High Point State Park, NJ  

TOPIC: High Point State Park

From Dale Luthringer 


On 2/15/08 I had the opportunity to visit High Point State Park , located in the northernmost section of New Jersey .  I was given a reliable tip from Bill Sweeney, environmental education specialist supervisor at Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center , about an old growth Atlantic white cedar swamp located there.   

High Point State Park is named due to it being the highest point in the entire state of New Jersey .  A large stone monument marks this point at 1803ft above sea level.  The view from the monument is spectacular.  It was a little brisk and windy that day... the temperature was in the upper teens, with a sustained wind at that elevation pushing 35mph with gusts approaching 50, almost blew my camera tripod over a couple of times, and that was in a sheltered location...   

Here's some background information off their state park website and pamphlet:  



"The view from High Point Monument , at 1,803 feet above sea level, is a spectacular panorama of rich farmland and forest, soft hills and lush valleys in three states. The blue line of the Delaware River divides the verdant ridges of New Jersey from those of Pennsylvania . High Point offers superb trails for hikers and skiers and quiet spots for campers and anglers.

Located in the extreme northwest corner of New Jersey , the park is situated along the crest of the Kittatinny Mountains in Sussex County .  The 15,654-acre park extends eight miles southwest from the New York State border where it joins Stokes State Forest .  The blue line of the Delaware River divides the verdant ridges of New Jersey from those of Pennsylvania . 

The land for High Point State Park , donated by Colonel Anthony R. and Susie Dryden Kuser, was dedicated as a park in 1923. The pleasant landscaping was designed by the Olmsted Brothers of Boston, a prominent landscape architectural firm of that time. The brothers were the sons of the eminent Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park .  

High Point Monument

The monument was built through the generosity of the Kusers, in honor of all war veterans. Construction was started in 1928 and completed in 1930. At the top of the 220-foot structure, observers have a breathtaking view of the ridges of the Pocono Mountains toward the west, the Catskill Mountains to the north and the Wallkill River Valley in the southeast. "



Bill told me that the old growth Atlantic white cedar swamp was located in the Dryden Kuser Natural Area.  Here's a brief clip from their website:"

Dryden Kuser Natural Area (1,500 acres)

At 1,500 feet above sea level, the Atlantic white cedar swamp in Dryden Kuser Natural Area is the highest elevation swamp of its kind in the world. A self-guided trail booklet for those who wish to hike the swamp trail is available at the park office. Endangered species include the three-tooth cinquefoil and Cooper's hawk.

 View of cedar swamp

Virtually untouched by the logging activities that cleared much of the Kittatinny Ridge in the 1800's, the cedar swamp supports a variety of conifers, including large hemlocks, white pine, spruce and mature Atlantic white cedar.  Thickets of rhododendron, mountain laurel and blueberries interspersed with shrubs and other plants comprise the undergrowth.  The cedar swamp is also known for its abundant and diverse population of birds and other wildlife.

Cedar Swamp Trail

The Dryden Kuser Natural Area includes a distinctive bog, locally called the Cedar Swamp . The Cedar Swamp Trail makes a one and a half mile loop around the bog. The trail guide described the spring-summer vegetation and other features of the bog and the surrounding area. The descriptions in the guide correspond to numbered posts on the trail. As you enjoy the natural beauty of this area, please remember to leave it undisturbed for future visitors.

Also, the North Country Trail runs through the park as well:


Appalachian Trail

To the south, the Appalachian Trail follows a rocky ridge which offers many scenic views of the valleys and mountains surrounding the area. To the north, the trail drops off the ridge through hemlock gorges into former agricultural fields with a view of the surrounding countryside and the High Point Monument in the distance.

"   High point Monument

Anyway, Bill directed me to the Kuser Natural Area to observe the highest known old growth Atlantic white cedar swamp in the area.  I didn't realize it was the highest known in the world until I read their website.  The pamphlet says the cedar are "mature", but many of these are ancient.  According to an interpretive panel on the loop Cedar Swamp Trail, the oldest cedars starting growing here near 300 years ago.  I easily agree with that statement after observing the twisted forms of the largest and oldest cedars on my walk that day.

 HPSP Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Entrance Area


 Atlantic White Cedar


 Atlantic White Cedar


Kuser Road leads you to the Cedar Swamp Trail, but it was closed due to a good 8-10" of hard pack ice, almost needed my crampons to walk it.  It was a good mile walk to the trailhead.  Once on the trail, it wasn't long before the swamp came into view.  I decided to go counterclockwise and immediately ran into my first clump of cedar.  This was the first time I observed this species of cedar this far away from the Atlantic coast.  The size of the cedar wouldn't be spectacular to most, but they were easily the largest I've seen in my limited observation of this species.


