The Upper Passaic River Water Trail

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The Upper Passaic River offers wonderful opportunities for recreation within easy access of millions of New Jersey residents. Below I’ve gathered data that highlights potential access points for those interested in exploring. Of course one must paddle at their own risk and do their own research but hopefully with your input I can continue to add information to this map that fosters confidence in the use of the river for paddlers.

Please comment with helpful edits/updates and send photographs of launch sites to davidethanalexander

Passaic River Facts

  • Passaic or “pahsayèk” is a Native Lenape American word meaning “valley”.
  • Native Lenape indians lived along the river before European settlement.
  • The first colonial settlement along the Passaic was in 1666 at present day Newark.
  • The Passaic River is about 80 miles long and flows through forty-five municipalities and seven New Jersey counties .
  • Everyone lives in a watershed or land that drains into a body of water. The Passaic River is one of 20 state-wide watershed management areas within New Jersey.
  • By using and sharing your appreciation of the river we can work together to protect the health, safety and ecological integrity of the resource.

If you would like to join or schedule an Upper Passaic River Paddle trip check out the following resources:


Periodical Cicada – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

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The 17 Year Periodical Cicada has begun to emerge along the East Coast.

Around our suburban neighborhoods and within the upland forests they are crawling out from the earth as the soil reaches 64 degrees. Once out they climb up anything in sight prior to breaking free from their 17 year old nymphal skin. Once free they dry their wings and the males will begin to call out to the females before they mate.  The female will insert her eggs into the bark of a young tree where the life cycle begins again.  If you come across Magicacicada you can report your findings to be mapped at 

Learn more about cicadas:

  • Watch a video about the Amazing Cicada Life Cycle with Sir David Attenborough from the Amazing BBC Series “Life in the Undergrowth”.
  • Dress a child up as a 17 year cicada.  Put on a black shirt, velcro on six legs, a thorax and abdomen. Wear antennae and hold a straw in your mouth. Put on party store wings.  Make some funky bright red glasses and your ready to party with the periodical cicadas.
17 Year Cicada, Compound Eye Glasses, Buzz Into Action

17 Year Cicada, Compound Eye Glasses

  • Practice drawing  the characteristics of living things with a cicada.
  • Make insect music with the Audible Insects lesson Buzz into Action, the Insect Curriculum for Grades K-4.  You can make cicada music by popping a metal jar lid in and out repeatedly to mimic the sounds of a cicada clicking and vibrating its internal membranes in the abdomen. The interior of a cicada’s abdomen is partially hollow to amplify the sound.
  • Try a CICADA-LICIOUS recipe from Jenna Jadin and the University of Maryland Cicadamaniac’s Cook Book. They recomend roasting the terneral cicadas for 15 minutes at 225F and dipping them in melted chocolate. Place them on wax paper within the fridge to cool until hardened and enjoy!
  • Search Cicada on Pinterest or Buy something Cicada from Etsy
17 Year Cicada Display

17 Year Cicada Display

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

Springtime Foraging for Wild Edibles in the Garden State

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Plants have been bursting forth from the soil with the first few days of springtime sunshine. I’ve taken a few pictures of a few the wild edibles growing around my area in New Jersey. Consult multiple field guides for a proper education prior to trying anything. I always get to know a plant well before giving it a try. I like to use the I.T.E. M. acronym: Identification, Time of Year, Environment Where it is Growing and Method of Preparation. You can learn much more from a professional forager like Green Deane at Eat the Weeds.

Top 6 Family Nature Destinations in Essex County, New Jersey

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Essex County Environmental Center: Roseland, NJWalk the loop trail behind the center through a wooded wetland habitat.  Stop at the Lenape Learning Area to walk inside a Native American Wigwam, look for green and leopard frogs at the Frog Pond, walk the Passaic River Boardwalk, view the Honey Bee Hives from a distance and just unplug for a moment of rest and relaxation.  Inside you will find attractive and interactive, state-of-the art exhibits,educating youth and adults on themes of home energy conservation and renewable energy alternatives.

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo: The #1 zoo in New Jersey is sure to please both children and adults.  Located on 20 acres in the beautiful South Mountain Reservation, Turtle Back Zoo exhibits species from all 5 continents. Naturalistic exhibits located throughout the zoo’s landscaped grounds offer the perfect recreational and educational experience. Ride the zoo’s miniature train, play on the animal themed playground, take a spin on the carousel or catch an animal program, there is always adventure around every corner. Visitor amenities including free parking in the zoo lot, cafeteria, picnic area and a gift shop are available for your convenience. Every visit to the zoo is different and exciting.

Within the South Mountain Recreation Complex is 2,100+ acres of woodland forest and trails, McCloone’s Boat House Restaurant, Mini-Golf Safari and the Tree Top Adventure Course.

South Mountain Reservation: Hemlock Falls: Park in the Tulip Springs Area lot located on Cherry Lane near the intersection with South Orange Ave.  Review the trail map within the kiosk adjacent to the parking area. Opposite the parking area, look for the yellow blazed Lenape Trail up through the White Pine Grove and then over the bridge above So. Orange Avenue.  Follow the trail down to the kiosk/map and make a left towards the sixteen-foot falls. Return walk along the same path. Take two hours to enjoy.

