Tuesday, January 23, 2007


My favorite hiking destinations have one common trait: they follow the stream, upstream or downstream, it doesn't matter. Most of these special places feature steep slopes where the dominant tree species if Eastern Hemlock. It it is tree of the north woods. It's Pennsylvania's state tree. A Hemlock is happiest when nestled in a deep stream valley, overhanging a waterfall or rushing brook. The Poconos and Catskills are prime hemlock territory.

Down here in the piedmont hills of Bucks and Hunterdon Cos. hemlocks are limited to the north facing slopes along the creeks and rivers. An outstanding and easily accessible place to see the Hemlock in abundant splendor is the lower Tohickon Creek trail in Tohickon Valley Park, which is located in Pt. Pleasant, PA. Look for the trailhead on the west bank of the Tohickon immediately above the bridge in the heart of the village. If you're driving north from Stockton and Center Bridge there are beautiful patches of hemlock, laurel, and rhododendron on your left, heading north along River Road (Rt. 32).

You will see some magnificent specimen trees. But you will also see sick and dying hemlocks, and this often makes me sad, not because my favorite sanctuaries are being defiled, but because the loss of the grand Eastern Hemlock to the tiny wooly adelgid and other pests would forever change the appearance of the northern forrests, and the loss of shade and nutrients needed by the mountains streams would degrade water quality. The following article shows that at least somone is taking steps to address the problem. A ray of hope in a sea of trouble.

From the Pocono Record
Park Service implements plan to save hemlocks from invasive bug
November 26, 2006

A forest stabilization and restoration project at Raymondskill Falls is under way to protect eastern hemlocks, the Pennsylvania state tree, from further destruction by the hemlock woolly adelgid HWA in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area.

The project will also foster growth of native vegetation in case efforts to protect the hemlocks are not successful, according to National Park Service officials.

Hemlocks here and elsewhere in the park have been infected by HWA, a small, aphid-like insect native to Japan. HWA was first reported in the East in the mid-1950s and has since spread throughout the area. Many hemlocks have since died or are dying; many others have suffered serious defoliation.

Eastern hemlock is an important part of the forest canopy and is found in 141 discrete stands covering about 3,000 acres of the park ­-- many of them designated as "outstanding natural features with high intrinsic or unique values." Many scenic waterfalls are associated with hemlock stands, and recreational activities — hiking, trout-fishing, and bird-watching — are concentrated in these areas.

The project area covers roughly 6 acres. Part of the area, about two-and-a-quarter acres, is surrounded by an eight-foot-high fence in order to protect tree seedlings and saplings from deer browsing.

The multi-phase project has a number of objectives:
· Remove exotic plants: A National Park Service exotic plant management team worked on the site this past spring and summer, chemically treating or mechanically removing exotic non-native species such as multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, garlic mustard and Japanese stilt grass. These treatments will continue next year.
· Foster regeneration of hemlocks and other native plants: Chemical treatments are also being made to the areas to protect hemlock trees from HWA infestations. About 80 hemlocks were treated this past spring, and a team from Villanova University is analyzing the effectiveness of these treatments. About 50 saplings have also been planted. As noted above, fencing is also being used to protect the area and make it possible for young hemlocks and other native species white pine, oaks, maples, birches and others to grow to maturity.
· Minimize erosion: Nearby trails are being improved and better defined in order to minimize the erosion that often stems from heavy visitor foot traffic.

The park has also placed a number of signs at the site in order to inform the public on the objectives of the project and the techniques being employed.

Similar management efforts are planned in coming years to maintain and restore the hemlock forest at Childs Park, located off Silver Lake Road.

The park will issue periodic reports on the status of the project.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wild and Scenic...and historic

Above: New Hampton Pony Truss Bridge, one of only 2 such structures in New Jersey and one of many National Historic structures and places along the Musky. Thanks to Eric Sween of Bethlehem Twp. (NJ) for the pic.

Last month the Musconetcong River became the most recent addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (see previous December posts for more details). The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act requires that a river possess "oustanding remarkable" resources of regional, state and national importance.

I worked with a talented group of volunteers over a 2-year period to go about documenting just how the river meets that criteria, and I wrote the "Resource Assessment and Eligibility Report" that lays out in detail the many "oustandingly remarkable" qualities found in and along the river and its immediate corridor.

