Bird Count at Closter Nature Center Reveals More Than a Dozen Species

By Steve Kelman, Trail Walker Contributor

Downy Woodpecker (Photo credit: Steve Kelman)

Downy Woodpecker (Photo credit: Steve Kelman)

On what may prove to be one the coldest days of this winter season, a small group of birding enthusiasts gathered at the cabin in front of the Closter Nature Center to take part in the Bergen County Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count.

After a spate of unusually warm December weather, the mercury took a nosedive on this particular Saturday morning (Dec. 19) as this assemblage took to the Center’s nature trails in an effort to learn about and identify resident birds and waterfowl as part of the Audubon Society’s 67th annual event. More than a dozen species of birds were identified on our walk, which took us through a mix of wetlands and woodlands and around two ponds located within the Nature Center property: Ruckman and the “Hockey,” or Second Pond.

Screech Owl (Photo credit: Steve Kelman)

Screech Owl (Photo credit: Steve Kelman)

A highlight of the morning was getting a rare opportunity to view a screech owl as it rested (trying not to be seen, I’m sure) in an exposed tree stump along the Center’s Fern Trail. A serious effort was required to see this very small owl due to the fact that it perfectly blended in with its environs. Among the other bird species observed on our walk were tufted tit mouse, white breasted nuthatch, kingfisher, mallards, mourning doves, grackle, black capped chickadee, cardinal, downy and red headed woodpeckers, a pair of turkey vultures, and a red tail hawk. Some of these birds also were seen at feeders located near the cabin and Nature Center parking lot.

In addition to the numerous bird species, other wildlife was also observed on this outing. A group that took a separate trail spotted a coyote from what was, they said, “a safe distance.” And then there were others who watched “a floating log” on Ruckman Pond; that log was none other than a resident muskrat fishing for his breakfast.

 House Sparrow, left, and House Finch (Photo credit: Steve Kelman)

House Sparrow, left, and House Finch (Photo credit: Steve Kelman)

The Christmas Bird Count took place throughout Bergen County. The objective was “to count all birds within a 15-mile diameter circle centered at the River Edge train station,” according to information in the Bergen County Audubon Society’s Newsletter, The Blue Jay. The official count period was from December 16 through 19; more than 80 species of birds were identified, Bergen County Audubon President Don Torino said.

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Registration Now Open for April 15-17 Dry Stone Wall Workshop at Trail Conference Headquarters

Photo simulation of the dry stone wall to be built at Trail Conference Headquarters this spring. (Photo credit: Brian Post)

Photo simulation of the dry stone wall to be built at Trail Conference Headquarters this spring. (Photo credit: Brian Post)

Registration is now open for the first of two freestanding dry stone wall workshop weekends scheduled to take place at Trail Conference Headquarters in Mahwah, N.J, this spring. These two-day workshops, held in partnership with The Stone Trust from Dummerston, Vt., will take place at our new HQ at the historic Darlington Schoolhouse April 15-17 and May 28-30. (Registration for the May workshop will open soon.) The third day of each course is optional to learn about worksite prep and management. All skill levels are invited to participate.

The purpose of these workshops is to expose the art and craft of dry stone walling to the larger Trail Conference community and our partners, as well as to construct a dry stone wall along the front of our new HQ at the historic Darlington Schoolhouse. Our thanks goes to Ramapo College of New Jersey, which has donated local fieldstone for the project, and Legacy Stoneworks, Inc. / The Hillburn Granite Company, Inc., which has donated quarried stone for the wall.

Our partner in this project, The Stone Trust, advocates for the preservation of existing dry stone walls and promotes using the correct structural standards for the construction and restoration of dry stone walls. The instruction for this workshop will be led by three of the top Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA-GB) Certified Dry Stone Walling Instructors in North America.

We’ll be updating this blog, as well as our calendar of events and Trail University page, throughout the winter with news on these workshops, registration details for the May courses, and more. Stay tuned… and don’t forget to register for the April courses today!

