Winter, 2020

Warm greetings and best wishes for an exciting season! This is our thirtieth year of exploration among the hills and valleys of Northwest New Jersey. We hope you keep the personality of the New Jersey Skylands near and dear when you need to freshen your horizon!

Here are some highlights from the region's calendar of events, along with some other suggestions for you and your family.

February 20 - 27

That's All You Got Old Man?

Photo by Dan Bacon
Father Frost is fading fast! Sputtering spurts of winter enveloped with warmer days, and the maple sap is flowing! Spring is only a month away!
The weeks ahead will be packed with events, so keep an eye on our calendar and watch out for our virtual efforts to keep you informed. Forge ahead and face the music!

Class of Masters

On Sunday, February 23, the Decoys and Wildlife Gallery hosts the Annual Open House in Frenchtown. Full of museum-quality work by artists from around the world, the gallery also features many fine local artists, many of whom we've profiled: wildlife artist John Crouse, landscape artist Fred Kirberger, miniature specialist Al Barker, decoy carver Jack Wood, and wildlife decorative carver Manfred Scheel, among others.
Get to know some of the painters and carvers that will be at the gallery, and find out how they learned to do what they do. With a raffle of wildlife art donated by the gallery, the event also serves as a benefit for the Mercer County Wildlife Center, who will bring some of their rehabilitated live birds of prey to the gallery. 55 Bridge St, Frenchtown, 908-996-6501.

A Silk Purse

The four-story plant built by Pelgram and Meyer on Monroe and Lincoln Streets in Boonton employed 500 people until it shut in 1927. It is now home to Kanter Auto Products.
For over two centuries a prolific iron industry wielded huge influence over the development of many Morris County communities. In particular, the forges, furnaces, and mines of Dover, Wharton and Boonton, all located along the banks of the Rockaway River, were intimately connected from the early 1700s through the heady times of the Morris Canal and the subsequent railroads. There are sites to see; take a look around!

Along the Western Front

Fort Ellison
This small stone building is believed to be the ruins of Fort Carmer, one of a line of forts from the French and Indian War.
Two decades before the American Revolution, the Royal Province of New Jersey prepared itself for the culmination of seventy years of bickering between the French and the English colonists. During the French and Indian War, the government was forced to take measures to protect New Jersey's northwestern frontier along the Delaware River from the increasing threat of marauding Indians, allies of the French armies. A line of forts and blockhouses were commissioned from Belvidere, in Warren County, through what is now the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, to Port Jervis, New York, with soldiers patrolling between them. Get out your hiking shoes, pump up your bike tires, or warm up the car and trace this line of forts!

Rumblings in the Railroad Earth

The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad’s construction of a line that altered the contour of both the landscape and culture of Northwestern New Jersey has been a source of wonder since the first shovels hit the ground near the turn of the last century. Nearly fifty years have passed since the last passenger train rolled on the high line tracks, but the story, which has continued through sometimes bizarre twists and turns, promises many more chapters. The Lackawanna Cut-Off’s saga still stirs emotions, and its future will be debated for years to come. Meanwhile, touring the Cut-Off, either all at once or in bits and pieces, is a worthwhile endeavor!

Funny Valentine

Carl Wallnau, as Willie Clark, and Emaline Williams, as the Burlesque Nurse in the Sunshine Boys.
Neil Simon’s play, The Sunshine Boys begins Centenary Stage Company's 2020 Professional Theatre Series on Valentines Day (Friday), Feb. 14. The play, and subsequent 1975 film starring George Burns Walter Matthau, is one of Simon's comedic masterpieces. The eight member cast includes Centenary Stage Company Artistic Director, Carl Wallnau, as Willie Clark and David Edwards, who returns to CSC as Al Lewis. Performances continue through March 1. Lackland Center at 715 Grand Ave, Hackettstown. Call 908/979-0900 or click for tickets.

