New Jersey Stories and Tips

Watchung Reservation- A Background

Cemetery Photo,

Watchung Reservation is an over 2000 acre park in Union County, NJ. The Watchung Mountains were formed millions of years ago when the area was the scene of volcanic activity. This is one of the reasons to hike the Reservation; the idea that you are walking along an extinct volcano is a little mind blowing while you watch cars loaded with families whiz by you along one of the roads serving the park. The mountains stretch across in all directions encompassing a good portion of Union, Morris, and Essex Counties. During the American Revolution when George Washington was camped at Morristown, he used the Watchungs as a natural barrier against attack from the British who were stationed just to the east of here near Springfield, NJ.

The park also contains the abandoned village of Feltsville which was a colony created by David Felt in the mid-1800's when he and a group tried to mine and mill the area. Later the village became a place for summer vacationers but eventually fell into disuse. In recent years some of the abandoned buildings have been refurbished and reoccupied by some caretakers as a measure of security against vandals. There are tours several times a year to explain the history of the village and its purposes. The geologic history of the area has left several sections of the park with some interesting formations. Near the abandoned village is the gorge, a rather steep section where it looks like the earth was ripped apart. Also, there is the ravine, a wide section of land near where the settlers tried to mine for copper. One of my favorite spots is the escarpment; a rock formation along Diamond Hill Road near Seeley's pond. From what I understand the rocks are what's left over after the lava from the volcano cooled and hardened. There is a nice stream and some rock scramble along the trail down the hill from the escarpment. Also you can see the remains of the attempts to set up mills and industry along the stream.

Lake Surprise, which is not far from the abandoned village is a man made "lake" created to feed water to the mills which were down stream. Though technically a lake-because light doesn't reach the bottom of it-Lake Surprise is more of a big pond filled with water plants and algae. There is an project underway to dredge out the sediments in the pond and attempt to return it to it's previous beauty and vitality. Because of the sediments, aquatic life has taken a beating. The plans are to clean up the site and stock it with fish so people can catch and release. As it is, Lake Surprise is a good place to bird watch. Within the park there are several places to eat lunch outside, and there is a playground near the Trailside Center so the kids can run around. The Trailside Center has nature exhibits, maps, and a gift shop. Just be mindful that Watchung Stables is not too far from here and it is best to watch your step as you make your way through the park. Overall Watchung Reservation is a nice local place to get outside and enjoy a variety of terrains and animal habitats.

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