  HPSP Black Gum


Being this high up in elevation just under the tops of a very windswept mountain, heights and girths of trees weren't particular impressive.  What did catch my attention was the collection of various tree species and their associated ages.  Pitch pine was spotty in places along the edges of the swamp which was dominated by various species of oak (white, chestnut, N. red, scarlet) and mountain laurel with a scattering of E. white pine.  As you progress into the swamp species composition changed to being dominated by black gum, E. hemlock, great rhododendron, and Atlantic white cedar.  I did find one nice (red) spruce in the swamp near the edge. 

I didn't venture into the heart of the swamp, and only stuck to the edge and associated trail on this trip.  The ice was intermittent at spots, and I didn't come equipped with hip waders (drowners) and hay hooks in case I went through.  As I worked my way counterclockwise around the swamp,


   The Boardwalk

I came to a boardwalk that was elevated over an inundated section of swamp.  This was the best section of trail.  A heavy freezing rain the day before resulted in Atlantic white cedars hanging over the boardwalk, creating a tunnel like sensation through the oldest stand of cedars seen so far this day.  This is where the largest and oldest cedars were located.  Ancient hemlock and black gum interspersed as well, but the cedars were definitely the " high point " of the day.  I was straining to hopefully see some balsam fir tops, but to no avail.  The swamp brought back memories from another high altitude swamp near State College , PA known as Bear Meadows N.A, and I was hoping to see more species similarities:


Not long after leaving the boardwalk, I noted a fresh set of black bear tracks crossing the trail and entering the swamp.  That's funny, I observed no tracks exiting out the other side... I wasn't alone.  The Cedar Swamp was definitely a wild and secluded place this time of year.  It is not difficult to find Kuser Natural Area.  High Point State Park is located approximately 4 miles south of Port Jervis, NJ on RT23.  Then follow Kuser Road to the trailhead.


The only bad news of the day was that hemlock woolly adelgid was here.  The good news was that I didn't observe any major mortality yet.


  (Red) Spruce


I noted the following woody species:

Atlantic white cedar

Black gum

Chestnut oak

E. hemlock

E. white pine

Great rhododendron


Mountain laurel

N. red oak

Pitch pine

Red maple


Scarlet oak

White birch

White oak

Yellow birch

 Mountain Laurel

Here's a visual age estimate of what I believe the oldest species located here should attain:


Species                        Age Estimate   Location


Atlantic white cedar        300+                 swamp

Black gum                     300                   swamp

E. hemlock                    300                   swamp

(Red) spruce                 175                   swamp

White oak*                    150                   swamp edge/upland

N. red oak*                    125                   swamp edge/upland

Chestnut oak*                100+                 swamp edge/upland

Pitch pine*                    100                   swamp edge/upland

* A pamphlet put out by the park entitled, 'A High Point in Time:  The Chronological History of High Point State Park', state s that the ridge the ridgetop was heavily logged in the 1850's.


Here's a tally of the day's stats:

Species                        CBH     Height  Comments

Atlantic white cedar        N/A       N/A       ~88 rings on boardwalk trail cut limb of 0.9ft circumference, jutting off main stem of 3ft circumference 7ft up tree, rings so tight on this limb in certain sections that I couldn't count them

Atlantic white cedar        6.3        46.9      ~300 year age class, most likely even older, largest & gnarliest observed on hike

Atlantic white cedar        N/A       54.5      unreachable due to ice and high water

Atlantic white cedar        5          N/A       ~300 year age class

Atlantic white cedar        5.4        56.3      ~300 year age class

Atlantic white cedar        4.1        56.6

Atlantic white cedar        4.4        N/A       41 19.775N x 74 39.501W

Black gum                     7.4        42.6      huge bark furrows (~4" deep!), ~300+ age class

(Red) spruce                 4.8        60         ~175+ age class, similar in size, site, bark texture, & crown architecture to those cored at Bear Meadows N.A.

E. hemlock                    8.7        70.6

E. white pine                 7.8        88.1

Great rhododendron        1          N/A

Mountain laurel              0.7        11.4

Pitch pine                      3.9        50.6

Pitch pine                      5.4        70

White birch                    N/A       N/A       ~36 rings at 3.4ft up at 1ft circumference

Sorry, guys, one species shy of a Rucker Index.  The oaks were located just outside the swamp, and I wanted to spend my limited time exploring the old growth within the swamp.  Another great day, and a must see site for ENTS who happen to be passing through the area.


== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Wed, Apr 9 2008 9:15 pm
From: James Parton


Those White Cedars are awesome! Their form reminds me of Incense
Cedar. That old alligator barked Blackgum is great also.

James P.

== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Wed, Apr 9 2008 10:05 pm
From: JamesRobertSmith

Nice report. Interesting to see the bear track. I recall the black
bear from last year that had to be destroyed because some pranksters
stashed some food in one of their companion's sleeping bag to attract
a bear (the sleeping companion had no idea, of course). A bear
appeared, ended up nipping the guy's foot (the happy fools who
instigated the "prank" took videos of their funny trick). The bear,
although having done no real damage (it ran away after the sleeping
guy woke up to find a bear nibbling on his sleeping bag), was tracked
and killed.

I would guess the best time to explore this bog would be in winter
when it's frozen and there's less chance of damaging any sensitive
plants. It reminds me a little of the fen on Bluff Mountain in Ashe

TOPIC: Fw: High Point State Park

== 1 of 4 ==
Date: Thurs, Apr 10 2008 6:23 am
From: "Neil Pederson"

Hi Dale,

Lovely place, isn't it. I can help flesh out some of the age structure for
the cedar and spruce.

Many of the cedars had some rot. Despite that, we were able to find 10 of
20 trees greater than 150 yrs in 2002. The oldest was 196 yrs followed by
the next four oldest at 185, 184, 176 and 173 yrs. There were other clusters
of Atlantic white-cedar (AWC) at 130 and 110 yrs old. The climatic response
of this population was compared to other AWC from northern New Jersey to the
northernmost-known population in southern Maine in a paper by Myvonwynn
Hopton. I can provide a copy of that publication to anyone interested.

The bear certainly do love that forest. Please see the attached pic of a
bear-marked spruce. For scale purposes, the person in the image is Dr.
Christa Farmer, now of Hofstra University. Christa stands at least 5' 9", if
not a little more.

large.AWC.jpg (50525 bytes)

Now, the spruce. I, too, thought they were black spruce based on their
appearance and literature [Niering, 1953 - *http://tinyurl.com/3zorz6* ].
After finding some of the ages and discussions with Dr. Charlie Cogbill and
Ed Cook, I've been persuaded that they are likely red spruce. Of the 20
spruce cored, 9 were more than 150 yrs. The oldest dates to the late-1740s,
making it at least 254 yrs. The next four oldest trees were 198, 196, 173
and 169 yrs. I had a devil of a time crossdating these trees. Since the
1960s, there were many missing rings on some sides of these trees. [Side
note: a nearby OG stand with a similar composition of AWC, red spruce and
black gum on Bellvale Mountain, NY had AWC nearly as old and red spruce that
dated to the 1720s and 1750s. The crossdating of these spruce were even more
difficult than the High Point population.]


== 2 of 4 ==
Date: Thurs, Apr 10 2008 2:16 pm
From: djluthringer@pennswoods.net

Hi Niel,

Thanks for setting me straight on the spruce ID. It seemed a little tall for
black spruce, but then I wouldn't expect red spruce to be growing in saturated
wetland soils. They'll have to change their interpretive sign there as well.
It brought back memories of my problems to distinguish the two species back at
Bear Meadows N.A. near State College. I assume I'm dealing with the
hybridization issue again...

Did you guys core any of the fatter Atlantic white cedar across the water from
the boardwalk? Those were definitely the largest individuals I came across.

That's incredible age for red spruce, at least from my limited observation of
the species. The spruce I cored at Bear Meadows went ~217 rings.

Thanks so much for the age distribution data. Great stuff.

It really is a special little site. I'm always looking for opportunities to
expand my species composition/age structure knowledge. We certainly don't have
this stuff readily available at Cook.


== 3 of 4 ==
Date: Thurs, Apr 10 2008 2:50 pm
From: "Neil Pederson"


Please, I was not trying to set you straight at all. Just trying to say
that I went through the same thing and discussed it with others. Charlie
Cogbill is pretty sure they are red spruce. They are funky & cool spruce no
matter what species box they end up in.

We stayed away from the boardwalk to not attract to much attention to what
we were doing [not that we did anything illegal; we had a permit]. I cored
one large AWC and it wasn't as old as some of the others. I do not remember
its age, but I am thinking it is in the lower 100s. I recall being excited
to core it and bummed when I first saw its rings. Attached is a pic of that
tree. I get tricked by trees. I only got a pic of the old tulip in the
Smokies six months after it was cored. It was not that impressive until we
got to peer inside of it.

Yeah, I was surprised by the age of those spruce, especially on the
outskirts of the NYC metro area. But, a quick glance shows that 400+ yr old
red spruce have been found from NC to Canada:

thanks for the report. Brought back some great memories [and fun data!].


== 4 of 4 ==
Date: Thurs, Apr 10 2008 4:00 pm
From: "Dale Luthringer"


Not at all. I'm glad you let me know about it. Tree ID is a continual
learning process for me, as well as attempting to visually judge a rough
age of trees.

That is a nice cedar. It approaches the largest I came upon near the
boardwalk. I'll have to save a venture deeper into the swamp for
another day.

Cool "bear spruce" pic too.