Roamed on 10/2012
Unnamed pond by Arrow Island trailhead
After my first experience with Braiden’s directions (see the Road to Ruins post) I was a little leery to do it again. However, the sheer amount of cool stuff that he knows meant that I was bound to take his advice again. This time, however, I made sure to get a map from him with detailed instructions. The goal: Slateford Quarry, a waterfall in an old shale quarry.

Unfortunately, this time was no more successful than last time. Actually, it was far more annoying. Only the first step in the instructions was correct “Park at the Arrow Island Overlook.” From there I was supposed to walk up the road and find an old road that would lead me easily down to the creek. Well, I hiked quite a ways, but there was definitely no road, or if there was one it had decayed beyond recognition. That alone should have set off warning bells in my head. However, the chance for seeing a waterfall in an old shale quarry drove me on.

It was rather tough going, having to rock hop down the creek. It would have been quite pleasant to go wading in the summer, but in the fall chill that wasn't an option. I had to criss-cross the stream three to four times before finally reaching the waterfall. It was definitely as amazing as advertised, Slateford Creek plunging down 40 feet into the quarry.

The tunnel through the rhododendron
Because dying a horrible death was not on the agenda for the day, I decided to find another way. The fall was just too cool to go back empty handed. Going around had its own share of difficulties. The sides of the ravine were coated with an almost impenetrable wall of rhododendrons. I had to force my way through the thicket which was not pleasant at all. Thankfully, I was able to catch a break on the way down and found a natural tunnel through the undergrowth. 

I overshot the quarry and had to backtrack a bit but boy was it worth it.

The fall was quite spectacular but I thought the quarry was just as interesting. I had been to a few others in the park, but this one you could really see the drill marks in the wall. It’s hard to imagine that all of them were drilled by hand using a sledge hammer and iron bit.

After what I endured there was no way in hell I was hiking back the way I came, so I decided to follow the creek. I knew that it would eventually lead out to the road and I could walk the road back to my car.

I was shocked to find that leading out from the quarry was a really nice trail. Wide, flat and paralleling the creek it went straight to a pull off on the side of the road. It took me less then 1/3 the time to hike out as it did to go in. As I trudged up the side of the hill back to my car I silently cursed Braiden for sending me the most difficult way possible.

Directions: Head South from Delaware Water Gap on Rt. 611. Turn right onto National Park Drive. The road makes a 180 degree turn after you cross a bridge. In the middle of the turn there should be a pull off on the left that fits one or two cars. Park and follow the edge of the woods up the road (away from the bridge) until you hit the path. If you start trudging up the side of the hill you have gone too far!

View Bad Directions: Slateford Quarry in a larger map
Roamed on 10/20/2012
One of the greatest bonuses to being a ranger is you get a detailed behind the scenes look at the park and the surrounding area. There always seems to be at least one person in each park that knows it like the back of their hand and can direct you to where the neat spots are. In my park last summer (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area) this person was Braiden. One day at work he mentioned that he had discovered an old ruined church just outside of the park in New Jersey. As I am always looking for cool things to explore I made a mental note of it.

Unfortunately, a combination of poor directions from Braiden and my own lousy sense of direction doomed my first two attempts to locate the ruins. On my third try I broke down and did what anyone does when they can’t find an answer. I did a search on the net. It was a little hard to find but I eventually succeeded in locating it.

My little sister, Laura, decided to accompany me on my final quest to locate the ruins. Our first stop though, wasn't the church. While hunting down the location of the church I had stumbled across an entirely different ruin mentioned on Google Earth, so I figured we would head to that mill ruin as well.

The mill ruin was supposed to be in the White Lake Wildlife Management Area. Unfortunately, the NJ department of Fish and Wildlife really has no good trail maps of its WMAs online. So to find the trail, we hoped that once we got there that we would find a map of the area attached to a board or something. Our faith did not go unrewarded. There was indeed a map, although it was almost completely faded to a nasty off white color.

We parked at the spot indicated on the map but were shocked to find there was no trail. Confused, we hiked toward the creek that was supposed to be next to the ruins. We even asked some bicyclists,who were doing the nearby Paulinskill Valley Rail Trail, if they knew the location of the mill. No luck. We were just about to give up hope when they came back. Certainly, there was no mill ruin in the area, they said. However, just up an old road there is a rather large icehouse ruin. The stupid net guy, as they so often do, had gotten it wrong.

The funny thing was the old road started back where we had parked. We didn't go up it because it looked like it led to an active farm. I am a little leery about hiking near farms like that. I have hiked several places where I knew of some old farmers keeping a well-oiled shotgun just for people trespassing on their land. Because I rather like myself without a lot of holes, we did not even consider it.
Does that look like a trail to you? You can see the farm to the left.
We found the ruins just like the old couple said, a quarter of a mile back into the woods we came across the ruin. When you first come across it its sheer mass causes you to stop dead in your tracks. I have seen many ruins across America and few are as large and well preserved.
My sister Laura, shows just how huge the ruins actually are
On seeing the ruin it makes sense that it was an icehouse. In the days before refrigeration people would go out to the lakes and saw off huge blocks of ice. Using insulated boxes and rooms lined with sawdust they used it to keep their food cold all year long. The ruins location, right next to a large lake, would have been ideal for processing and storing the ice. It may be hard to believe now but this was a major industry at the time.

Later, I would realize that part of the problem was that the ruin is in the White Lake Natural Area not White Lake Wildlife Management Area. They are right next to each other so I guess a little confusion is understandable.

