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Clinton Road

Clinton Road is truly a special place, nestled in the center of Newark's 35,000-acre Pequannock Watershed, one of New Jersey's few remaining relatively unspoiled wildernesses, yet only 40 miles from New York City. A visit here in any season will be rewarding. There is always something of interest for every outdoors person. Winter, with its spectacle of ice and snow, is a photographer's delight. Winter finches (pine siskins, crossbills, redpolls, and grosbeaks) in flight years often frequent the many conifers that dot the landscape along Clinton Road. During these frigid months that feature colors of white and brown, a botanist is not at a loss to find something green, since lichens, mosses, club mosses, and evergreen ferns abound.

March heralds the end of winter and the hope of spring. The sight of skunk cabbage peaking through the soil is the first sign of the season. The vanguard of the passerine bird movement north is the eastern phoebe proudly announcing itself along Clinton Road's many streams. Warmer days feature Compton tortoise shell and mourning cloak butterflies as well as stone flies dotting the many rocks and bridges. Clinton Reservoir, when not frozen, serves as an excellent stop-off spot for ducks and loons on their journey north. Coltsfoot wins the award for the first flower of the season, blooming in late March or early April.

The melting snow provides copious quantities of that precious clear liquid that supplies the many streams welcoming the Louisiana Waterthrushes back in April. Cinnamon and sensitive ferns almost blanket the moist areas, where salamanders can be found with some searching. Kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers are plentiful as they wend their way north. May and June are the months most folks look forward to for wildflowers, spring migration, and, ultimately, the breeding season (for birds).

The breeding season is something special here--over 140 species have been recorded in the "watershed" on various surveys taken over the last 20 years. Clinton road alone has registered 25 species of warblers in June and early July. Nesting raptors are also a specialty of the area. Owls include Great-horned, barred, and saw-whet (first discovered in 1986), and hawks include goshawk, broad-winged, and red-shouldered (the best location in New Jersey for this declining species).

Summer is the season to explore the many trails that find their origin along Clinton Road, where with luck, mammals such as black bear, river otter, beaver, porcupine, and red and gray foxes may be found. A visit here is most pleasant at this time of the year, with mountain laurel blanketing the landscape and assorted berries to provide a fine dessert for a picnic lunch. Thirty-five species of ferns bring joy to "fernatic's" hearts, and the abundant wildflowers are ample fodder for any nature photographer.

Autumn, with its brilliant displays of changing foliage, renders this the place to be, especially during mid-October, but a visit anytime is worthwhile. To truly enjoy the experience of Clinton Road, take a closer look. Buy a permit (see instructions) and find out why many of this state's finest naturalists consider this one of their favorite haunts and why this area must be preserved for future enjoyment.

Let's take a tour of Clinton Road and identify the places worthy of closer examination. Begin the tour at Route 23 in Newfoundland. A side trip down LaRue Road to the right for 0.7 miles will offer for exploration a Norway spruce grove on the left, just before the bridge. This grove offers a location for owls, golden-crowned kinglets, salamanders, ferns, and club mosses.

Proceed north on Clinton Road for 1.1 miles to the power line cut; in May and June look and listen for golden-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, and broad-winged hawk. Continue 0.1 miles to the intersection of Schoolhouse Road (on left). Look to the right for Clinton Furnace, dating back to the Revolution. To the left is a small spruce grove good for finches in winter and golden-crowned kinglets in June. Note the bridge over Clinton Brook; in spring bring your camera and listen for Louisiana waterthrush.

Clinton Reservoir comes into view on the left, and Van Orden Road intersects on the right in 0.4 miles. This road is a short-cut to Union Valley Road and another location for golden-winged and worm-eating warblers in May and June at the powerline cut. The road to Hanks Pond also begins here--a half right turn. No cars are allowed so please walk. Fish crows and black vultures have been viewed here in recent summers. Wildflowers are plentiful around the pond. The castle trail, in 0.3 miles on the right, has room to park two or three cars. In June, walk up the hill, admire the mountain laurel, and listen for worm-eating and hooded warblers, and pileated woodpeckers. The trail forks, and either choice leads to the remains of an unfinished mansion (the castle). Rattlesnake fern can be found here.

For a spectacular panorama of Clinton Reservoir, proceed 1.4 miles north, where the road descends and curves sharply left. A sharp right turn 0.3 miles ahead leaves Clinton Reservoir behind. Clinton Road now parallels Mossman's Brook, offering excellent habitat for winter finches and breeding barred owl; Acadian flycatcher; solitary vireo; magnolie, black-throated green. Blackburnian, and Canada warblers; and Louisiana waterthrush. The bird song in June is mesmerizing. The bridge, 0.8 miles north of the reservoir, is definitely worth a stop.

New Jersey's first nesting record for yellow-rumped warbler occurred 0.6 miles beyond the bridge. From this inconspicuous location over 70 species have been observed during breeding season surveys. They include goshawk; both species of cuckoos; winter wren; hermit thrush; magnolia, hooded, and Canada warblers; and purple finch. Look for a horseshoe-shaped pull-off on the right near a small pond (0.6 miles, called "Newt" pond). Both waterthrushes are here, and across the road pink lady slipper can be observed in May. Green frogs are plentiful in the pond, and warblers throughout the area.

Pull-off number 5 (P-5) is another 0.1 miles along; note Delaizer Road to the left. Barred Owl can be heard here day or night and are often seen while hiking along Delaizer Road. Red-shouldered hawks can often be seen and heard calling here from May through August. Hummingbirds have been found here. Proceed 0.4 miles to P-6, where the woods open up to a clearing and Stephens Pond intersects on the right. Broadwinged hawks, yellow warblers, ovenbirds (most common bird in the "watershed"), and goldfinches can be observed at this location. This is private property. Stay on the road.

The next 1.2 miles are uneventful but have produced Northern waterthrush, Tennessee (first NJ July record), Nashville, Black-throated Blue, and Black-throated Green warblers during breeding season. Bearfort Waters on the left is just outside of the "watershed." Stop in the parking area just beyond the pond. Look for a trail originating on the far side of the lot. A short walk ends with a lovely view of the area. This area has featured great-blue heron and red-shouldered hawks throughout the year; ospreys during spring migration; courting pileated woodpeckers in April; and red-bellied woodpeckers, eastern kingbird, tree, bank, rough-winged and barn swallows, eastern bluebird, blue-gray gnatcatcher, and pine warbler all in breeding season. Look for turtles--snapping and box--and a trail to Terrace Pond.

Clinton Road ends by Laurel Lake about 1.5 miles farther north. Much of this is developed, but wild turkey and whip-poor-will have been reported here.

You can reach Clinton Road by taking Route 23 north or south to the town of Newfoundland and looking for the sign for Clinton Road. From upper Greenwood Lake take the Warwick Turnpike to Clinton Road and proceed south.

Suggestions:

Please obtain a hiking permit and parking sticker, which is good for the entire year, at the Pequannock Watershed Office on Echo Lake Road, one mile north of Route 23 on the left side. Echo Lake Road intersects Route 23 south of Clinton Road at a traffic light, where signs direct you at that intersection to the office.

For birding, start as early in the morning as possible. During breeding season on warm bright days, bird activity will cease about 10:00 a.m. In this case, the early birder catches the bird. Bring binoculars, field guides, and a camera. Lunch can be obtained in West Milford or Butler.

In winter the road can be impossible, so use good judgment. If hiking, bring a compass. Mosquitoes can be a problem in summer--bring repellent.

--Pete Bacinski