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A Closer Look at Snow Fleas

By Hope Rogers, Trail Walker Contributor

Snow Fleas

Although we rarely notice them, snow fleas are all around us on the forest floor, performing their crucial role in the food chain. (Photo credit: Angie Oliver, Packbasket Adventures, Wanakena, NY)

On a bright winter day, have you ever noticed what look like specks of dark soot in the snow, especially at the base of trees? And then, upon closer inspection, the “specks” are crawling and jumping? What are those things?

Those minuscule, lively creatures are a type of springtail, Hypogastrura spp., commonly known as snow fleas. They’re actually with us all year long, and in huge abundance. They can be found throughout the forest, living in leaf litter, in moss and fungi, and around ponds. They even walk on water, their light bodies supported by the water’s surface tension. However, without the white background of snow, their tiny dark bodies, approximately 1/16 of an inch long, are rarely noticeable.

Snow fleas, like fleas, are tiny jumpers. However, they aren’t fleas or even flea relatives. Fleas are parasitic insects; snow fleas are wingless arthropods that never use human or animal hosts. Snow fleas’ jumping mechanism is also different from fleas, which propel themselves upward on powerful legs and toes. Snow fleas have two forked tails, or “furcula,” that they hold folded under them. When they release the hook-like structures that hold the furcula in place, the tails “spring” out, propelling the tiny creatures willy-nilly into the air.

Snow fleas are an important link in the forest food chain. They are decomposers, consuming decaying plant material in the soil, breaking down nutrients into forms that plants can take up. In late winter or early spring, they sometimes form huge colonies, as wide as a yard, devouring the algae that grow on wet, decomposing leaf litter in the melting snow. They are also eaten by slightly larger creatures, including salamanders, daddy long-legs, beetles, and centipedes.

One thing snow fleas must have is moisture. They breathe through their skin rather than through a respiratory system, which makes them vulnerable to drying out. So they move around in search of moist, sheltered locations. Every spring, springtails mate, and the females lay eggs in the soil. Tiny springtail nymphs emerge from the eggs and begin to grow, repeatedly molting their exoskeletons. By winter they have developed into the mature creatures we see in snow.

Snow fleas and other springtail varieties possess a rare characteristic: they make their own “anti-freeze,” a protein that prevents ice crystals from forming in their cells. This recently discovered protein is unlike other known proteins; scientists are studying its structure in the hope of using it in applications such as safely chilling human organs destined for transplant, and perhaps for producing ice cream that never develops ice crystals. Protected by their “anti-freeze,” snow fleas venture out on sunny winter days in search of decaying plant matter and sap oozing from trees.

Although we rarely notice them, snow fleas are all around us on the forest floor, performing their crucial role in the food chain. Look for them on sunny, snowy days, especially in late winter and early spring.

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Dry Stone Walling Workshops to Be Held at Trail Conference Headquarters This Spring

Dry Stone Wall Workshop

We’re partnering with The Stone Trust for two workshops to construct a dry stone wall along the front of our new headquarters and promote the art of the craft. (Photo credit: Kevin Simpson)

This spring, the Trail Conference will be offering two freestanding dry stone wall workshops at our headquarters in Mahwah, N.J. The purpose of these workshops is to expose the art and craft of dry stone walling to the larger Trail Conference community and our partners, as well as to construct a dry stone wall along the front of our new HQ at the historic Darlington Schoolhouse.

These two-day workshops will take place at Trail Conference headquarters April 15-17 and May 28-30. The third day of each course is optional to learn about worksite prep and management. All skill levels are invited to participate.

Our dry stone wall workshops are a partnership between the Trail Conference and The Stone Trust from Dummerston, Vt. The Stone Trust advocates for the preservation of existing dry stone walls and promotes using the correct structural standards for the construction and restoration of dry stone walls.

We’ll be updating this blog, as well as our calendar of events and Trail University page, throughout the winter with news on workshop cost, registration details, and more. Stay tuned!