Afterwards, we finally went to the church. It was only a mile down the road. We didn't  need to make a single turn. It was much easier to find being literally right of the road. They even had some interpretive signs up so you can’t miss it. 
The church had its start in the fervor of the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800’s. At this time a massive eruption of religious passion was gripping the nation. It led in turn to people seeking new paths to God and this led to the founding of the Christian Connection. The Connection was the “first” Christian denomination to be founded on American soil.

While I don’t really buy the whole first church thing, the Connection did have several interesting things going for it. It was the first to use religious newspapers to keep connected. This was important for them because the churches were almost completely decentralized. They had no form of central authority; each church was on its own. Couple that with the fact that the entire movement was founded on the passion of its preachers. It’s not surprising that the church perished. Over time, the zeal of its leaders inevitably declined, and many passed away, sapping the church of its strength. Individual churches, as they were never part of a higher authority in the first place, drifted away leading to the death of the movement. Eventually the remaining churches were absorbed into the Congregational Churches.

This particular church was built in 1841 and lasted until 1870, only 29 years. The church nowadays is the centerpiece of the Hardwick Township historical society, which is where the interpretive signs come from. Unlike most ruins, where signs are posted telling you to stay out, at Spring Valley they actually want you to come inside. They have benches and what would be a beautiful garden in the spring. It’s almost a chapel. It’s a very peaceful setting.

Over my career as a ranger I have seen a lot of interesting and historic ruins. However, to find two such high class ruins only a mile or two apart from each other is definitely a rare treat.

Directions- Icehouse: Go north from Blairstown, NJ on Stillwater Rd. (County Rt. 521) for approximately 3.4 miles. Turn right onto Spring Valley Road for one mile. There will be a pull off to your left.

Directions- Spring Valley Church: Instead of turning right on Spring valley road turn left and travel approximately 1.5 miles. The church will be visible from the road.

View Road To Ruins in a larger map
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the National Association for Interpretations national conference in Hampton, VA. NAI is the professional organization for park rangers, nature guides, museum curators, etc… Basically if you talk to the public about nature or history, NAI is the professional organization for it.

One of the most exciting events held during the conference was the field trip on Friday. Out of the many options, I chose “Ft. Monroe Interpretative Work in Progress.” Ft. Monroe is a brand new unit of the National Park Service, as in of November 1, 2011 new. The whole point of the field trip was to take a behind the scenes look at setting up a new NPS site.

I will freely admit that I did not have the best reasons for picking this trip. While I was somewhat curious at how you create a new monument, my real reason was to check another part of the NPS off my life list (33% of all NPS sites complete!). I just wasn’t that interested in the fort itself. I was “oh my not another system three fort.” For those of you who are not history buffs or live anywhere other than the East Coast, system three forts are a group of 42 massive stone forts that were built all up and down the eastern seaboard after the war of 1812 to protect key areas. The NPS already has quite a few of them protected with Ft. Warren, Ft. Hancock, Ft. Wadsworth, Ft. Sumter, Ft. Pulaski, Ft. Jefferson, Ft. Massachusetts, Ft. McRee, Ft. Point lying within NPS units. These forts are all built from the same general plan so, if you’ve seen one you've seen them all. So why do we need another one?

Well, it turns out there are some very good reasons for Ft. Monroe to join the system. Perhaps the most important is that it was the first (and largest) of the system three forts. It’s not just another cookie cutter fort, it created the mold from which all other system three forts were made.

It also was quite distinguished in the Civil War. It always remained in Union hands. Think about it, this is a fort in Virginia and it NEVER fell to the Confederates. In fact, the forts defenses were so good they didn't even try to take the fort. Because it was a Union stronghold deep within the confederacy this led to the Peninsula Campaign, a botched attempt early in the war to seize Richmond, the Confederate capitol. This is also where a Union General Benjamin F. Butler declared slaves, who came into the possession of Union troops, to be “contraband of war.” While this in no way declared that slaves were human and had rights, it did lead to massive slave runaways and was a stepping stone in the abolition of slavery.

The "freedom gate" that contraband slaves passed through.
The other thing that I found fascinating about the fort was the fort’s town. Most forts when handed over to the NPS are first left to languish for about 10 years, letting most of their structures decay. With Ft. Monroe, the transfer was almost immediate; everything is left intact. A partner of the park, the Ft. Monroe Authority is currently finding new uses for the forts buildings so that in the future the area will look just like it does now.

The fort's old hotel is now an assisted living facility thanks to the Ft. Monroe Authority.
This rapid turnover, we found, was the main problem in creating the park. The army pretty much went “here’s the keys, have fun!” and left. The NPS and the Authority then had the unenviable task of trying to keep the fort open to the public while learning how everything works.

One of the truisms in working with the parks is that most people don’t really know or care who owns and runs the park as long as they can keep doing what they have been doing; Army, NPS, Ft. Monroe Authority, doesn't matter. When change comes though, people get mad. Nothing drove this home for the NPS more than the issue of Ft. Monroe’s flag. The army, by law, is required to take down the American flag when they decommission a base. This is what they did when they left the fort, and the NPS arrived just in time to get the masses of complaints over there not being a flag. The poor NPS staffers, all two of them, spent several frustrating weeks with negotiating with the army and the powers that be just to get the flag back.

I have no doubt that someday Ft. Monroe will be a great member of the NPS. I am just grateful that I am not one of the ones that have to set it up. Fight on Ft. Monroe staff!!!!

    Alex Emert

    An oudoorsman for many a year the Roaming Ranger is a seasonal ranger for the National Park Service.

    NOTE: All opinions expressed in this site are solely my own and are not intended to represent any organization I have worked for.


    December 2012
    November 2012



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