New Jersey, the Garden State – beauty on the brink
By Don Edwards
New Jersey is a state of great diversity which is often overlooked for its amazing wildlife and nature areas. The close proximity of mountains, swamps, lakes and seashore brings together a wide variety of wildlife and vistas.
While this diverse ecosystem is in constant threat due to the states highly dense population, New Jersey does put a premium on preserving wild areas from encroachment. There are numerous wildlife management areas, 36 state parks, 11 state forests, 42 natural areas, 4 national recreational areas, over 800 lakes, more than 100 rivers and creeks, and 127 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline.
This diversity in environment and landscape affords many photographic opportunities. Hawks, turkey and black vultures, eagles, bears, deer, fox, snakes, wild turkeys, stunning sunsets and sunrises, mountain views, ocean views, all within a few hours drive of each other at most.
The state is home to some of the most unique places on the east coast. Along the shore is the The Gateway National recreation area’s Sandy Hook beach area, William Foresyth National sea shore and Cape May while mid state is Allamuchy State Park, High Point state park, the Muscongetcong River. In the West is Appalachian trail, the Delaware Water Gap. These are only a few of the many areas that help define New Jersey as the Garden State.
One of the areas I frequent is Allamuchy State Park located in north western part of the state. The Musconetcong river starts near here, feeding off the waters of Lake Hopatcong which flows into Lake Musconetcong then winds it’s way for almost 47 miles to the Delaware river. If one “puts in” the river along Waterloo Road, above the Sussex Falls, you are treated to magnificent views of the Allamuchy Mountians as the river slowly meanders on it’s way . It is not uncommon to see a large variety of birds such as great blue herons, hawks, as well as turkey vultures. The waters run slow in this section so paddling upstream to Waterloo Village, an early19th-century canal town complete with a restored farm and house, shops, mills and a general store, and a restored Lenni Lenape Indian village complete with dwellings, tools, weapons etc., is an easy task. The calm waters in this section affords many photographic opportunities of amazing scenery and wildlife.
About a half hour drive south from Allamuchy is one of my favorite spots for photography, Willowwood Arboretum, located in the town of Chester in Morris County. The arboretum consists of both wild forest and tended tree collections, farm land, a residence (dating back to 1792) with numerous gardens. There are over 3,000 types of native and exotic plants and trees, my favorite being a giant 98 feet tall dawn redwood.
This facility has a unique history. It was originally named Paradise Farm before being bought by amateur arborist brothers, in 1908, who then renamed the property Willowwood after the natural collection of willow trees that exist in the area.
One can sit at the numerous gardens and photograph the many plants, wonderful scenery of woods, farm house, barns or hike the trails into isolated wooded areas where I usually find an amazing variety of birds from red tail hawks to woodpeckers and hummingbirds.
One of the jewels of New Jersey, if not the entire East Coast is the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The Great Swamp NWR is also located in Morris County, New Jersey and was established by an act of Congress on November 3, 1960. It consists of nearly 7,800 acres of varied habitats and has become a resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds. One can also see fox, deer, muskrat, turtles, fish, frogs and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants. This area also contains the Raptor Trust, one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States and worth a visit.
Moving west you can find the Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area. Here the Delaware river runs through a gap which began to form over four hundred million years ago by a series of collisions of island chains with North America.
The Geologic pressure from these collisions, compressed the bed rock forced the quartzite up, and the Delaware River slowly cut its path through the shattered quartzite. This amazing series of events can be seen as one drives through the gap noticing the conflicting lines and patterns of rock formation.
Hiking on the New Jersey side one can pick up the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachain Trail crosses the Delaware River on the Route 80 Bridge from Pennsylvania and goes up Dunfield Creek to Sunfish Pond and continues northeast to Stokes State Forest. The trail crosses Route 206 and continues along the top of Kittatinny Mountain to High Point State Park where the trail turns east and eventually goes into New York State.
At the start of the trail is Mount Tammany with a summit of 1,540 ft. above sea level. A hike to the summit rewards one with stunning vistas, especially in the fall!
There is a wide array of wildlife to be seen here not to mention the views. While hiking along this area I came across a timber rattlesnake. Warned of it’s presence by it’s loud rattle, this snake, once numerous in this area, is now on the endangered species list in New Jersey and becoming a rare sight.
Sandy Hook/ Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge/ Cape May
Heading to the coast one has numerous opportunities for wildlife photography. Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge/Cape May area is one of the Atlantic Flyway's most active flight paths. As the New Jersey shore is under continued development the value for the protection of water birds and their habitat continues to become more apparent. The Refuge protects more than 40,000 acres of southern New Jersey Coastal Habitats and tidal wetlands. Most of the Forsythe Refuge is tidal salt marsh containing shallow coves and bays. Each year thousands of shorebirds concentrate here during the migration periods, providing an amazing opportunity to view and photograph shorebirds.
While many nature photographers understandably head to other areas more noted for impressive wildlife, amazing vistas etc, New Jersey contains enough diversity, scenic beauty and has some of the most diverse bird populations on the east coast. Cape May is also one of the most important “stop overs” during migration and a favorite of bird watchers and photographers alike. There is more than enough in the state to keep any nature lover and photographer in awe.