HAMBURG MOUNTAIN NORTH WMA (gone with the developers?)
Vernon Township, Sussex County, NJ


US 80 to Route 23 exit; head north on Rt. 23; pass by mile marker 44 on Rt. 23 and then turn right onto Route 517; travel north for 1.6 miles and turn right onto Sand Pond Road; travel one mile to a small pull-off big enough for about four cars; park. You can go north or south on old fire roads.

Big Developers in Town

The area north of the parking area used to be all part of the Hamburg WMA. However, most of the area has now been sold to a developer. But there are deed restrictions on the property stemming from the days when the place was Hamburg Wildlife Management Area.

1940, July -- New Jersey State bought the land atop Hamburg Mountain for a Wildlife Management Area using funds from the license fees of hunters and fishermen.

1940, August -- the state purchased 3,500 acres from the Bethlehem Steel Co. On top of Hamburg Mountain.

1965 -- Great Gorge Ski Area (GGSA) established.

1968 -- Vernon Valley Ski Area (VVSA) established, covering the largest ski area.

1968 -- the state leased a portion of the mountain to the Vernon Valley Ski Area (VVSA). But the owner started to abuse his rights and the state wildlife officials demanded that the ski resort owner be evicted. Court indictments were filed against the owner of the ski area with great embarrassment to the firm involved.

1971 -- Playboy Hotel founded in nearby McAfee. $20 million dollars on 1,000 acres, including the old Bethlehem Steel limestone quarries. Also founded at this time was Great Gorge North.

1971 -- the VVSA was bankrupt.

1974 -- the Vernon Valley Recreation Association (VVRA), a subsidiary of Great American Recreation, Inc. and led by Eugene Mulvihill, buys the GGSA and merges GGSA and VVSA into the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge Ski Area (VV/GGSA).

1975 -- Hidden Valley Ski Area established.

1978 -- Action Park with bumper boats, sand dune buggies, etc. Action Park's "Water World" comes to have more than 40 water rides. Altogether the entire complex has more than 75 rides, shows, and attractions.

1982 -- Playboy could not get the gambling permits; they sell to Americana Hotels. (The resort at one time was The Seasons Resort and Conference Center; now it is The Legends Resort and Country Club.)

1986 -- the state sells over 600 acres of the Hamburg land to the violating firm (VVSA from back in 1968). There is, however, a deed restriction on the property limiting its use to "passive recreation" only.

1992 -- the VVRA asks for permission to establish a golf course and a 1,000 site campground on top of Hamburg Mountain.

Now Vernon is a community of 23,000 residents focused on year-round recreation in a rural, family-oriented environment. But the town wants to expand considerably. They have plans for a new, pedestrian-friendly town center and an expanded existing resort to include an upscale village of boutiques, restaurants and resort housing. Plans for a 200,000-square-foot shopping village and short-term resort housing units should be completed within three years, according to Mayor Logan. Hidden Valley Ski and Tennis Club, the Great Gorge Golf Reserve, and The Legends Resort and Golf Club offer a host of amenities to residents and visitors alike. The recent proliferation of golf courses in the area has added to the resort-like feel of the town.

The big developer in the area is Intrawest. The company's strategy is to take under-performing resorts and transform them into financial successes by running year-round activities at the resorts. Intrawest also manages Raven in Arizona, Mammoth in California, Copper in Colorado, Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, and Stratton in Vermont. And in Canada, Blue Mountain and Mont Ste. Marie.

Land Plan: The new plans cover virtually the entire mountain top. The planned golf course will encircle Stewart Lake, almost encircle Green Lake and will cover large parts of Vernon Valley Lake.

Two developments will be placed just east of Great Gorge Lake (part of which is still public land -- how did the developers miss that one?); three developments will be put northeast of Great Gorge lake (containing Jewel and Fishing Bear Ponds); and five developments east of the aforementioned lakes and containing Lost Lake. This is the area between their Green Lake and the privately owned Lake Conway in the valley area near Route 515.

In Vernon the new area is called the Mountain Creek Ski Resort and Water Park. Mountain Creek Ski Resort and Water Park offers skiing and snowboarding in the Winter months, and swimming, mountain biking trails, skating park and rock climbing in the Summer. Managed by Intrawest, the largest ski operator in North America, Mountain Creek invested $35 million in recent upgrades at the former Action Park location.

The company's website says that visitors should take the scenic gondola ride to the top of Vernon Peak, and enjoy the colorful panoramic autumn views of Sussex County, including the High Point Monument and the patchwork of farms nestled into the Vernon Valley. After the gondola ride, the visitor will find miles of great hiking trails to take you away from it all. The mountain top is the gateway to over 30 miles of maintained mountain biking trails, from wide pleasant cruisers for the beginner, to super technical single track for the expert. Don't have a mountain bike? Rent one of ours they say.

