Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kittatiny Ridge hike, Oct. 1995

In my entry of December 22, 2008, I wrote about the 750–acre wild fire on the Kittatinny Ridge of early September 1995. A few weeks later, after the fire was 100 percent contained, my friend and I took a hike up to the ridge to see the area of the wild fire for ours selves. I have noted in the images from Google Earth included above the approximate location of where we parked and where one edge of the wild fire was. As I write this, I am looking at a map of this area from the NY–NJ Trail Conference with a notation that the area that I am writing about is within the boundaries of the Worthington State Forest. Please keep in mind that I am going by memory, aided by the fact that I know what trail we took the ridge.

Remembering that we took a trail known as the Douglas Trail which joins the Appalachian Trail (AT) just over one–half mile south of Sunfish Pond and remembering looking to my right to see one portion of the burned area, I came up with an approximate location for one edge of the fire. You approach the Douglas Trail from River Road, off of I–80 west near the Delaware Water Gap (on the border of NJ/PA border). If you look closely at the topographical map, you might be able to make out a dashed line climbing the ridge not far from an approximate location of the parking area where we parked off of River Road.

If memory serves, in 1995 there was a backpackers camping area at the junction of the Douglas Trail and the AT. I remember that this was a cleared area. I mention this backpackers camping area because we ran someone who had some affiliation, either with the NJ Forest Service or with the NY/NJ Trail Conference. I availed myself of the opportunity to ask him how the fire started and s/he told me that it was an “illegal” campfire. The illegal notation is important because at the time of this fire, there was a Statewide ban on all outdoor campfires in NJ as well as similar bans in adjoining areas of NY and PA because of the drought.

It is possible, but I don’t exactly trust my memory on this point, that as I was glancing to my right and seeing the burned area, that this burned area was “across” the trail from the backpackers camping area. The backpackers camping area being one lilkely place for an “illegal” campfire.

My point being that I recall being saddened by the fact that fire was of human origin, but then I understand that many wildfires are of human origin.

My other point being that with the possible exception of hikes in the NJ Pine Barrens, this was the first time that I recall being up close and personal with an area that was burned in a wild fire. I recall the charred understory and the burned tree trunks (sometimes known as snags) devoid of much of their limbs.

We have since slacked off on our day hiking, and while I am pretty certain that we have visited this area of the ridge after the October 1995 hike, it may have been eight or nine years since we have been to the ridge. Since I have been both thinking and writing about this fire, I do want to hike up the ridge –– climbing 1,000 feet in elevation –– on the same trail this coming spring or summer. I am somewhat heavier than I was thirteen years ago, and I have problems with my knees. I want to see for myself how the area burned in 1995 has recovered.

I have always remembered the images of seeing these burned areas that had burned a month earlier, a reminder of the power of fire. And a reminder of the human origins of many fires.

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