Friday, March 14, 2014

First Hike of the Summer - Watters Smith State Park

By Mike Layne

Saturday, 3/8/14, the weather finally broke this weekend.  Saturday was a perfect spring day.  No wind, no rain and very few clouds.  Spencer and I ventured out for the first hike of the summer.  We borrowed a kid-carrier from friends Frank and Kaycee and hit the road. Got out of the house a little after noon with two items on the agenda. 1. get Spencer a hair cut, and 2. find Watters Smith State Park and get in the woods. Item one was bust. The Barber shop was packed and by the time we were done hiking it was closed. Hiking was almost a bust. If you follow Google directions to the park it will take you to Exit 105 of I-79, which I learned is a back way in. The roads are not marked so we spent an hour or so driving around lost. Not that driving back roads exploring is a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but Spencer is not what you'd call a car-seat kind of boy. Luckily he went to sleep while I found the park. The correct directions, the ones on the website I overlooked, are to get off exit 110 and follow the signs. One last caveat is that there is no sign pointing toward the park driving from the interstate to West Milford. You turn left just before you get to the bridge entering WM. If you go into WM and drive back toward the interstate you'll see the sign.
The park itself was deserted this early in the year, which was perfect for us. From what I understand the park has become somewhat of a haven for mountain biking. There was ample evidence of biking on the trails, which were very well maintained, but we did not see another living soul while we were out. We drove in on Duck Creek road, parked on the side of the road and entered the woods on the south side of the road. We crossed Duck Creek, and took the Burr Smith loop trail 1.8 miles. Along the way we passed the old Smith Cemetery. It being our first trip out using a kid-carrier, we did not stop to read names for fear of not being able to get Spencer to go back in the carrier, but I would like to look closer at the cemetery the next trip out. We crossed over Duck Creek several times. It's a beautiful stream of water. Not sure if the elevation is right, or if there is enough cover to keep the water the right temperature for brook trout, but the water size and habitat looked perfect. There is a fair amount of elevation gain on this trail. It meanders up the hill through a series of switchback turns and returns to the creek through a stand of old growth timber. Not sure if it is actually virgin timber, but it is very old. Some oaks looked to have circumferences that approach 12 feet. At the bottom of the hill you cross a bridge back into a field. From here you can see the road you came in on and the old buildings of the park.

Watters Smith was a great find. We live 20 minutes away and had no idea it was there. Several other trails we plan to explore this spring. Spencer had a blast and did great in the kid carrier. We've since bought a used Deuter Kid Comfort II off Ebay for a respectable price. Hoping to try it out this Saturday if the rain holds off.

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