The NJ Conservation Foundation, NJ Sierra, NJ Audubon and ANJEC began litigation against it and have contributed funding to the suit. According to the PEQUANNOCK POST - OCTOBER 2000 (GARDEN STATE ENVIRONET; newsstnd/peqpost.htm; a publication of the Pequannock River Coalition, P.O. Box 392, Newfoundland, NJ 07435 973-492-3212) Intrawest was granted virtual carte blanche. "We have encountered environmental impact statements for other development proposals that were flawed, biased or inaccurate. But the one produced by Intrawest for their enormous project on Hamburg Mountain is practically nonexistent. In testimony their environmental expert stated that dragging out construction over a 10-15 year period would be "beneficial" to wildlife. That the development would have no more impact than timber cutting carried out in the 1800's with handsaws and horse-drawn wagons. That sprawled building would be better for the environment than more compact clustering. And so on. Even more alarming was a Vernon Planning Board member asking Intrawest what environmental concerns the board should consider and which they should not - a definite case of hens asking foxes for advice.

"Intrawest has promised an enormous tax windfall for Vernon residents. Of course if this promise were true other resorts in the Great Gorge area would have made Vernon Township a taxpayers dream already. This so-called "public process" seems engineered to deny the public a voice. Witnesses are switched without notice and Vernon Town Hall continues to supply misinformation on meeting agendas."

2002  --  The Record (June 4, 2002:A-3 by Matthew Brown) reported that the state of New Jersey would buy back Hamburg Mountain top of 1,729 acres for $7.15 million dollars. Intrawest paid only $837,000 dollars for the land that now the state pays sixfold on a per-acre basis to get it back. (And the state will offer $360,000 dollars for improvements along Route 94 to handle the increased traffic that will result from the Intrawest resort and housing developments that will now proceed.

2003 (March 20)  --  the State of NJ and Intrawest Corporation finally closed on a deal permanently protecting much of Hamburg Mountain. For $7.1 million, the State took title to more than 1,800 acres. Intrawest has some rights for limited modernization/expansion. NJ Conservation Foundation and Highlands Coalition member groups— ANJEC, Environmental Defense, NJ Audubon Society, and NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club—won their 2001 lawsuit against NJDEP, Intrawest and the Vernon Twp. Environmental groups will help monitor the March 20 agreement. (Source: The Highlands Coalition’s quarterly newsletter "High Grounds" Summer 2003 published by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC);


Dr. Patrick L. Cooney

The town of Vernon, Sussex County, New Jersey is developing what was once the northern part of the Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

The poor town of Vernon, NJ cries to the state that they are destitute and really need to have the land that is designated a Wildlife Management Area. The state politicians say "O.k. we want to help you boys out and so you can have the W.M.A. But now we don't want you building big hotels up there -- we want you only to have passive recreation on the WMA lands." The town says "Oh, sure don't worry about it! We are also environmentalists too and respect the environment."

So the town gains the doughnut shaped once public lands (they already had the hole of the doughnut in private hands and the edges of the mountain). Once the town had the land, it decided to do with it whatever it wanted to do with it (while avoiding anything egregious like a grand hotel on top of the mountain). The town then sells the land to a big-time developer who decides to actively develop the mountain top. Among other things, they decide to put a 27-hole golf course on top of the mountain and five or so lodges and 1,500 residential units.
Now, the state does not say anything about this development. So, basically they passively accept the violation of their own restrictions.

Now, if it were not for the environmentalist groups, the town, the state, and the developers would have proceed apace and they would have all lived happily ever after. But the environmentalists saw through the tri-party "collusion" to violate the restrictions and decided to sue.

This type of cooperation on the part of the state with the developers is very worrisome. Can the state of New Jersey just sell off all the Wildlife Management Areas whenever the political pressure rises to a crescendo? And will they just play a pretend game with us, knowing all along that their restrictions on the use of the once-public lands will, over time, be violated?

Michael St. John went to two of the town planning meetings recently and I went to one, but I regard them as a waste of time for us. The town is basically cooperating with the lawyers and witnesses for the developers to make sure that the Department of Environmental Protection will not hassle them over their plans for development. The town board is helping the developers make a good development plan that will sail by the DEP and give the appearance, but not the substance, of environmental concern.

I sat and listened to two master's degree graduates of Rutgers University's environmental science and plant ecology departments wax lyrical on how they were making the golf course environmentally correct. Of course, the question of what the hell are you doing building a gold course on once-public lands that were sold to you for passive use only is never asked. And if one dares ask the question, they are quickly silenced with "You don't have to answer that question. We are only here to consider the golf course." And so the town cooperates with the developers and the state looks the other way.