Touchy Subjects

Interactive exhibits at the Discover History Center help visitors confront the plight of the common soldier stranded for months during the Hard Winter of 1789-80.
At Morristown National Historic Park's Washington Museum, a new and entirely different approach at the Discover History Center invites visitors to jump into an arcade of history, a labyrinth of interactive exhibits with spinning roulette wheels and slot machine handles, each pleading for a touch, each with a purpose. Make it a President's Day destination for your family! 3 Washington Place, Morristown.

Cast Production

Serious fly-fishermen are almost as busy in February as on opening day in April. Winter is for preparation - the tying of flies. Fishing for trout with flies is like solving a puzzle. The current, the fish, the bugs under the surface and in the air all seem indecipherable. But slowly, with much patience, and relying upon an ever-expanding body of experience collected over a series of seasons, the code can sometimes, although by no means always, be broken.

Learning Lenape

For Archaic peoples, rock shelters, consisting of natural overangs or hillside depressions, were temporary stopovers that offered protection from the rain and snow. In winter they might have been closed in with windbreaks made from skins or brush.
The native people of northwestern New Jersey had no written history. In fact, they had no writing except for the use of pictographs, some of which were carved on stone. Much of what we do know about New Jersey's prehistory is a result of work done by archaeologists, or from early accounts by explorers and travelers, along with journals kept by missionaries and settlers in the 1600s and early 1700s. For over 12,000 years the Lenape and their ancestors occupied northwestern New Jersey, successfully adapting to climatic changes in their environment. But, after a little more than a century following European colonization, only a few Indians remained. Arrowheads, stone axes, pottery and other objects are still occasionally found in a farmer's field or along a riverbank, but only a rough sketch of a robust culture remains; we know nothing of the human deeds and dramas that occurred. More...

Points of View

Jockey Hollow
Although 10,000 winters before had taught native peoples how to adapt, the Morristown encampment of 1789-90 presented a supreme challenge for patriot soldiers. Walk up the hill at Jockey Hollow that held 200 soldier huts for the Pennsylvania Brigade in early 1790. Imagine staying there until it gets warm enough sometime in April to take off your down jacket, not to mention long johns. Imagine standing there without your shoes on, without even one of the huts on top of the hill for retreat from the incessant cold. Try to conceive of something important enough to keep you on that hill for the rest of the winter. More...
Visit the site of the Great Story, Morristown National Historical Park, and learn about the life of a common soldier during the winter encampment. Call 973-543-4030 for more information.

Life of Wiley

Coyote in Winter. Painting by John Mullane.
If rarely seen, the coyote is frequently heard. In the winter, during the January to March breeding times, listen for nocturnal howls when coyote are at their most vocal. They are happy to tell other coyotes, and the world, their location. Stop and listen. They'll fall silent all too soon.


For many, winter is a season for reflection. The challenge of the season strips away pretense, and offers a time for learning.
Everyday we see dramatic scenes of environmental disasters like the all-consuming fires in Australia and California, toxic drinking water, fracking debacles, pipelines invading sacred lands, the extinction of thousands of species every year. We nod absently to the evidence of climate change, seeming immune and panic-proof from the impending disaster, even as local communities continue to face the ever-increasing push for living space and devlopment in the name of "growth."

Today, the EPA will remove federal protections from more than half the nation’s wetlands, and hundreds of thousands of small waterways. "That would for the first time in decades allow landowners and property developers to dump pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers directly into many of those waterways, and to destroy or fill in wetlands for construction projects." (NY Times)

Communities all over the world have established the first global laws protecting nature. Close to home, Pennsylvania’s voters ratified, in 1971, the Environmental Rights Amendment to their state constitution, proclaiming their right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. Imagine a river taking her case to court!

You can help expand the body of legal rights in New Jersey to include nature

"The older tension in human affairs between conservative and liberal based on social orientation is being replaced with the tension between developers and ecologists based on orientation toward the natural world. This new tension is becoming the primary tension in human affairs."
- Thomas Berry

Warm greetings and best wishes for a new year marked by achievement and fulfillment! This will be our thirtieth year of exploration among the hills and valleys of Northwest New Jersey. We hope you keep the personality of the New Jersey Skylands near and dear when you need to freshen your horizon!

