Friday, March 11, 2011

Watchung Mountain Tour Part 3

This post concludes our virtual walk along the parks and reservations of the Watchung Mountains that we began in part 1 and part two.

We pick up the trail in Washington Rock State Park which is a 52-acre (210,000 m2) state park on top the first Watchung Mountain in Green Brook Township, New Jersey. The park is operated by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry and is currently being managed by the Somerset County Park Commission. It is open daily sunrise to sunset.

It is famous for the scenic overlook which was used by General George Washington in 1777 to monitor British troop movements when the Continental Army was stationed at the Middlebrook encampment. The 30-mile (48 km) panoramic vista covers the eastern plains of New Jersey up to New York City, making it a valuable lookout point during the American Revolution. General Washington used it in June of 1777 when the British army under General William Howe was moving toward Westfield. From the vantage point of this natural rock outcropping, General Washington was able to instruct his troops to circle behind Howe’s troops and cut off their retreat.

One of the oldest state parks in New Jersey, Washington Rock was originally purchased in 1913 to commemorate the historical events of 1777. Situated on top of Watchung Mountain, the park is a popular site for easy walks, picnicking and relaxation.

Closely connected is Washington Valley Park. This 715-acre (2.89 km2) public park is between the first and second Watchung mountain ridge in the Martinsville section of Bridgewater Township. It is also administered by the Somerset County Park Commission.

This partially developed park has a western and eastern section separated by the Bound Brook Gap with the Chimney Rock Road that connects Bound Brook with Martinsville. The terrain is rocky and mountainous and covered with pine and hemlock.

At the center of the western section of the park is the 21-acre (85,000 m2) Washington Valley Reservoir. The reservoir was created in 1920 when the western branch of the Middle Brook was dammed. (Its former name was the Bound Brook/Elizabeth Reservoir.) The eastern section of the park has the much smaller East Branch Reservoir and the Buttermilk Falls of the eastern branch of the Middle Brook.

Adjacent to the park is the Chimney Rock Quarry built atop the old Chimney Rock Copper Mine (a.k.a. Bound Brook Quarry or Washington Mine).  There are still copper mines over 165 feet deep and active mining continues today. Copper from here was used to mold a small brass cannon later used at the siege of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War. There is also still calcite mined from the Chimney Rock Quarry and marble and granite taken from this area.

The reservoirs have no boat access but are of interest to anglers. Species that can be caught include largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and yellow perch.

The park contains numerous trails that are used by hikers and mountain bikers.

At an outcropping of the first Watchung mountain ridge is Chimney Rock Hawk Watch. In the fall, the area is visited by birdwatchers to observe the annual southward migration of species including broad-winged hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, bald eagles and golden eagles. Hawk watching lasts from early September into November, the second half of September being the peak time.

The eastern part of the park was the site of a military fortification that was used by the Continental Army near the site of the 1777-78 Middlebrook encampment. Remnants can be found in the shape of earth walls. A look-out point is preserved that was used to observe movements of the British Army in the plains towards New Brunswick.

Two more areas to visit that are connected brings our walk to a close. The Leonard J. Buck Garden and the Moggy Hollow Natural Area are our last stops along the Second Watchung Mountain.

The Moggy Hollow Natural Area is a 14-acre (5.7 ha) nature preserve near Far Hills in Somerset County. It's an area of geologic interest. The area was designated a National Natural Landmark in January 1970.

As the Wisconsin Glacier advanced and ancient Glacial Lake Passaic formed, it deepened to 240 feet until it found an outlet to spill over at Moggy Hollow. From here the water drained to the Raritan river.

The ledge of harder basaltic rock at 331 feet (101 m) above sea level served as a spillway for Lake Passaic carving a deep ravine out of the softer soil as the lake drained. Moggy Hollow remained the main outlet as the glacier retreated due to natural debris dams until Little Falls and Paterson (Passaic County) emerged from the ice.

This 20-acre property adjacent to the North Branch of the Raritan River and the Far Hills Fairgrounds is a testament to the beauty of once-unchanged floodplains of the region. The floodplain is forested with a mixture of Oak, Maple, and some outstanding Sycamore trees. It is an excellent place to spot Kingfishers or Great Blue Heron. A trail runs parallel to the river and fishing is allowed in the trout-stocked waters.

The woodland and bog have ecological value, providing a diverse mixture of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plant species. But this is not an especially visitor-friendly site. The terrain is very steep and hazardous. Rocky slopes abruptly meet the bog, and walking is difficult, but worth the challenge for those who are interested in glacial geology.
The property is owned and managed by the Upper Raritan Watershed Association. Most of the current site was donated to the association in 1967 by J. Malcolm Belcher, a former mayor of Far Hills, on behalf of the Belcher family.

The ravine is located adjacent to and above the Leonard J. Buck Garden. Visitors can either ask to cross the Buck garden to reach the lower portion of the ravine, or park above on Liberty Corner Road to access the top of the ledge.

The garden is one of the premier rock gardens in the United States. It features native and exotic plants displayed in a naturalistic setting of woodland, streams, and rock outcroppings. A wooded, rocky ravine is home to numerous wildflowers interspersed among flowering trees and shrubs.

The best and most popular time to visit is in the spring.

The Garden began in the 1930s when geologist Leonard J. Buck, a trustee of the New York Botanical Garden, met landscape architect Zenon Schreiber and the two created varying exposures and microclimates.

The garden is sculpted from the glacial stream valley where waterfalls once cascaded, leaving behind rock faces, outcroppings, ponds and a stream. After Mr. Buck's death in 1974, the garden was donated by Mrs. Buck to the Somerset County Park Commission and was opened up to the public in 1977. A small donation is requested.

The plantings are extensive and include aconite, anemone, azalea, beech, birch, bloodroot, boxwood, Chinese fringe tree, columbine, cyclamen, daffodils, Dawn redwood, dogwoods, enkianthus, forget-me-nots, forsythia, geraniums, grape hyacinth, heathers, herbs, hornbeam, hydrangea, Japanese maple, Japanese painted fern, Japanese peonies, Labrador violets, magnolias, mahonia, maidenhair fern, maples, mountain laurel, narcissus, oak, ostrich ferns, primroses, rhododendron, saxifrage, shagbark hickory, Siberian squill, skimmia, snowbell, star magnolia, sweet woodruff, trillium, viburnum, violets, Virginia bluebells, and wind anemones. You can check their website to see what is in bloom during this season.

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