Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mills Reservation: Urban Trails

Mills Reservation is another one of NJ's urban forests located in Essex County. It is my favorite local walking spot as it is very close to my home. It is located primarily in Cedar Grove with a section reaching into bordering Montclair. It became a part of the Essex County Park system in 1954 due to a donation from the Davella Mills foundation which had previously owned the land.

Mills Reservation consists of deciduous woodland and wetlands with the only development consisting of a small unpaved parking lot located off of Normal Avenue and the development of an extensive trail system for a small area. Though it is surrounded by roads and homes, like many urban parks, it offers a welcome escape close to home.

The Reservation grew from its original 119 acres to 157 acres through a land swap in the mid-1960s with the city of Newark who owns adjoining property and the reservoir in Cedar Grove.

volcanic basalt njurbanforest.com
Mills Reservation is located on the First Watchung Mountain. The word “Watchung” is of Native American origin and means “high hill." Geologically, the rock which forms the Watchungs is known as volcanic basalt which formed when molten lava extruded out of the earth’s surface and cooled rapidly.

Mills Reservation features seven trails totaling 6.1 miles. The trails overlap, which can be confusing, but the most used one is the 1.5 mile Mills Loop Trail. It is essentially a gravel road which is popular with joggers and dog walkers, while the other six trails go deeper into the wooded forest areas and are more interesting.

The Reservoir Trail has red blazes and runs for 1 Mile heading west from the Parking Lot and following the western border of Mills Reservation near Reservoir Drive. The Reservoir trail ends where the southern section of the Eastview Trail begins. 

A portion of the the much longer Essex County Lenape Trail also runs through the reservation. The Lenape Trail is a trail connecting Newark and Roseland, New Jersey. It was established in 1982.
It is the fifth longest trail in the state and it traverses cities like Newark and its suburbs, but also the Watchung Mountains and the Passaic Meadows. The Lenape Trail is part of the larger 156-mile Liberty Water Gap Trail, created in 2000.

The Lenape Trail west is accessible from the parking lot via the short Lenape Link Trail (Yellow on White Blazes) which heads west from the Normal Avenue parking lot to connect with the Lenape Trail. From here, you can connect to the West Essex Trail which is the Lenape Trail's only true "rail-to-trail" section.

The Lenape Trail also heads southwest crossing through the Reservoir Trail, Mills Loop Trail and the Woodland Trail. Once the Lenape Trail crosses the Woodland and Mills Loop Trail, it heads east to Quarry Point and then north paralleling the Eastview Trail and into Montclair’s Mountainside Park on its way to Newark.

Quarry Point  njurbanforest.com
The Eastview Trail (Blue Blazes, 1.1 Miles) starts its southern portion near the Old Quarry Road entrance to Mills Reservation and, as the name implies, heads east to Quarry Point before turning north on the eastern portion of the reserve.

Quarry Point contains volcanic basalt outcrops in addition to a very old cement platform where anti-aircraft guns were installed during World War II. There are great views of NYC and to the south. This is the first ridge west of the lower Hudson River Valley, and runs from northeast to southwest. The view from the platform is south and east. Bring binoculars. To the south, on a clear day, there is a view of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and south and east you can see the entire New York City skyline including the Statue of Liberty, and all the way northeast to the Palisades. Looking far north and less easily to the west, peaks from the Ramapo Mountains can be discerned, and the beginning of the Second Watchung Mountain.

The NJ Audubon Society uses this and their Lookout across the road for observing migratory birds, such as warblers in the spring and hawks in the fall. The Montclair Hawk Lookout is opposite Quarry Point (across a road) atop a 500-foot basalt ledge.

The Mills Gate Trail  (Orange Blaze) is a very short side loop of the Mills Reservation Loop that goes through the original entrance of Mills Reservation.

DIRECTIONS: Take the Garden State Parkway south to exit 151 (Watchung Avenue in Montclair). Turn west from the exit ramp onto Watchung Avenue.  Drive about two miles until the road ends at Upper Mountain Avenue.  Turn north and go 1.7 miles to the traffic light at Normal Avenue.  Turn west and drive 0.3 miles to the entrance on the left.  Limited parking is also available on Old Quarry Road near the southern entrance and that is just steps away from Quarry Point and the Hawkwatch.


At NYNJCT Botany, you can see lists of Mills Reservation's array of native flora including trees, shrubs, vines and herbs.
Montclair Hawk Lookout, a sanctuary of the New Jersey Audubon Society.
Lenape Trail Information: NYNJtc.org/park/lenape-trail  and LibertyGap.org/lenape-trail.html


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