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Where There’s a Hearth, There’s Mirth

By Gary Willick, Fulfillment Specialist

Fireplace at the Bear Mountain Inn.

Fireplace at the Bear Mountain Inn. (Photo credit: Gary Willick)

As an adult, I discovered that most of the people I had known in my hometown of Teaneck, NJ, had moved away; I myself had moved to Closter, NJ. When visiting my parents and the old stomping grounds, I found that a casual trip to Cedar Lane or the local park no longer meant running into someone I had been friends with or a fellow musician I had played jazz with.

This lonely state of affairs was occasionally improved by the welcoming smell of a lit fireplace on one of my walks around town. More than reminding me of my childhood days of sitting around our own fireplace, it signified to me that other people, your average Joe and Virginia, were still enjoying the smell of burning wood and the enchantment of jumping flames. And that held the promise of welcoming faces and a friendly environment, especially on a cold but hearty winter day.

Sure enough, in my last year living in Closter, I discovered a local establishment that lit regular fires in a friendly situation and had the best burger in town to boot: the Schraalenburgh Farm. (What a relief to see that farmland still existed here! Stopping by the Farm is, to me, akin to a trip to the Jersey Shore in summer, with its well-known salubrious qualities.) Coming home to a warm living room after a winter hike always felt good, but now I had something even better to look forward to: buying a hot chocolate, taking off my wet hat and letting it warm by the fire, and enjoying the visions I perceived in the red and yellow spires.

At age 50 I moved back to the Teaneck area, only to recently discover three more places in the New York metropolitan area that have fireplaces close to hiking. (The list first appeared in an article for the Poughkeepsie Journal on creating your own après-hike itinerary. You can also find the list below.) That encouraging smell of burning wood from my walks in solitude had proven itself to be the hoped for indicator.

Situated near trails, these four fireplaces are more likely to be enjoyed by fellow hikers. This provides ample opportunity to share trail tales and more. It is all the more meaningful now, considering recent findings by the EPA that residential fireplaces are harmful in numerous ways to those breathing the burning wood particulates. My father no longer uses his fireplace for that very reason, but the environments these fireplaces are situated in are all in large rooms or outside open spaces, rendering the harmful effects much less deleterious. And visiting each place at most three times a season is far more favorable to the lungs than sitting in my own living room in front of a fire every week.

While enjoying these communal fireplaces, every person sees something different in the flames,. Everyone has some different story to tell, so the spirit of individualism that America is so proud of seems to be kept alive by the same substance that kept prehistoric man alive, warming him as he sat in his coat of fur and feeding him as he cooked the meat from the animal he had just hunted. We are reminded of how much we need each other and how important it is that we recognize our differences and foibles precisely in order to get along. Getting deep in to the woods helps us escape our technology-laden world and finishing our hike by gazing in to a hearth lets us travel in to our past and in to ourselves as well.

When we stare back at the jumping hot plumes, we can gain insight into what aspects of our history are worth preserving, and what things are better left behind. Our buildings, our institutions, even the planets and the stars, are in a constant state of flux. But when I sit myself down in front of a hot fireplace, I am reminded that the pace and direction of this flux is best set by the natural processes that have governed it as far back as anyone can imagine. I see how a simple, natural, and ancient thing like fire can put me in such a relaxed mood, able to perceive that the flames only appear to be racing. While change is a constant, and not always an improvement, it doesn’t have to always be accelerated or proceed without preserving things that we may need more than we are aware of.

