Pre-Week 3: Earthkeepers: Trail Clean-up at Watchung Reservation

One of the Lenni Lenape legends goes like this…

Back in the ancient days, before snow appeared in the world, the crow was a bird as colorful as a rainbow and beautiful to behold. Then, Kishelamàkânk, the Creator, thought of snow and all the land became blanketed with white.  

The people and animals were freezing and a great meeting of all creatures was held. The crow was chosen to fly to Kishelamàkânk and beg Him to think the world warm again. It was a difficult journey for the crow, fraught with dangers, but he made it to the home of Kishelamàkânk and made his request. 

The Creator said He could not un-think snow but he agreed to bring it in seasons instead of always. He then poked a stick into the Sun until it was burning and gave it to the crow to carry back to all Earth’s creatures to have for warmth during the time of snow. He called it “Tindeh”… fire. The crow flew back as fast as he could. Along the way the burning embers from the stick charred all of his rainbow feathers black. His voice became hoarse from breathing in the smoke. When he arrived, all the creatures rejoiced and honored the crow for bringing Tindeh and for the sacrifice of his beautiful rainbow colors, for the fire was magic and his feathers would remain black forever. To this day, when you hear the crow call you can hear his hoarse voice, and… if you look closely at the crow’s black feathers in the sunlight, you will see the rainbow of colors gleaming through the black….

It was 52 degrees and drizzly on this early Saturday June morning as our group followed our two guides along the Orange trail of the Watchung Reservation. This trail roughly follows the former Lenni Lenape Mo-No-Pe-Nonck path used for hundreds of years as a trading route. It was the Lenape who originally named these mountains “Wach Unks” or “high hills.” Today, the grey skies, the damp, cool air, the shaded forest surrounding us…. Arrivalwe could almost hear a Lenape grandfather’s voice sharing the story of the crow with his grandchildren as they warmed themselves around a campfire.

We were there to help clear trailways. Our guides, passionate about this park, stopped frequently to share information about native vs. invasive plants and animals and to illustrate the importance of trail maintenance. They also shared a glimpse into the park’s diverse history. Originally a Lenape homeland, then a bustling mill town, then a summer vacation resort replete with annual carnivals, boat races and Ferris wheels, the Watchung Reservation was finally created soon after the Union County Park System was formed in 1921. Since its inception the nature preserve has grown to encompass over 2,000 acres. Along with trails for hiking and horseback riding, the park offers fishing, kayaking, boating, a children’s playground area and picnic areas. A butterfly Trailmeadow, the quietly magnificent Lake Surprise and two ponds (Moxon Pond and Seeley’s Pond) offer additional magical treasures to explore.

Today was National Trails Day. When we arrived the amazing park staff met us with a special celebration breakfast of coffee, danish and bagels. It was a much-welcomed surprise on this cold, drizzly morning. After breakfast, introductions, and our Orange trail tour, it was time for us to pick up our tools and head out to work. The next few hours were spent clearing debris from trails and creating gentle, wide depressions for accumulating water to run off into the woods without causing erosion. Part of the group was tasked with digging a long drainage ditch along a section of trail. Each of us welcomed the hard labor as much as a way to keep warm as a way to help preserve the park. I was on “pick axe” and “shovel” duty and enjoyed every minute.

MeMuddy and wet, at the end of our service time we carried our tools back to the main garage feeling tired and satisfied. As we left the trail we realized the sun had come out and chased away all but an occasional cotton-candy tuft of white cloud. The sky was an endless, unabashedly brilliant blue and the temperature had warmed up. Sunlight danced off the deep greens and yellows of the forest and the melodies of blue jays, catbirds, robins and a lone pileated woodpecker filled the air.

It was beautiful. We could easily understand why the Lenni Lenape loved these mountains so much – abundant with fish and game, beautiful to behold, a magical home to raise their families.

For more information about Watchung Reservation, check out the Union County website at:

For an interesting read on the history of the park and some of the trails, check out:

One comment

  • Great choice! I love this park and have met many wonderful people who cherish our hiking trails throughout the NJ Park systems. The people who maintain the trails and keep us safe are the true unsung heroes of our precious natural resource! Thank you!

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