The Darlington Schoolhouse is located in a hiker’s paradise, offering the perfect backdrop of the scenic Ramapo Mountains, home to a vast population of native wildlife and plants. Located 1,000 feet from a popular Bergen County trailhead at Ramapo Reservation, the new Trail Conference headquarters will welcome visitors to explore the building and hop onto a popular trail for a day of hiking with beautiful vistas and historic features. Our new headquarters at Darlington will be more than just a place to stop in to buy maps and ask experienced volunteers trail questions; we are preserving the natural surroundings and restoring habitat.
Our approach for the landscape outside of the headquarters will incorporate a detailed plan of native species and restoring wildlife habitats. Part of the riparian landscape along Darlington Brook will restore the habitat of the wood turtle, a threatened species in New Jersey. Darlington Brook’s soft bottom and muddy shores is the ideal location for the wood turtle to wait out the winter season.
This past week the Trail Conference experienced nature and the need to protect the wetlands around the schoolhouse firsthand. The winter chill has set in with the days barely reaching 20 degrees. Edward Goodell, Executive Director, was giving a tour of the schoolhouse before the weekend’s storm. Ed and his guests were taken back when they spotted an owl settled in a leaf pile at the base of the schoolhouse. It was apparent that this owl was in serious need of veterinarian care with its eye swollen shut and its inability to fly when approached.
Luckily, New Jersey has a safe haven for injured birds: The Raptor Trust, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to rehabilitate raptors. They are located 50 miles south of the schoolhouse on the outskirts of Great Swamp National Wildlife. The owl was brought to The Raptor Trust and identified as a Great Horned Owl, identified by their pronounced, widely spaced “ear” tufts, yellow eyes, and white throat patch. Our hope was to place the owl in the care of professionals who would be able to rehabilitate this beautiful creature back to health. Sadly, the owl’s eye infection had advanced into the brain cavity, leaving euthanasia the most humane course of action. With the next day’s storm and low temperatures, it was a relief that our owl was no longer outside to endure the wintery mix and was able to rest in peace. The cause of the owl’s injured eye is unknown. Perhaps, if the Trail Conference had been in the building, we could have retrieved him sooner and may have saved his life. Certainly, this sad event makes us even more committed to providing high quality habitat on our property for our wild friends in need.