The amazing historic features found in the watershed proved to be the foundation that the case for wild scenic status was successfully built upon. The following essay is taken from the aforementioned report. In the next post i will discuss the river's outstanding recreational features.

But first I would like to mention that the lower Musconetcong River shares a unique relationship with its sister stream across the Delaware River -- Cooks Creek. The hamlet of Durham was an iron making powerhouse throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, as were the villages along the much larger Musconetcong. This was the iron making hub that supplied Trenton and Philadelphia from pre-revolutinary times through the early industrial revolution.

To download a copy of the Musconetcong River Management Plan click here.

WARNING! This is a long essay, sit back but don't fall asleep!
The Musconetcong Valley: A Cultural Landscape Still In The Making
By John P. Brunner

The Musconetcong River valley is not a place where great battles were fought or important treaties signed. No single historic feature found in the valley is by itself entirely unique to the history of the region, state, or nation.

Yet, few river valleys in New Jersey tell such a compelling story of the interrelationships between humans and the natural environment, none possess so many well-preserved historic features as those found along the Musconetcong River. Outstanding river-related historic features -- many of which are listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places -- can be found in Stanhope, Waterloo Village, Asbury, Finesville and several other Musconetcong River communities.

It is easy to overlook just how important the historic places and structures are to the scenic character the Musconetcong valley. As key components of regional tourism, the historic bridges, houses, and villages contribute to the local economy.

Fortunately, the valley's historic and archaeological features have been reasonably well documented. Human habitation in the Musconetcong valley has been traced back to as early as 12,000 years ago when Paleo-Indians occupied the region during the final retreat of the Wisconsin glacier. Evidence of their presence in the valley has been documented at the Plenge Site, which is located along the lower Musconetcong River in Warren County. The Plenge Site was the first of only two major Paleo-Indian archaeological site excavations in New Jersey, and it is considered to be one of the most important in the northeastern United States.

The pre-eminent source of information about human settlement along the Musconetcong River is "The Musconetcong Valley of New Jersey: A Historical Geography" by Peter O. Wacker, Rutgers University Press (1968). Wacker, who is a professor of Geography and Anthropology at Rutgers University, describes how the natural resources of the Musconetcong River valley determined - and were in turn transformed by - human settlement. Rutgers University Press described Wacker's book as "one of the first authoritative studies of its kind."

Wacker gave several reasons for choosing the Musconetcong River valley over any of several others in New Jersey. He stated in his book "A unique opportunity exists in New Jersey, especially in the southern Highlands of the state, to investigate the processes whereby distinct ethnic groups and varied economic interest have transformed the largely forested landscape of aboriginal days to the largely deforested agricultural landscape of today." Wacker was also drawn to the Musconetcong by the documentation of extensive prehistoric settlement, and by the diverse cultural landscapes and economic activities resulting from the occupation of the valley by various northwestern Europeans. He defined the significance of the Musconetcong River in terms of its economically strategic location relative to colonial America's two major commercial centers - New York and Philadelphia.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for making the Musconetcong the locus of his historical geography was an aesthetic one. Wacker wrote, "Despite its proximity to the sprawling ugliness of Megalopolis, the Musconetcong Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in the Highlands. Much of this character remains in the twentieth century and makes field work all the more pleasant."

Wacker considered both natural and human alterations of the landscape beginning with the ice age 10-12,000 years ago) up to the end of the 19th century. The Paleo-Indians who settled along the Musconetcong lived in a sub-arctic climate that supported forests of spruce, pine, and birch. They hunted elk, caribou, and other mammals no longer found in the region. The river ran full and wide with waters from the melting ice sheets of the Wisconsin Glacier that spilled out into extensive wetlands ringing both sides of the river.

As the climate moderated over a period of several thousand years, the eastern deciduous forest evolved from the ice age boreal forests. With the retreat of the glacier, the Musconetcong River decreased to roughly its current size and, fed by small glacial lakes and mountain streams, it flowed through a sparsely inhabited wilderness to the lower Delaware River.

By the time European settlement came to the Musconetcong valley during the early 18th century, the Leni-Lenape Indians were already in a state of decline, and the several thousand-year-old aboriginal occupation was coming to an end. While the Lenape burned off significant areas of forest to plant crops and attract game, their only lasting imprint on the landscape were the major trails that European colonists eventually converted to roads. One of these was the Malayelick Path, which ran from the head of the tidal Delaware River to the Musconetcong River "gap" between Musconetcong and Schooley's Mountains. The path was the forerunner of State Highway 31, which begins in Trenton and crosses the Musconetcong River at Hampton Borough. Portions of State Highway 206 are part of the Minisink Trail, which linked the New Jersey coast with Minisink Island in the Upper Delaware River (a Lenape settlement was located nearby at what is now Lake Hopatcong.)

