Saturday, February 22, 2020

Gateway Program Guide for Spring

It has been a mild winter so far in New Jersey - though March and April often give us some snowy surprises. Still, I'm thinking about spring, ordering seeds and planting some already, so it's also time to think about getting outside for some nature.

Here is the Gateway Program Guide for Spring so that you can Plan Your Visits.  

At Sandy Hook
Searching for Seals

Spermaceti Cove Parking Lot (between Lot D and Lot E)
Sunday, February 23
1 PM - 3 PM
Hike to the Sandy Hook bayside with a park ranger to search for seals during their annual migration and learn about marine mammals that dwell in the waters of Sandy Hook at different times of the year. Reservations required, please call 732-872-5970. ♥ 1 mile. 

Piping Plovers are a protected, endangered species, and you will see barriers in their beach nesting areas. They are among the first migrating shorebirds to return in the spring. (Photo by Shervin Hess)

At Jamaica Bay

Upcoming programs and events at Jamaica Bay

Junior Ranger Owl Prowl-FOR KIDS

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Wednesday, February 19, 1 PM - 2:30 PM
Join a Park Ranger on an owl adventure. Learn about owls and their habitat through a hike and an owl pellet investigation. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Reservation required. Please call 718-318-4340 to reserve a spot.  ♥ 1.7 miles.

Junior Ranger Winter Woodpecker Walk-FOR KIDS

Thursday, February 20,
11 AM -12 PM
Join a ranger on a walk on the trails of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge as we seek out some of winter's noisier but beloved inhabitants... woodpeckers! Learn about the different species that can be spotted at Jamaica Bay while searching for feathered friends and their habitats. Warm up with complimentary cocoa in the Refuge Visitor Center afterwards.  ♥ 1.7 miles.

Leave No Trace Awareness Workshop

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Friday, February 21, 2 PM - 3 PM
Missing the outdoors? Come stop by
the Wildlife Refuge to brush up on how you can reduce your impact while enjoying the outdoors. Based on the outdoor ethics of Leave No Trace Inc.(LNT), participants will learn the seven LNT principles to help cultivate your own Outdoor Ethic. Learning activities may be indoor or outdoor, so please dress accordingly.

Late Winter Bird Walk

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Saturday, February 22, 10 AM - 1 PM
Join naturalist Don Riepe for an indoor presentation followed by a hike around the refuge to look for owls, waterfowl, finches, and other wintering birds. Learn how birds and other wildlife survive the winter. For information, call 718-474-0896; e-mail: No reservation necessary. Free. Kids welcome.  ♥ 1.7 miles.

Winter Beach Experience at Fort Tilden

Building 1 at Fort Tilden
Sunday, February 23, 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM 
The sun, moon and earth should be in position that day to create a notable low tide.  Explore the intertidal zone and "walk the sea floor" with American Littoral Society naturalist Gordon Lam and NYC Botanist Zihao Wang to observe the usually-hidden biological treasures from beyond the tides.   ♥ 2 miles.

At Staten Island
Midwinter Recess - Birds

Great Kills Park
Field Station
Tuesday, February 18 , 12 PM - 2:30 PM
Join us for a walk, art project and indoor workshop identifying local winter birds. Bring snacks and dress appropriately. Reservations required: 718-354-4655 ♥ 2 miles.

Midwinter Recess - Winter Waterfowl Art Contest--FOR KIDS

Great Kills Park
Education Field Station
Wednesday, February 19 
12 PM - 2:30 PM
Join us for a walk and participate in an art competition. Bring snacks and dress appropriately. Reservations required; 718-354-4655. ♥ 2 miles.

Midwinter Recess -Story Hour Programs-FOR KIDS

112 A Mont Sec Avenue  Mont Sec House, Fort Wadsworth                                                                        
11:00 AM
Wednesday, February 19:

Celebrate Black History Month with "Follow the Drinking Gourd"
Thursday, February 20:

Winter Stories
Friday, February 21:

Rhymes and Verses
Celebrate winter with Story Hour programs at historic Mont Sec House during your child's winter break. Each story will be accompanied by a fun craft or activity. For information email

Fort Walking Tour

Fort Wadsworth Visitor Center
Sunday, February 23
2 PM - 3:30 PM
Join us for a 1.5-hour hike at Fort Wadsworth as we explore both the natural areas and the remnants of the former harbor defense system. Inclement weather will cancel the program. Reservations required. Call 718-354-4655. ♥ 2 miles.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Hatfield Swamp

The Hatfield Swamp is a place I often pass in my local travels. "Swamp" is not a word that cries out for you to plan a visit, so let's more accurately and kindly say that this is a freshwater wetland area.

It forms what is sometimes referred to as the "second bank" of the Passaic River at the border area between Morris and Essex counties.

The area of Hatfield Swamp is approximately 2,500 acres (10 km2), located in northern New Jersey at Latitude 40.85 N and Longitude 74.32 W.

The Swamp is part of West Essex Park and there are trails for public hiking. The Essex County Chapter of the Sierra Club and the New Jersey Audubon Society lead trips throughout the swamp in all seasons. A good starting place to explore and get information is the Essex County Environmental Center.

At the western end of the swamp, the Whippany River connects to the Rockaway River. The Rockaway River then travels a short distance into the center of the swamp where it flows into the Passaic River.