Within the 2,100+ acre South Mountain Reservation is the South Mountain Recreation Complex including Turtle Back Zoo,  McCloone’s Boat House Restaurant, Mini-Golf Safari and the Tree Top Adventure Course.  There are also pavilions and grills for BBQ’s and campfires available via permit.

Verona Park: Verona, NJ: Take a walk around the 13 acre pond for some exercise and nature observation.  Cormorants, herons, egrets, ducks and geese often frequent the water.  Excellent opportunities for children to catch sunfish or experienced anglers to catch largemouth bass or state stocked trout.  There is a wonderful little children’s garden and standard playground area.

Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary: Short Hills, NJ: Visit this small stone house nature center perfect for young explorers to exercise their curiosity.  Inside view the honey bee hive, bird feeding station and various live-animal displays.  Walk the trails around the center to see a pollinator garden, native wildflowers and some of the largest trees in the state including a 275 year old tulip poplar and an understory of laurel.

Branch Brook Park: Belleville, NJ: Visit in April to view the United States largest collection of blooming Cherry Blossom Trees in what is locally known as Cherryblossomland. The park was designed by the firm of the famed landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead known for Central Park and the naturalistic look and feel of winding pathways through acres of forest and field.

Just Beyond Essex County, New Jersey

Reeves Reed Arboretum: Summit, NJ: Beautiful landscaped garden that you can stroll through at your own pace.  Bring a picnic snack to relax and enjoy. Look for the giant European Beach Tree aka Elephant Tree and other interesting labeled plants.  Seasonal blooms abound but the site may be best known for the springtime daffodil bowl that includes hundreds of thousands of bulbs.

Trailside Nature Center – New Providence, NJ: Trailside Nature & Science Center is Union County’s Environmental Education Center, located in the Watchung Reservation, a 2,065-acre preserve containing woodlands, fields, lakes, streams and more than 13 miles of hiking trails.  This serene setting provides the perfect classroom to have fun while learning about the natural world. Renovated in September 2006, the Center houses 4,500 square feet of interactive, state-of-the art exhibits, including a towering 34-foot American beech tree exhibit that fills the building’s atrium. This jewel, secluded in the Watchungs, also features classrooms that look out on the Reservation, a multipurpose room, a library, children’s discovery room and a 250-seat auditorium.

The Raptor Trust at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: Visitors are afforded a unique opportunity to view at close range the many hawks, eagles, falcons and owls that are permanent residents at the facility. There is no charge to visit, but a modest donation of $2.00 per person is encouraged. After your visit, drive a few minutes down the road to take a relaxed walk on the refuge Wildlife Observation Boardwalks. Look out for turtles, frogs, snakes and birds in this beautiful hardwood swamp.


Brook Trout & Wild Leeks – A Springtime Tradition


For many fisherman, spring tradition includes getting out for opening day of trout season and staying out until you’ve caught your creel limit or until it gets or the other.

Thanks to NJ Fish and Wildlife, with funding from our fishing license fees, the rivers and lakes were seriously stocked to give the experienced and novice angler much success.


While out and about walking towards your favorite fishing hole trying to catch your main ingredient, look around carefully, as you may be stepping on a side dish or plant important for flavor.   Wild Leeks, an edible spring ephemeral, take advantage of the sunlight shooting through the bare branches of mature forest and begin growing in earnest.  Look for their shiny, smooth, thick green leaves growing in sets of two to three that make up mats on the woodland floor, scratch and sniff to recognize their unmistakable garlic like smell. Remember to properly identify all wild edibles and harvest selectively to maintain abundance for future visits and all others depending on the plant.


Once you have your fish and wild leeks cleaned, head back to camp to prepare them for cooking over the campfire.

All parts of the leek are edible. You can simply place wild leeks leaves and the onion like bulbs inside the trout before placing on the pan to fry.

You may also want to add field garlic/onion grass for flavor and accompany with a cup of spicebush tea.

After the paleolithic meal, don’t forget to sit around and enjoy the caveman tv/campfire.

Don’t be a Rookie, catch a Brookie!  Enjoy Spring.

Shed Hunting

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White Tailed Deer bucks around New Jersey begin to drop their antlers as early as December or as late as March.  The lack of snow this winter has made shed hunting easier then in years past.  I found a shed on December 31st and recently another on January 29th.  The recent find happened to be a shed from last year that managed to go unnoticed by wildlife looking for a nutritious snack.  I wonder if it was the proximity to the road that left the antler untouched by wildlife?  The antlers are an excellent treat for animals the size of rodents up to coyotes craving calcium.

Art & Threatened & Endangered Species of New Jersey

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In an effort to bring attention to the Threatened and Endangered Species of New Jersey, I approached Ivan Bratko an artist from the Riker Hill Art Park and his talented students.  The students were asked to highlight and bring attention to a species in peril from the NJ Conserve Wildlife List through their art. Each student made a painting and a ceramic animal for display.

Students made efforts to make animals appear scientifically accurate.  They considered the size and shape of the animal and its proportions.  They also considered the type of the habitat in which the animals would be found. The cross-disciplinary nature of the project showcases how educators can combine science, art and social studies to engage students in hands-on learning that makes a difference by bringing attention to species in peril.

There were approximately 25 students ages 6-16 years old participating.

At the completion of the project, students proudly celebrated the unveiling and received certificates acknowledging their participation.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He enjoys making nature more accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

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