Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area

By Eric Hoyer

The Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) lies in Sussex County off Route 517 and Glen Road near the Town of Sparta, and along the Highlands Trail. Part of a large tract of land purchased cooperatively by the New Jersey Audubon Society and the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife, it is divided into two areas with significantly different management plans. The land owned by the Audubon Society, whose mission is "to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity" is closed to hunting and fishing and is laced with trails affording plenty of opportunity to hike and enjoy the scenery and watch for wildlife. The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife's mission is "to protect and manage the state's fish and wildlife to maximize their long term biological, recreational, and economic values for all New Jerseyans." The state-owned portion is a Wildlife Management Area, where there is also a focus on the outdoor sportsman or woman.

Ryker Lake. Photo by Wilma Frey

The 1394 acres that make up Sparta Mountain WMA are open for deer, small game, turkey, and waterfowl hunting. There is also an established warm water fishery on the WMA. Ryker Lake, one of several bodies of water on the WMA, has been declared a "Lunker Bass Lake". Special regulations maintain the high quality of the fishery in the lake, which includes panfish as well as a healthy largemouth bass population. There are also other lakes in the area worth exploring for trophy fish.

Sparta Mountain WMA contains many different habitat types. In addition to Ryker Lake and other smaller bodies of water, there is a significant area of wetlands know as Edison Bog. Wetland habitats are some of the most important ecosystems found in the environment due to their amazing diversity and productivity. They are also quite fragile. Many species of wading birds and songbirds can be found there along with a large number of insect, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species. Wetland plant life includes heath shrubs, sedges and sphagnum moss. Apart from the wetland areas there are some hills to climb offering a moderate workout and beautiful view. There are also acres of forests to stroll through which are home to white-tailed deer, black bear and wild turkey. If you are very lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a bobcat.

The area is prime birding territory. The different habitats offer chances to see many different types of birds, from wading birds and ducks to migratory hawks and warblers. This is one of the few places in the state where the Golden-winged warbler can be seen. This bird visits New Jersey only during its breeding season and would make a nice addition to anyone's life list.

When looking at a map of Sparta Mountain one can't help but notice the name Edison associated with some of the area's features and landmarks such as Edison Bog and Edison Pond. Near the turn of the century Thomas Edison owned iron mines here that yielded ore to be crushed and made into briquettes. Edison also built a railroad system to ship the briquettes to Pittsburgh. The processing mill, factory and homes here were among the first in the world to have the benefit of electricity. Unfortunately for Edison, he began his operation just when the Messabi Iron Range in Minnesota opened up for business. Their location near major transportation routes by water gave the Minnesota mines a decisive competitive edge, and it is estimated that Edison lost close to $10 million on the venture

Edison was down but not out. He recovered all of his losses by converting the operation to a limestone processing plant for cement, much of which became foundations for skyscrapers and large buildings then being built in New York City. There are remnants of two large strip mines used for extracting limestone, and some of the smaller mine shafts used by Edison are still open, although unsafe to enter. There is still plenty of interesting stone work to be explored in the woods of Sparta Mountain WMA left from the pillow blocks that supported Edison's mining equipment and the foundations of the now dismantled mining town.

For more information on the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area, please contact the New Jersey Audubon Society at 908-204-8998, or New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife at 908-637-4125. And be sure to get a copy of the New Jersey's Wild Places & Open Spaces map which highlights all the Wildlife Management Areas in New Jersey. This map can be purchased for $4 by sending a check or money order, payable to the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, to: Wild Places Map, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ 08625-0400, ATTN: Carol Nash

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Grey Towers
  • Panther Lake Camping Resort
  • Camp on a private 45-acre lake on 160 scenic acres where you can enjoy swimming, boating, fishing or just relaxing on a sandy beach. It's a great escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

    6 Panther Lake Rd., Andover 07821, 800/543-2056

  • Ochs Orchard
  • ?Homegrown fruits and vegetables available when in season. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade hard and soft ice-cream. Cider made on site from Red Delicious for sweetness, Winesap for tang, McIntosh and Empire for body. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade hard and soft ice-cream. Market open June through January.

    4 Ochs Ln, Warwick 10990, 845/986-1591

  • Kymer's Camping Resort
  • Located in Sussex County near the Kittatinny Mountains the camping resort offers trailer and cabin rentals and trailer and tent campsites with water, electric and cable TV hookups on 200 scenic acres.

    69 Kymer Rd., Branchville 07826, 800/543-2056

  • Franklin Mineral Museum
  • "The Fluorescent Mineral Capitol of the World" Fluorescent, local & worldwide minerals, fossils, artifacts, two-level mine replica. New activity "The Adventure Package" includes gem panning, fossil dig and rock collecting! Gift shop, picnic area. Open daily.

