Location The Black River Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located in the township of Chester, is 12 miles west of Morristown and about one hour’s drive from New York City. This beautiful area, more than 3,000 acres in size, is easily accessible from routes 80, 206 and 513.
Once in the area, the Morris County’s Patriot’s Path hiking trail crosses through the Black River WMA. The trail runs along the wide and swampy section of the river and continues down into a gorge known as Hacklebarney State Park, where the Black River briskly cuts its way through rocky boulders, creating cascading waterfalls in beautiful hemlock-lined ravines. Along the way, you’ll pass some smaller beaver-made ponds and some larger man-made ponds, all with great photography opportunities.
The Black River is only 12 miles long from beginning to end and highlights the natural beauty of the area with its combination of marshlands, rolling uplands, lowland swamps, stands of hardwoods and pockets of conifers. A variety of flora and fauna can be found here, including turtles, muskrat, mink and beaver, as well as many ducks, geese and herons. The fields and forest provide a habitat for birds and animals, such as grouse, pheasant, woodcock, fox, coyote, bobcat, black bear, deer and many other species.
Weather This area of New Jersey can experience extreme temperatures in both summer and winter, which may make the spring and fall a more comfortable time to visit. The new colors of spring and the vivid colors of autumn make these seasons great times to photograph, although the new snows of winter can be nice, too! New Jersey summers can reach into the upper 80s and 90s with high humidity, and winters can get down into the single digits.
Photo Experience This area is so diverse in its ever-changing landscapes that you should probably carry all your different lenses. In early morning, you’ll find all kinds of birds and wildlife along the river and ponds, so a long lens is best. In spring and summer, there’s an abundant supply of wildflowers and mushrooms, so carry your tripod and close-up lens, not to mention tick spray. A good pair of hiking boots is recommended. In the northern section, the river creates different channels that can be explored from a canoe or kayak.
The best times to shoot in the open river areas and the ponds are early morning and late evening when the light is low and there might be a mist rising. In the wooded gorge area of Hacklebarney, you’d want to wait until the light is a bit higher, so it can filter down through the trees.
Best Times In spring, the landscape comes alive with red-winged black birds, swallows, ducks and heron, not to mention the woodland wildflowers. The autumn colors start earlier along the river than they do down in the forest areas of the gorge, so there’s good color almost anytime in October. In winter, the river is likely to freeze over and to view the scene with a fresh coat of snow can be exhilarating. During summer, some dramatic sunrises, along with mist rising from the water, can create a photograph for which you’ve waited a whole lifetime!
Essential Gear... When you’re out in the wilderness looking for that perfect shot, a lightweight tripod could make the day a lot more enjoyable. The Gitzo Mountaineer Weekend Tripod G1058 weighs a mere 1.7 pounds and will hold up to 6.6 pounds. Made of carbon 6X, Gitzo’s next generation in carbon-fiber technology, this tripod is durable and stable, and has one of the best strength-to-weight ratios of any tripod in its class. Contact: Gitzo (Bogen Imaging), www.bogenimaging.us.