Everyone has seen Jersey barriers along the highway, but today I actually saw Jersey bears (and no, it’s not a minor league baseball team)!
While visiting the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which straddles the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border, I stopped at the Kaiser Trailhead in New Jersey’s Worthington State Forest. The Flowering Dogwood trees were at their peak of bloom, so the woods were filled with that wonderful white frost of blossoms, which contrasted with the spring green haze of emerging maple and oak leaves. After I finished my dogwood photography, I was putting away my gear and preparing to drive away when I looked into the forest again and saw an American Black Bear foraging in a forest opening about 100 yards away. Excited, I stopped stashing my equipment and instead pulled out the 500mm lens and 1.4x extender [this is a photographer's blog, so I have to mention my equipment!]. Then I set about observing and taking a few photographs when the bear was most visible in the forest.
Then, much to my surprise, two young cubs appeared in the brush—they were accompanying their mother. The mother was well aware of my presence, and I dared not get too close to her. The cubs were more skittish, and I was unable to get any photographs of them. The mother was keeping them on a long leash, so to speak, so they were not cuddling up to her but instead were foraging on their own. I found the mother bear’s feeding behavior fascinating; she would walk up to a rock on the forest floor, and use her front feet and claws to lift the edge of it–looking underneath for any grubs or ants or anything else edible that might be hiding there. There were plenty of rocks, as this trailhead was at the base of Kittatinny Mountain, which has a backbone of crumbly rock. I observed one of the young bears working the rocks the same way–mother had already taught these young cubs well. Eventually the bears ambled up the mountain and out of sight, but I was left with a thrilling and completely unexpected experience.
Earlier, a young man who I suspect is a recent immigrant from Russia, stopped to ask directions. Accompanied by his mother, he had left the interstate looking for a gas station and instead ended up on this remote forest road. He was from Ottawa, Canada, and was returning to Canada from a New York City road trip. As we were talking, I pointed over his shoulder at the mother bear, which had gotten unexpectedly close. He was startled and amazed, and said it was the first wild bear he had ever seen. I think his mother, who remained in the car, was scared to death!
After I left that area, I stopped at Dunnfield Creek Natural Area and walked the Appalachian Trail–or at least 50 yards of it! This is one of the access points along the great trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia. Dunnfield Creek is noted for its crystal clear waters that support the fussy native Brook Trout, who are known for demanding clean water and refuse to inhabit anything else. Some fish, and some people, demand only the best!
When I was visiting the campground at Worthington State Forest, I saw a petition to save the campground from the budget axe. It seems that the governor of New Jersey plans to close nine of these state forest campgrounds around the state to save money. The implication was that the state intends to privatize some of these campgrounds, and that would be a shame.
For several federal administrations I have seen the U.S. Forest Service steadily privatizing the operation of its campgrounds, and I’m not happy with the results. The price immediately goes up (to cover the profit of the operator) and the service goes down. At one such campground in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I found the bathrooms filthy and the water not turned on and the garbage cans removed, yet the price had gone up. Why should we accept this?
When I visited Grand Teton National Park two years ago, I learned that they had privatized the national park campground where I normally stay. I always enjoyed registering for camping and having informative conversations with the park rangers who staffed the office. But with privatization the price had gone up and the people staffing the front desk could not answer my questions about the park. Then one of their cell phones rang with one of those ugly musical ringtones and destroyed whatever good mood I had left. Hey people, this is a national park, not a mall! Learn about it so you can answer my questions and treat it with respect!
I guess the real problem is that America is failing to adequately fund the national parks and forests, and we are gradually seeing the fallout from that. It is a shame to see Theodore Roosevelt’s great national forests and our heritage of great national parks fall into mediocrity.
This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com
Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.