Four Fireplaces to Visit Post-Hike

Schraalenburgh Farm, Closter, NJ
Hike: This pleasant, level hike loops around the 136-acre Closter Nature Center.
Après-hike: Fires are lit in wood-burning stoves situated outside the Country Farm Stand next to the Abram Demaree Homestead. The setting is cozy and there are tables under the awning. Fires are run most days during the cold season. Get the burger! The farm stand is open this winter, pending any future frigid weather, Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ
Hike: This loop trail touches the High Point obelisk, the New York border, and Lake Marcia, and is among the most popular trails in the Kittatinny Range.
Après-hike: Winter trail use guidelines are in effect through April 1, requiring a trail pass for all trails north of Route 23 (with the exception of the Appalachian Trail) when there is adequate snow cover for skiing. Passes may be purchased at the High Point Cross Country Ski Center, which features a fireplace and concessions.
A fire will be lit at the Interpretive Center during special events like the annual Winter Festival on Saturday, Jan. 30. The fireplace area is open to everyone during special events, even if you don’t participate in the activities. A donation of $5 per person to benefit the Friends of High Point State Park is recommended.

Bear Mountain, Rockland County, NY
Hike: This loop hike climbs Bear Mountain on a newly built section of the Appalachian Trail and descends on the Major Welch Trail, passing a number of panoramic viewpoints.
Après-hike: The historic Bear Mountain Inn, situated at the foot of Bear Mountain, offers a more upscale post-hike experience. The beautifully restored fireplace is lit Thursday through Sunday nights during dinner hours at Restaurant 1915, but you don’t have to purchase a meal to enjoy the comfy couches and crackling flames.

Campgaw Mountain County Reservation, Bergen County, NJ
Hike: This loop hike climbs gradually to the summit of Campgaw Mountain, with a sweeping view of Bergen County and the New York City skyline.
Après-hike: The fireplace at the Campgaw Mountain Ski Lodge is lit when the ski lift is running. The good news: They’ve currently got a solid base of man-made snow and are open daily.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Hikes, New Jersey Trails, New York Trails, Trails, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mahwah’s Historic Preservation Commission Honors Trail Conference with Heritage Award

Trail Conference Mahwah Schoolhouse Award

Trail Conference staff and members who accepted the award: Walter Aurell, Architect, CPLA; Tibor Latinscics, Engineer, Conklin Associates; Edward Goodell, Executive Director, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference; Christopher Connolly, Chair, Board of Directors New York-New Jersey Trail Conference; Jennifer Easterbrook, Campaign Manager, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference; Irene Auleta, Volunteer, Stakeholder Action Team for Darlington Schoolhouse

At the Mahwah council meeting on Jan. 21, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference was honored for our work in restoring the Darlington Schoolhouse and repurposing the historic building as our new headquarters.

Presented by Commission Chair Barbara Shanley and members Anne Powley and Deborah Grob, the Heritage Award is a great honor.

“I am delighted to be here tonight to present our Heritage Award to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, to honor them for their monumental achievement over the past 10 years, of successfully restoring and rehabilitating the Historic Darlington Schoolhouse at 600 Ramapo Valley Road” said Commissioner Anne Powley at last night’s award presentation given to the Mayor and council members of Mahwah.

Powley went on to tell the council, “We think that when you look up the words ‘commitment,’ and ‘dedication,’ and perseverance in your dictionary, one of the definitions should be ‘New York-New Jersey Trail Conference,’ because of what they accomplished in this 10-year project. You will agree, if you go onto the Trail Conference’s website and read the restoration timeline they have posted.

“The Darlington Schoolhouse was built by Alfred B. Darling, and Theodore Havemeyer, both owners of large farm estates on Ramapo Valley Road in the early 1900s. These two gentlemen farmers wisely hired one of the best and most well-known architects of their time, Dudley Newton, to design the school building.

“In 1891 the schoolhouse was completed, and donated to Mahwah by Darling and Havemeyer, specifically to be utilized as a school. It served that noble purpose for many years. In the mid-’70s it ceased to be used for education, and sat vacant for almost 40 years.  Some prospective buyers expressed interest, but were discouraged by the deterioration and the work that would be needed to bring it back to its former glory.  This stately building continued to be empty, crying out for rescue.

