Sterling Ridge Trail

I wanted a simple, straight-forward hike this week and needed to budget my time wisely. I was not as rushed as when I hiked the extremely short and easy Closter Dock Trail a few weeks ago, but I wanted to beat the traffic and be home by the early afternoon. From my shortlist of hikes, the Sterling Ridge Trail appeared to be perfect: 5-miles, an easy out-and-back, a strenuous climb, and a nice view to finish.

I had received three separate flash flood warnings on Monday. Many roads I take to work each day were flooded and vicious winds swept detritus into the air and onto the streets. Conditions in West Milford were just the same as near my home nearly 40 miles away, so when I arrived at the Sterling Ridge trailhead on Tuesday to find the ground completely saturated, I was not at all surprised.

The trail begins off the side of East Shore Road and follows the Highlands Trail straight to the NJ/NY border and into Sterling Forest State Park in NY. I hopped over the guardrail and onto the muddy trail. Old ironwork ruins appeared early on during the hike within the trees, covered in dense moss. This was, after all, Long Pond Ironworks State Park.

After walking a brief period with road noise stifling any sense of solitude, the trail descended and cut to the left, further from the road and toward the Monksville Reservoir. Ahead, the dilapidated ruins of the Company Store/Post Office, believed to be originally built sometime around 1760 (later rebuilt around 1860), sat among overgrown trees on the side of the trail. Deeper in the brush, up a shoddy dirt road, the "manager's house" sit abandoned and ravaged by the elements.

The front entrance of the home has been totally decimated, displaying the years of vandalism and graffiti within its walls. I took a few steps inside of the structure to snap

some pictures, my hand readied around the handle of my hunting knife. As much as I would have loved to explore the levels of the once magnificent home, I couldn't be assured of the soundness of the floor or walls, so I turned around and returned to the trail.

Following blue blazes, I diverted to the right onto a narrow, unmarked trail through overgrown branches to the banks of the reservoir. As I emerged from the trees, my very appearance seemed to startle the water's entire ecosystem. Flapping wings and the smacking of water erupted as a number of geese, ducks, and other unidentified birds flew into the sky in every which direction. My senses flared as I recognized a familiar fishy smell that I immediately associated with childhood fishing trips to the reservoirs of this region with my father.

I backtracked and continued along the trail with the Wanaque River rushing wildly to my right, inundated by the previous day's heavy rainfall. Soon, I arrived at the location of the ruins of two Civil War-era furnaces which are currently in the long process of being refurbished. Nearby, a new wooden footbridge over the river has been erected to replace the previous one which was washed away during Hurricane Irene in 2011. Unbeknownst to me, a ceremony evidently took place a few days prior to my visit, on April 14th, to commemorate its opening. This seemingly simple bridge apparently cost a staggering $60,000 and was built by volunteers from the honorable NY-NJTC.

Crossing the bridge, I took some photos of the rushing water below, and continued deeper into the woods. With the sound of the flowing river following me along the way, the forest became denser and more secluded. A few obstructed placards hidden within the thick brush indicated the presence of other historical structures associated with the village, along with a lone wrecked vehicle.

The air was fresh and moss blanketed much of the ground and boulders that surrounded me. The rocky trail ascended gently and crossed over a number of tributaries. However, most of my rock hopping took place over the trail itself which was now beneath a few inches (and about a foot in some locations) of water due to the precipitation.

After hiking for nearly an hour, the trail began to ascend more rapidly as I climbed Big Beech Mountain. The surrounding mountain ranges began to poke up from behind the curtain of immense trees and I suddenly had a sweeping view of the entire forest below. At the top of the steep hill, the trail leveled off and led to a short rock scramble. Atop the rock here, I was provided a great view of Ringwood State Forest and Sterling State Forest in the distance. Surprisingly, a few snow flurries began to sprinkle down from the pasty sky and melted into my jacket.

I spent some time here to do some breathing exercises before continuing along the ridge to enjoy a few other intermittent views from various outcrops. I walked a bit further, obstructed views through the trees to either side of me, until I arrived at the NJ/NY border. A small sign nailed into a tree announced the state crossing. Although a bit trite, I stood with my legs spread, one foot in NJ and the other in NY, for nobody to see.

This is where the trail would end for me. I took some time to relax and breath in the fresh air here, alongside the border tree, and reflected on the various subjects buzzing in my head. The conclusion that I came to was a positive one: for all intents and purposes, for many different reasons, and despite my sporadic inclination to succumb to negativity, things are good and I'm a very fortunate person. Something here, perhaps the novelty of a tree acting as a gateway to another state, made me simply feel good. A few more moments passed before I took one last look around and started my return trip back to my car.

For a simple, straight-forward hike, this trail offered some great views and a good amount of serenity. With nobody else on this infrequently trafficked trail, I had the entire forest to myself. In fact, I don't even think I saw a squirrel. Ironically, later on, I found out that PROACTIVE's Christian Mena (@dahill_road) was exploring Bare Rock at about the same time in Sterling Forest less than a mile away from me. As it turns out, it is a small world after all.




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