Cold Calls

Winter birds are a sight to see!
The shortened days of winter in the Skylands afford a chilly but unequaled opportunity to draw closer to nature and to enjoy the quiet that descends with the withdrawal of activity to the indoors. On these cold days, while local countryside vistas remain open and unshrouded by their canopy of leaves, the fields, forests, and woodlands of our region are prime for the pastime of winter birdwatching. More...

Hot Stuff

Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass
Nothing warms the heart and soul like good jazz, and this month's Centenary Stage Company's January Thaw Music Fest series at Centenary College's Lackland Center is a real ice-breaker.
The series launches with Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass on Saturday, January 11 at 8pm. The Marsalis name signifies jazz royalty, and the sound of Rodney's trumpet, who learned from his cousin, Wynton, has reverberated throughout the world. The Philadelphia Big Brass brings together top musicians from across the country, mixing classical, big band jazz and New Orleans swing.
On Saturday, January 18, The Bossa Nova Wave comes to town as Grammy nominated guitarist, Diego Figueiredo, and clarinetist extraordinaire, Ken Peplowski, bring to life the music of the famous album "Jazz Samba.”
Rounding out the festival will be Sam Reider and the Human Hands on January 25. Reider is an award-winning composer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer who is making waves at the intersection of the jazz and Americana worlds. The Human Hands are a collective of virtuoso acoustic musicians based in New York City who have developed a reputation for mind-bending sets of high-energy, improvised music. For tickets, click or call 908/979-0900. 715 Grand Ave, Hackettstown.


Winter Marsh. Painting by Al Barker.
2020! It is a nice round, pleasant sounding number. But as we embark upon a year that will bring inevitable political turmoil, and a decade crucial in the planet's survival as we know it, consider the work of author, philosopher, and cultural historian, Thomas Berry, long revered as a voice for Earth’s voiceless. In 1993, Berry wrote a paper that would later be revised, edited and included as a chapter in one of his major books, The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. Take a few moments to sample the seeds of vision he planted, even while he grieved the terminal phase of Earth’s Cenozoic Era. Here are Thomas Berry's thoughts on the The New Political Alignment.

Season's Greetings!

Winter solstice: For a special treat, on the first day of winter, pull over into the grassy overflow parking area on Route 80 just across Dunnfield Creek. Look back, and, if you are here early enough, you will see the sun rise out of the middle of the Water Gap.
The winter solstice will officially greet the new season next Saturday, December 21. The celestial event seems to have inspired ancient people to observe the year's shortest day with carefully aligned markers on a sight-line that points to the sun's low point in the sky. The most famous of these is Stonehenge in England, but there are local monuments that may have had a similar function. On the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, overhanging rocks form a shelter perfectly placed to observe the sun rise out of the center of the Water Gap on the winter solstice. A large obelisk protruding from the earth near Haynesville in Sussex County might have been similarly used. And three “sighting stones” near Mt. Bethel in Warren County seem to align with the winter solstice sunrise. Along the shore of Mountain Lake in White Township is a large flat rock outcropping on which legend claims the Lenape stood in ceremony to “bring up the sun”. And Morris County’s 170-ton Tripod Rock resting on top of Pyramid Mountain suggests use as a "calendar site" long ago.

Close Encounters

Photo by Dan Bacon
Should you traverse any stretch of woods this winter, or even your backyard, alert eyes are usually rewarded. Bobcats thrive in habitats that merge open lands and forests. The most remote areas in northern New Jersey offer prime bobcat habitat. Many tracts of land still contain large areas of contiguous forest, and the bobcats introduced more than thirty years ago have apparently settled in. Bobcats are protected under the New Jersey Endangered Species Act. Hunters are not the problem, or not a significant one. But fragmentation, caused by development and traffic, seem to have constrained the local populations. Keep your eyes open and you might get lucky!

Million Dollar Highway

Seen from Promontory Rock, Mt. Tammany rises across the river in New Jersey.
Lost history of the Delaware Water Gap area comes to light along a short drive along the Delaware River north of Portland, PA. A few stops along the way to get out and walk a bit reveal some of the area's old resort sites, all now gone. Of the lost resorts, the largest and most lavish were on the Pennsylvania side of the river.