    32 Evans Street, Franklin 07416, 973/827-3481



NJHiker 01
23 Dec 2015, 15:11
"This map can be purchased for $4 by sending a check or money order, payable to the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife"

Why are we having to buy a map? Do not all my fishing, hunting and property tax fees entitle me to a downloadable map? C'mon , Im so tired of the mismanaged funds the state takes in and crying poor mouth
13 Jul 2015, 11:27
Having grown up on Foxtrail Lake (literally lived on the lake) in the late '60s and early '70s. I am ashamed of how badly the lakes have deteriorated from the run off. I be curious if anybody has pulled at bass out these lakes over 15lbs on a regular basis.
Bruce Edward Litton
23 Mar 2014, 13:22
Ryker Lake is a pretty spot. My son and I fished it from shore on a very mild afternoon, the water temperature just above 50 and rising, and the pickerel seemed starved from the winter, thrusting themselves upon the live shiners we had leftover from elsewhere, quickly used up. I'm interested in the Edison mines and may plan a hiking venture to visit them sometime.
25 Apr 2013, 09:51
I was hiking around Ryker Lake after the snow started to melt and noticed a bunch of trees with a strip of park taken out of them all the way around the tree about 3-4 feet off of the ground. It appears to be done by a chain saw. Dozens of trees. Not sure what this it vandalism or standard protocol from the park rangers?
22 Feb 2012, 13:14
Hiked up at Heater's Pond in O'burg this past weekend. I was amazed at how cool it is up there! Grew up in Franklin and never knew about all there is to see at Heater's. I definitely recommend a day trip there to hike around!
11 Jan 2012, 13:06
what work is going on at spart mt by nj div fish & game. something anti environmental???? are they logging there to make money since they are in financial issue time? creating a heat island by logging is certainly not helping nj - is that going on? i know they are doing what they call "small" patch cuts. this focus on habitat change, instead of natural change, is anti environmental. somebody needs to keep watch on what this anti environmental wildlife killing agency is up to.many of us like to have wildlife alive and believe they deserve life.
29 Aug 2011, 13:00
Having spent most of my time here for the past 65 years, and with a strong interest in collecting numbers and species of birds for entertainment, I can tell you that you are looking in the wrong place. Wallkill NWR refuge is the place to go to hunt birds.
Capt. DeWitt Thomas
27 Feb 2011, 13:54
Having lived on the very top of Sparta Mountain way back in the dark ages (1950-1960) where we hunted and fished all year round and in light of my plans to visit the area this summer for old times sake and to tie up some loose busines matters while investigating the possibility of purchasing a lot or two.what would I have to do to have a brief history of the mountain and how it has changed over the last 50 or so years and along with water front property information, sent to me by ??? snail mail. My computer is not working so plase froward by regular mail, if posibble!!! My Address: Capt DeWitt Thomas, POB 1247 Port Isable, Texas 78578 956-551-1965 Best Regards: Capt. DeWitt Thomas please enclose an invoice to cover any applicable expenses!
Skylands Visitor
30 Dec 2009, 11:46
Dear Unknown, There is information on public land open to hunting at on the NJ DFW website. While it doesn't break property down by species available, you can generally assume if it is open to hunting and has water you can waterfowl hunt there. \r\n\r\nYou can contact Department waterfowl biologists for information as well:\r\nPaul Castelli at 609-748-2047 and/or Ted Nichols at 609-628-3218. They are pretty familiar with waterfowling "hotspots" and should be able to assist you.\r\n\r\nI hope the above is helpful. Enjoy your time afield.
28 Dec 2009, 07:01
this state is absolutely horrible with providing information on available waterfowl hunting land. i have called DEP and Fish and Wildlife an have just been going in circles with no definite answer. all i want is a map of all available areas in the state, too much to ask?
Mike Glynn
19 Oct 2009, 14:44
Hi, I was wondering if you could help me with some Duck Hunting information in Sparta Mountain WMA. (I have \r\ne-mailed the NJF&W for a map.) Could you tell me what road leads to or around it so I can park and walk in. Any info you can provide is much appreciated.\r\nThank You for your time,\r\nMike Glynn
20 Mar 2009, 21:22
Thanks for info. can you but a 12 ft. boat on the lake?
27 May 2008, 06:12
Ryker lake is an excellent lake to fish at. if u have a boat or just want to walk around the lake and do a couple casts the woods are beautiful and a trail goes some what around the lake DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAIL. the only thing is all the lilly pads and weeds in the lake i always get caught up. but if u wana catch a decent size bass for fun or a nice little pickeral its great.
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