From an ecological perspective it is interesting to note that 12,000 years of Native American settlement along the Musconetcong River caused minimal impact on the river and its surrounding landscape. In contrast, a mere 150 years of European settlement profoundly altered the river and surrounding landscape. Wacker's book relates how the parallel growth of agriculture, industry, and transportation rapidly transformed the natural landscape to a cultural landscape.

Subsistence agriculture took root in the lower Musconetcong valley at the beginning of the 18th century. The fertile limestone valley was rapidly cleared for croplands, and subsistence agriculture gradually evolved into commercial grain and dairy farming. Villages sprang up around the many gristmills built along the Musconetcong River from Finesville to Hackettstown.

The charcoal iron industry was also established during the early 18th century on the lower Musconetcong River and eventually it spread all the way up the river valley to Stanhope. Abundant supplies of ore from the surrounding ridges supported iron making. The early iron industry needed charcoal to fuel its furnaces, and since charcoal was made by burning wood, intensive deforestation of the ridges surrounding the Musconetcong valley took place over a period of 100 years.

The iron industry faced a precipitous decline by the early 19th century because wood supplies were rapidly being depleted. However, the industry was rescued when one of early America's truly amazing engineering feats - the Morris Canal - was built to carry coal from the Pennsylvania coalfields to fuel the iron furnaces. The availability of coal all but eliminated the need for wood as fuel, and forests were allowed to regenerate, particularly in those areas too steep, rocky, or wet for cultivations or settlement.

The Morris Canal was a world-famous engineering marvel that required abundant supplies of water. Lake Hopatcong, which was originally a small natural glacial lake, was dammed to supply water to the entire canal system, but it was found to be an inadequate source. To augment the flow of water to the canal, several other dams were built on the Musconetcong River and Lubbers Run, its largest tributary.

Only a few remnants of the Morris Canal remain, yet its impact on the river can be seen in the silted-in dam pools above Waterloo Village and Saxton Falls. The lakes that were created to serve the needs of the canal and iron industry also spawned a new "industry" - summer cottage recreation and tourism. Even as the iron industry and Morris Canal were dying out, passenger trains and automobiles were carrying people to the summer cottages that sprang up along several lakes of the upper Musconetcong River watershed. This historic land-use pattern in the upper valley continues today, although the summer cottages have long since become permanent residences. The lower Musconetcong River valley where agriculture continues to dominate the landscape has undergone remarkably little change in the past 100 years.

The cultural landscape themes contained in Wacker's work help shed light on the current condition of the river and its surrounding landscape, and may even offer a glimpse into the future. Suburban sprawl, the major impetus for the alteration of the natural landscape in late 20th century America, was in its infancy when Wacker wrote A Historical Geography in 1968. One lesson that can be drawn from his book is that the opportunities and limitations presented by natural resources remain constant. People are still attracted to the Musconetcong River valley because of its scenic beauty and abundant natural resources, just as they were thousands of years ago. Soil, water, forests, and wildlife are still vulnerable to degradation and depletion by those who would fail to understand and respect nature's limits.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

One last time...for 2006

Yes...sometimes I answer the cell while on the water, especially when I know the call is about "what's for dinner?"

Eric hangs under the Stover Mill, one of the most awesome mills on any river in die welt.

Eric S., Wally J. and I convened for an impromptu trip down the Delaware between Frenchtown and Byram last Saturday afternoon, squeezing in one more run for 2006. Never believed we would have so many late-in-the-year opportunties made possible by the balmy weather conditions.

This was a sunny, albeit windy day (headwind of course) and we shared the river with no one, except a few shore fishermen hunkered down by their campfire in front of the Point Pleasant pumping station.

What a beautiful day on the river. This stretch is so beautiful, not that there are any river segments that aren't beautiful, but this stretch is not trash strewn like the P-burg to Riegelsville section. I ended up with a few more miles than expected, but many fewer than planned. Total is somewhere between 400 and 500 miles. Time to go through the river journal and tally.