Trail Running at Lake Denmark

So you thought this was gonna be another, “Ho hum, rollerskied three hours at Lake Denmark today.  The pavement sucked and I still haven’t seen a bear this year.”

While I did go to Lake Denmark on Sunday, I didn’t rollerski and still haven’t seen bears. But for a change of scenery, I did a trail run.  Impossible, you say?  Not so fast.  Last week, I had occasion to drive across Snake Hill Rd in Rockaway and spotted a trail marker on the north side of the road.  Three red blazes painted on a post were obviously a marker for a public right of way.  On both sides of the road, there are signs, “Morris County Park Commission, No Hunting.”

Undulating and unpaved, Snake Hill is apparently a charming afterthought  for the Rockaway DPW.  The washboarded sections, loose gravel and curves keep what little traffic there is moving slow.  I’ve run on the road a couple of times and seen, uh, overoptimistic young men with their car spun out in the ditch.  Towards the west end of the road, there’s a steep hill that used to be Roy’s go-to spot for bounding intervals.  It’s one of the roads that gives one hope that NJ won’t be totally overrun with development.

On Sunday, I returned to scope out the trail.  Parking at a turnout by Lake Ames, I ran half a mile down the road until I turned into the woods at the trail head.

While the blaze at the trail head seemed relatively new, the trail markers in the woods appeared old and haphazardly placed.  The trail meandered around the northwest side of a pond, passing a fireplace.  There were two brook crossings, one featuring the rusted remains of a convertible sofa.  Waterfront party action, anyone?

After 20 minutes, the trail descended a hill and unceremoniously dead-ended at the backyard of a house in Lake Telemark.  Bummer.  I climbed back up and struck out on an ATV track that I’d passed.

Unmarked and generally on a moderate grade, I passed two intersecting ATV trails that likely also led down to Lake Telemark.  If this were to go up to the ATV trail that crosses Lake Denmark Road near the Sterigenics building, that would open some possibilities.

Alas, after an hour I looped around back to… Snake Hill Road, west of the marked trail  head.  While I passed one track marked with a cairn that I didn’t explore, it doesn’t look good for extended trail running options on this side of Rockaway.  It may be just as well that this trail doesn’t go up towards Sterigenics, as there’s an EPA Superfund site across the road.  Turning around, I retraced my steps to my car.

Just off the intersection of the marked trail and my ATV track, I noticed another trail leading straight uphill.  It dead-ended on a summit, at a tree house complete with an elaborate ladder.  Climbing up to the tree house, it was too small for two adults, much less two or three kids having a secret hideout in the woods.  Scrawled on a rung of the ladder, was “State of NJ Wildlife Stand. For wildlife Observasion [sic] only.”  Somehow, it looked a lot more like a hunter’s blind than a “wildlife stand.”  Whatever that is.

Although it was a shorter day than I planned on, I have no regrets:  I have more intimate knowledge of my local turf than I did in the morning.