Our lives change day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute. Who we were ten seconds ago is not who we are in the present moment. Last year became a time to slow down, rethink priorities and rediscover the basics of life. After watching everyone else’s virtual adventures through social media, it occurred to me I should be taking my own journeys. In my case, that meant hitting the trail.
Some trails were old favorites like the Catfish Fire Tower hike which intersects a section of the Appalachian Trail. And White Lake, a well-known destination for kayakers and fishermen, formerly managed by Ridge and Valley Conservancy (RVC). Others were trails protected and blazed by RVC within minutes of my home.
Ridge and Valley Conservancy (RVC) is a non- profit organization located in Blairstown whose mission is to preserve and protect natural areas within the Appalachian Valley and Ridge. “Our foremost goal is protection,” states Kate McGuiness, Outreach and Development Manager for RVC. She, along with Executive Director, Susi Tilley, the board and trustees, are creative and work tirelessly to ensure protection of open space and natural resources.
“It has been of great importance that the conservancy trails have remained open to the public during the last year through the pandemic,” says McGuiness. Though there was a decrease in the number of in person events held through Ridge and Valley last year, it was made clear by the public that being able to get out in nature was the best answer.
I found the Limestone Ridge and Dark Moon Preserves through RVC’s email newsletter. “Walk with Watson,” and “Ramble with Roxie” or bring-your-human hikes, were led by various conservancy four-legged members and their humans. Even without a fur baby of my own, these hikes provided new discoveries.
Limestone Ridge Preserve gave a sense of walking through a prehistoric world with large ferns and lush undergrowth. I told myself not to be surprised if a Brontosaurus came walking out onto the path. Susi Tilley and her pup, Roxie, introduced me to Dark Moon Preserve in Frelinghuysen. Despite an ominous name, this beginner level loop is beautiful with tall meadow grass and vibrant colors.
McGuiness told me that individual or small groups have been the primary source of hikers to their trails. The evidence is shown through depletion of trailhead maps, available at the entrance of each trail along with a QR code for a digital map and RVC staff and volunteers seeing human activity on the trails.
My experience on the Spring Valley Trail was a quiet walk on a path that starts behind the Hardwick Municipal building and winds a mile paralleling the swamp along Spring Valley Road. My gaze went out over the bog as two hawks sat atop opposite dead trees talking to each other. I visited this trail again with family and found a plethora of tracks and snow fleas. These little insects covered my boots as they graced the top of the snow. After some research, I came to find out they are not fleas as pet owners know them, rather nicknamed for their jump.
During this time of the year with unpredictable weather, the conservancy hopes to host a series of virtual events about the region in connection with wildlife. “We think individuals will be interested to learn about the unique role of the region and its importance in preservation,” comments McGuiness.
Ridge and Valley also hopes to give landowners the knowledge and resources for land preservation for future generations. “The role of nature and its ability to connect, calm, and center us has been a center point in an increasing number of people’s coping strategies,” says McGuiness. Coping and discovery are two basic elements that happen every day. It’s a chance to learn something new, have an adventure and connect with each other.
Contact the Ridge and Valley Conservancy at 16 Main St, PO Box 146, Blairstown 07825 or call 908/362-7989. The RVC website contains extensive trail and hiking information.