What Did God Wrought?

What the heck kind of rock is that big brown petrified toad anyway? All those layers... it looks kind of like its growing out of the ground. How did it get here?
A walk in the woods at this time of year can reveal more than you can imagine. The beaten-down forest rewards hikers with visible reminders of a busy past, sometimes in remote tracts high in the hills. And there are less renown, but equally intriguing remnants of history lurking in the woods of Northwest New Jersey. Try walking the domain of the former Pequest Furnace near Oxford, which played a role in the Industrial Revolution along with dozens of other sites in Northwest New Jersey. The part played here is relatively obscure, pieces of a puzzle hidden in the Warren County woods. Beyond the brown wispy remnants of last summer's green field at the edge of the woods, there sits a small, gray, alien hill, a pile of what might be lunar matter or crushed-up meteor. More...

Partners Du Jour

Lou Tommaso at LL Pittenger Farm in Andover provides grass-fed beef, chicken and pork for several area restaurants, as well as for the general public. The cheese and charcuterie board, a staple at James On Main restaurant in Hackettstown, utilizes the local charcuterie produced from Tommaso’s Berkshire hogs.
There is no formal definition for a "farm-to-table" menu, but diners usually expect that so-described selections are prepared with locally sourced ingredients supplied directly by farmers who have raised their crops or livestock without the use of pesticides or hormones. Is this just another exclusive food fad, or can it be part of a social movement towards a sustainable local economy in Northwest New Jersey? More...

The Tripod Rock Caper

Tripod Rock at Pyramid Mountain
Tripod Rock -- begetter of mystery, artifact of glacial motion or signpost of Indigenous People? Two such monuments decorate the Northwest Jersey landscape ­ one on a Morris County mountaintop, the other protected by rock outcrop on the side of Kittatinny Mountain in High Point State Park. The rocks are not to be missed ­ phenomena for all to enjoy.

Find Your Furnace

The area now called Hewitt was once the Long Pond Ironworks, where men took iron ore from the Ramapo hills, burned and extracted it into pig iron and forged it into wrought. Farms and schools and whole support systems sprung up around the ironworks village to maintain this rugged venture. Standing at the crossroads of this ghost town, you can sense the men and women who helped set the wheels of America in motion at the dawn of the nation's birth and the Industrial Revolution. Stop and feel the energy. The Ironworks is a beautiful place to visit, a serene one- hundred-year-old forest now replenished, breathing the enterprise of our past.

Rock Legends

Bevans Rock House is a large rockshelter formed by a huge overhanging rock slab and was probably used by Indians for many years.
New Jersey’s Skylands offer beauty, awe, history, and mystery to any weekend traveler discovering the region’s mountains, lakes, fields, forests—and rocks!! Nearly everywhere you look there are rocks; big ones, little ones, sometimes fields of them resembling a Golem’s garden. But amidst this lithic profusion curious explorers cannot help but wonder why certain rocks and boulders have drawn enough attention in days gone by to have been given names of their own. Where are these special boulders anyhow, and what are their stories? More...

Denville Detour

Even today, if you needed a natural hideout—a really good one—Jonathan’s Woods could work. This six hundred plus acre pocket of undeveloped property, speckled with high and low ferns and Indian paintbrush, crossed by slender streams and marked by sharply rising rocky outcroppings, lies not far from one of Morris County’s busiest highways: Interstate Route 80. And yet the tract offers unexpected isolation. You could, as they say, get lost here!


A grand view of the New Jersey Highlands from Wawayanda State Park
The word “consider” has its origin in the early French word for star-like: “sidereal”. Its use suggested that important thoughts, judgments and decisions ought to take into account the perspectives of the stars. We might suggest that “Consider” now has an expanded meaning, the promise that with some corrections in our perceptions we might also be inspired to change our behaviors.
Many, many stories adorn the history of the Highlands. But what about the future? What are the significant challenges ahead for our cherished home? That question has an easy answer: climate change.

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