After heavy rain and if there is spring snowmelt, Hatfield Swamp floods since three rivers join here.

For animal observation, the area isn't always conducive due to the flooding. Deer, raccoons, possums, skunks and fox all live in the area (West Essex Park) but generally in the less swampy edges the swamp itself where there is higher and drier ground. We might expect to find muskrats there but the flooding would fill their bank dens with water and the area is also not conducive to plant foods that muskrats favor.

In autumn, waterfowl passing through the area rest in the swamp before proceeding south.

This wetlands area is not a place for some tree species (mostly hardwoods), but you will find various oaks, maples, sweet gum, and elm trees. (Find out more about plants found here)

Unfortunately, the three rivers that meet here were all once highly polluted. Things are better today but pollutants that remain in the soil and water have affected flora and fauna. The fish that are most likely found in the Rockaway River and Whippany River are carp and catfish.

Some history: Cornelius Hetfield owned and operated a mill at some point here before the American Revolution. Hetfield was a Loyalist during the Revolution, so his property was eventually confiscated. It was later purchased by Cyrus Crane. It stayed in the Crane family into the 1960s. The mill was dismantled and moved to Allaire State Park in Monmouth County and the swamp area of the park reverted to a slightly modernized Hatfield Swamp.

But let's go way back in Hatfield geologic time. It was the late-Triassic/early-Jurassic and when the North American plate separated from the African plate and created a rift valley. Today we refer to that rift as the Newark Basin. This valley changed over the next few millions of years, the valley faulted, tilted, and eroded and eventually the basalt layers formed ridges.  Then the Wisconsin Glacier ice sheet during the last ice age advances and plugs the gap with its glacial rubble. The glacier melts and the water pools up behind the ridges. The ridges are our Watchung Mountains and the pooled water forms Glacial Lake Passaic. Go forward thousands of years and the lake drains leaving behind swamps. The big one is our Great Swamp which drains from that Passaic River and flows through a gap in ridges passing through Hatfield Swamp.

If you want to visit, an easy starting place is the Essex County Environmental Center, which is in West Essex Park.  This site (download small map) was once a tavern and stagecoach stop, and the nearby bridge over the Passaic River is where Morris County’s historic Patriots Path connects with the Lenape Trail in Essex County.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Environmental Education Employment Opportunity at Pequest


The Pequest Natural Resource Education Center in Oxford, NJ is seeking an enthusiastic, creative, and self-motivated seasonal environmental educator to join our staff in teaching science and outdoor education programs, such as facility tours, guided hikes and fishing education programs. Educators will also assist in other facility work as necessary such as grounds and trails maintenance. Fishing experience is preferred.

We are looking for applicants with a Bachelor's degree in education, natural resources, natural sciences, natural history, outdoor recreation, or related fields, or who are working towards a degree in one of these fields. Excellent communication skills, a strong work ethic, and enthusiasm for teaching children are essential.

The teaching season runs from April – October with programs taught Monday – Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm. Some weekend days are required. Applicants who cannot work during this time frame will not be considered.

To apply, please send a resume and cover letter to Program Director, Jessica Griglak, at

Deadline to apply: February 14, 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs Team Leader Training

The Division of Fish & Wildlife will host a 2-day Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs (HOFNOD) leader training May 15-17, 2020, at the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resource Education in Ocean County.

HOFNOD is a great way to introduce youth to fishing, their local waters and other natural resources while supporting positive outdoor recreation and life skills.

This workshop is for adult staff and volunteers of youth-centered organizations looking to offer a youth fishing program. The program is flexible enough to be tailored to fit most organizations.

Registration is required and due by May 1, 2020.
For more information about this training, visit the HOFNOD Team Leader Training announcement

Monday, January 20, 2020

More Than Five Million Fish

Salmon at the hatchery that will be released as "landlocked salmon" in NJ

There were more than five million fish raised at the Hackettstown Hatchery in 2019.

To be more precise, there were 5,539,994 fish weighing a total of 21,584 pounds raised at the hatchery by the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in 2019.

Fish are raised and stocked for the angling and it is paid for through license fees and Sportfish Restoration funds.

There are 15 species of fish that might be stocked from the hatchery's production. Species and numbers depend on the requests from the Division's regional fisheries biologists. The species included: Muskellunge, Tiger Muskie, Northern Pike, Striped Bass Hybrid, Walleye, Atlantic Landlocked Salmon, Channel Catfish, Black Crappie, Golden Shiner, Bluegill Sunfish, Yellow Perch, Gambusia, and Fathead Minnows.

The Hackettstown Hatchery supports freshwater fishing in New Jersey. Officially called the Charles O. Hayford State Fish Hatchery, it opened in 1912 and at one time produced all the fish stocked in the state's freshwater rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and lakes. The facility was responsible for trout production until 1981 when the Pequest Trout Hatchery took over coldwater production. Hackettstown's now is focused on cool and warm water production.

An adult female Gambusia affinis         Image: Wikimedia
Even if you don't fish at all, you benefit from the hatchery raising gambusia (mosquitofish) which they supply to county mosquito control commissions. These are introduced into ponds to eat mosquito larvae. Care must be taken with their use because they can become invasive, threatening the local species. The hatchery produces 1.5 to 2.5 million gambusia per year.