“The Trail Conference was looking for a new headquarters location, and Executive Director Edward Goodell was told to take a look at the Darlington Schoolhouse by a friend, Tibor Latinscics, a Civil Engineer with Conklin Associates. Tibor encouraged Ed to go see it, which he did in 2003.  Ed has said on numerous occasions that when he first saw the schoolhouse, despite its severe deterioration, he knew immediately that it would be the perfect building for the Trail Conference headquarters. But he also knew it would take huge sums of money to restore it properly.  Not discouraged, Ed began to work on a restoration plan that would convince the Trail Conference Board members that the Darlington Schoolhouse would be a wonderful home for their new headquarters, and restoring it would be a worthy project. Ed was obviously very convincing, or we would not be presenting an award to them tonight.

“To say there were major obstacles along the way puts it mildly. The work of raising the millions of dollars to fund the work alone was daunting, in addition to the structural assessments, stabilization, research, historic restoration details, environmental studies and engineering, county state and local board approvals of certain phases, that needed to happen.

“This building is protected on the National, State and Township historic registers, which means that all exterior work had to meet with approvals of those boards.   While they were proposing to renovate the original building, they also proposed to put a two-story addition onto the back, for meeting rooms, and offices, so they needed to prepare more applications and approvals for that.   Their parking needs created a whole different set of environmental EPA issues because they are located near the Darlington Brook.  Basically, in every way, this is a story of just plain hard work on the parts of all the Trail Conference Members, Bergen County, NJ State and local historic groups, architects, engineers, construction experts, and grant writers.  But these and other obstacles were surmounted between 2004 and 2015, so that the Darlington Schoolhouse restoration and rehabilitation was completed in March 2015.

“There are so many people in the Trail Conference, as well as many outside the organization, who contributed to the work and donations needed to bring this project to completion.  We wish we could thank each one individually, but we would be here until midnight just naming them. We thank them all now, for their valuable contributions. They pulled all the stops out, never losing their vision for this project.

“While our award is for all the Trail Conference members, we would be remiss not to  acknowledge  the dynamic  leadership and determination of their Director Ed Goodell,  who steered the project through  sometimes choppy waters, and also the work of  Civil Engineer Tibor Latinscics, for  providing  pro bono all the engineering  work  and presentations to commissions and boards.  We also acknowledge the important contributions of Carol Greene, our Township Historian who provided valuable assistance in researching the schoolhouse history, providing photographs, restoration advice, and encouragement.

“We also would like to thank the members of the 2007 Township Council for their foresight and wisdom in agreeing to purchase the schoolhouse with the Trail Conference, thereby becoming co-owners.  Without that key initial financial support, this remarkable restoration story might not have had such a happy ending.”

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My Experience Interning at the Trail Conference (I Didn’t Even Need Hiking Boots!)

By Elissa D’Aries, Former New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Intern


Elissa D’Aries interned at the Trail Conference in 2015.

As a not-outdoorsy literature major who would admittedly rather be sitting inside rereading Jane Eyre than hiking Bear Mountain, I never imagined interning at the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Still, when my career adviser suggested that I spend part of my precious last semester at Ramapo College interning for the Trail Conference, I was interested. What kinds of tasks would they have someone like me, who doesn’t know anything about trail maintenance, do?

Now that I’ve wrapped up my internship, I must say that they had plenty of interesting tasks for me to do—and none of them involved me even going outside! In my first and longest task, I worked with the amazing Jeremy Apgar, the Trail Conference’s cartographer, to edit the descriptions and directions for the 20-part Long Path map set. I also researched potential contacts for the organization, edited park descriptions, and helped edit this very blog, among other tasks. All of these duties either had to do with writing, which is related to my major and (fingers crossed) my eventual career, or office work. As a recent college graduate, I quickly learned that even entry-level jobs require some office experience, so having this internship gave my resume a much- needed edge—and helped me land my first job!

Not only did this experience help me with my job search, it also allowed me to get to know a diverse group of great workers and volunteers. I may not have known what to expect before starting my internship, but now I would recommend it to anyone—even those who quiver in fear at the thought of strapping on hiking boots.

If you’re interested in interning at the Trail Conference—on or off the trail—email John Leigh or call him at 201.512.9348 x 22.

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