasons including nesting wood ducks, American black ducks and mallards. Several different species of turtles use the freshwater marsh as well. They include snapping, wood, and eastern painted turtles.

Whittingham Wildlife Management Area provides an excellent illustration of the upland forests of the fertile limestone valleys of northern New Jersey. Because the soils were so rich, early settlers cleared these areas first and continued to farm them the longest. Today, much of the area is naturally revegetating to a sugar maple-mixed hardwood forest ecosystem. While exploring the forests you should encounter the ruffed grouseżbest known for its explosive flushes when approached too closely. Listen for the reverberating drumming sound males produce to attract mates in the spring.

In other parts of the area, wildlife biologists are maintaining the old farm fields, hedgerows and brushlots for the important wildlife habitats they can provide. In addition, area farmers lease some of the land to plant crops. Farmers are required to leave a percentage of their crops standing to provide food for wildlife.

Many kinds of wildflowers flourish in this Wildlife Management Area because of the limestone rock and calcium rich soil. In the spring look for mayapples, violets of several species, wood anemone, Solomon's-seal, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild sarsaparilla, Canada mayflower and the invasive garlic mustard. In the summer and fall, you should be able to spy woodland asters, goldenrod, grasses and ferns.

The limestone geology also created rich ephemeral pools which are the home to many species of amphibians including gray tree frogs, spring peepers, American toads and spotted salamanders. These small pools, as well as the larger marshes nearby, play an important role in providing not only wildlife habitats, but also in maintaining water quality by absorbing excess nutrients and trapping or filtering sediments. They also act as temporary reservoirs for snowmelt and springtime floodwaters, reducing water turbidity and maintaining a more constant water level downstream to the benefit of humans and wildlife.

The limestone deposits found here are all the evidence that is left of a great inland ocean, which once covered much of the eastern seaboard. When the ancient sea drained, the ocean floor was layered with the shells and skeletons of the many aquatic creatures left behind by the receding waters. Their remains were compacted to form the limestone bedrock, bluffs and other outcrops that you see here today at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area and at other sites in north Jersey.

Natural area with no facilities. The Whittingham WMA is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: From the junction of U.S. Highway 206 and County Route 611, take CR 611 west for approximately one mile to the wetland overlook on the right. From the overlook, go back to U.S. 206 and turn left. Make the next left onto CR 618. Proceed 3.5 miles and turn left onto Springdale Road. Proceed 0.2 mile to the parking area the on left. The trail from the parking area goes through the natural area to Big Spring wetlands.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Fish and Wildlife - 973-383-0918
Size: 1,930 acres
Closest Towns: Newton and Andover

Amenities:parking, hiking, Whittingham WMA map

Pequest Wildlife Management Area

Description: The variety of habitats found at the Pequest Wildlife Management Area, including man-made ponds, river, fields and upland forests, support many species of wildlife. The Pequest Trout Hatchery is used to raise brook, brown and rainbow trout. Guided hatchery tours are available from the Natural Resource Education Center, which also has interactive exhibits about the trout, state wildlife and local geology, and a picnic area. It is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except holidays). Hiking trails through fields and upland forests start from the center parking area.

Diversity Tour Information: The Pequest Trout Hatchery was built on this location because of the abundance of high quality water. Completed in 1982, the high-technology facility is designed to keep trout production costs as low as possible and to prevent transmission of disease. Since 1984, the Hatchery has produced more than 600,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout each year for stocking in some 200 lakes and streams open to public fishing. The hatchery provides ideal growing conditions and minimum human contact with trout. Water needs are especially important. A network of eight wells utilize one of the east coast's largest aquifers, capable of supplying up to 7,000 gallons of water a minute. Special aerators and liguid oxygen injection maintain the high oxygen levels needed by the growing fish. Automated feeding and controlled visitor access keep direct human contact with the fish to a minimum. Spring and fall are the most active seasons at the trout hatchery.

The Natural Resource Education Center contains a wealth of information on New Jersey's wildlife species. Interpretive programs are provided throughout the year. Adjacent to the center, visitors can see a good demonstration of backyard wildlife habitat improvement in the Pequest Butterfly Garden. The garden is active from spring to fall. This is a good place to get some useful ideas to try at home. In just a small space, the garden provides habitat for a tremendous variety of butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bluebirds, tree swallows, songbirds and honey bees. Also look for reptiles and amphibians here.

Before becoming a Wildlife Management Area, much of this site was farmland. Today, approximately 500 acres of the Pequest Wildlife Management Area are leased to local farmers who continue to grow corn and grain. The farmers follow conservation plans to prevent soil erosion and maintain water quality. They also leave a percentage of their crop for wildlife. There are plantings of native grasses near the center, and other fields are in the process of returning naturally to upland forests made up mainly of mixed hardwoods. The combination of upland and stream-side forests, brushy old fields, emerging forests and active cropland supports a great diversity of wildlife.

Hiking trails through fields and upland forests start from the center parking area. A guide to three marked trails is available in the Natural Resource Education Center. Wildlife viewing on the trails includes white-tailed deer, American goldfinches, wild turkeys, eastern chipmunks, hawks and turtles, depending on the season. Look for the bat boxes and bluebird houses near the center which provide homes for bats, swallows and wrens in addition to offering necessary nesting places for eastern bluebirds. Farmland and forest edge mammals include ring-necked pheasants, raccoons, woodchucks, eastern cottontails, and elusive and sometimes difficult to see coyotes. More visibly active during daylight hours, look for American goldfinches and eastern bluebirds in the fields. Bluebirds are insect eaters and begin their nesting season in March. Goldfinches, who are seed eaters, wait until July to nest when a favorite plant, thistle, is available to provide nesting material and seeds for food.

The Pequest WMA is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: From the junction of New Jersey 31 and NJ 46 in Buttzville, take NJ 46 2.8 miles east to the entrance on the right.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Fish and Wildlife - 908-637-4125
Size: 4,805 acres
Closest Town: Oxford

Amenities: parking, restrooms, barrier-free, picnic, hiking, Pequest WMA map

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Last Updated: December 4, 2008