Hitting the Trail in Montclair

The stillness among the trees resplendent in fall colors so close to a major metropolis is truly remarkable.  Montclair has this to offer in more than one location along the Watchung mountain range.  Walking any one of the trails will immerse you in nature, away from the noise of the modern world.  For beginners, local historian Rich Rockwell recommends the shorter trails of Eagle Rock Reservation (3.4 miles) and Mills Reservation (2.1 miles).

Rich Rockwell has knowledge as encyclopedic about the history of buildings, streets and vanished waterways as it is about plants, native and invasive, which he freely identifies.  History is told by the presence and absence of things:  a hitching post invisible to most passersby, driveways missing from the fronts of houses older than the invention of the automobile.  The signs are everywhere to the informed eye, except in the reservations, where the rocks, the trees and the paths underfoot remain as they have always been, making you feel as if you have stepped outside of time.

It’s thrilling to discover in a suburban town in such close proximity to the country’s largest city hiking trails, forest reserves, and a 30-acre wildlife preserve. This uplifting contrast is communicated with visual impact by the Eagle Rock Reservation, a 400-acre park along the ridge of the First Watchung Mountain, with its dramatic views of New York City.

Eagle Rock is crossed by the 36-mile Lenape Trail, the longest trail that runs through Montclair.  It cuts across 18 parks in 11 municipalities in Essex County.  You can see informational markers for it in the Iris Presby Gardens on Upper Mountain Avenue, at the base of Mills Reservation.  This page on the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference site has an official guide and map: https://www.nynjtc.org/content/lenape-trail-guide.

The Lenape are the indigenous people who inhabited all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, what is now New York City, Long Island, New York’s Hudson River Valley, and parts of Delaware.

Much of the detail in this piece of writing came from an interview with Rich Rockwell, Councilman at Large in Bloomfield Township. He is the Vice President of the Historical Society of Bloomfield.  He does historical walking tours twice a year.

In addition to Eagle Rock Reservation, other parks in or near Montclair are connected by the Lenape Trail, plus they have smaller trails within their confines.  The Brookdale Park Outer Loop is a 1.9-mile trail.  Kips Castle Park, located on the border of Montclair and Verona features a castle-like mansion, gardens, and hiking trails.

The Alonso F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve, Montclair’s 30-acre wildlife sanctuary, also includes trails.  It has an entrance on Riverview Drive West.  The Friends of Bonsal partner with volunteers and school groups to educate, maintain and preserve the area.

A group called “Let’s Walk” led by Liz Brady holds several walks weekly on trails in and around Montclair.  Information about the walks can be found on Meetup.

Freewheeling Around Town

Montclair residents and visitors make their own trails: walking, running and cycling are popular pursuits in the parks and on the streets.  There’s enough cycling activity to support three excellent stores:

Diamond Cycle Montclair at 409 Bloomfield Avenue

Montclair Bikery at 148 Valley Road

Pedal Montclair at 15 Midland Avenue

Fleet Feet Montclair hosts weekly runs around Montclair. Find their running schedule here

Another group called “Let’s Walk” led by Liz Brady holds several walks weekly on trails in and around Montclair.  Information about the walks can be found on here