Let me use an analogy here. When sociologists and other liberals killed the biological justifications for racism and established sociological interpretations of race relations, the racists learned the new sociological language and then used sociological arguments to justify racism. Similarly, the developers have learned to speak the environmentalist lingo and use it to push through their development plans. And the destruction of our environment proceeds apace.

Threatened Bird Species:

The cerulean warbler is a 4" long blue and white feathered bird. Many hope this bird will help save some of the Highlands from development. It is one of the country's fastest-daisappearing songbird. Over the past 30 years, it has declined by 70 percent.

The bird overwinters in Latin America. In New Jersey there are about 100 to 150 breeding pairs. Alex Nussbaum, "Songbird figures in Highlands fight." The Record November 15, 2000, pp. A-1 and A-5.


Walking north and then bearing right (heading east) brings the hiker to a beautiful lake. We did not see any no trespassing signs, although we expected to see some. The WMA officially only goes a short ways north.


Dr. Patrick L. Cooney and Michael St. John

Dr. Patrick L. Cooney, Michael St. John
dates are the days the plants were found in bloom

Acer rubrum (red maple) 4/19/01
Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
Amelanchier arborea (shadbush)
Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)
Betula lenta (black birch)
Betula populifolia (gray birch)
Carpinus caroliniana (musclewood)
Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory)
Carya glabra (pignut hickory)
Carya ovata (shagbark hickory)
Carya spp. (hickory)
Castanea dentata (American chestnut)
Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)
Crataegus sp. (hawthorn)
Fagus grandifolia (American beech)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Juniperus virginiana (red cedar)
Ostrya virginiana (American hop hornbeam)
Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)
Populus grandidentata (large-toothed aspen)
Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Prunus virginiana (choke cherry) -- big clump of them in the field
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus prinus (chestnut oak)
Quercus rubra (red oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac)
Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
Tilia americana (American basswood)
Tsuga canadensis (eastern hemlock)

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry)
Chimaphila maculata (spotted wintergreen)
Comptonia peregrina (sweetfern)
Cornus amomum (swamp dogwood)
Cornus racemosa (gray dogwood)
Epigaea repens (trailing arbutus) 4/21/01
Gaylussacia baccata (huckleberry)
Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel)
Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)
Lindera benzoin (spicebush) 4/21/01
Lonicera (Amur honeysuckle)
Lonicera morrowii (Morrow's honeysuckle)
Mitchella repens (partridgeberry)
Rhamnus (spiny end; lvs sub-opp)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rubus alleghaniensis (common blackberry)
Rubus occidentalis (black raspberry)
Rubus phoenicolasius (wineberry)
Salix discolor (pussy willow) 4/21/01
Spiraea tomentosa (steeplebush)
Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Vaccinium sp. (low bush blueberry)
Vaccinium stamineum? (deerberry)?
Viburnum acerifolium (maple-leaf viburnum)
Viburnum prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum)
Viburnum rafinesquianum (downy arrowwood viburnum)

Amphicarpaea bracteata (hog peanut)
Clematis virginiana (virgin's bower clematis)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)
Polygonum scandens (climbing false hempweed)
Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade)
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)
Vitis sp. (grape vine)

Achillea millefolium (yarrow)
Agrimonia rostellata (woodland agrimony)
Allium tricoccum (wild leek)
Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed)
Anemonella thalictroides (rue anemone) 4/21/01
Antennaria plantaginifolia (pussytoes)
Apocynum sp. (Indian hemp type)
Arabis laevigata (smooth rockcress)
Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)
Arctium minus (common burdock)
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
Asarum canadense (wild-ginger) 4/21/01
Asclepias syriacus (common milkweed)
Aster acuminatus (sharp-leaved aster) 11/07/00
Aster cordifolius (heart-leaved aster) 11/07/00
Aster divaricatus (white wood aster) 11/07/00
Aster novi-belgii (New England aster) 11/07/00
Aster pilosus (heath aster) 11/07/00
Aster undulatus (wavy-leaved aster) 11/07/00
Barbarea vulgaris (common wintercress)
Bidens frondosa (devil's beggar ticks)
Boehmeria cylindrica (false nettle)
Brasenia schreberi (water shield)
Cardamine concatenata (cut-leaved toothwort) 4/21/00
Centaurea jacea (brown knapweed)? 11/07/00
Centaurea maculosa (spotted knapweed) 11/07/00
Cerastium vulgatum (mouse-ear chickweed) 4/21/00
Chelone glabra (turtlehead)
Cichorium intybus (chicory) 11/07/00
Cirsium arvense (Canada thistle) 11/07/00 one in bloom
Cirsium vulgare (bull thistle)
Collinsonia canadensis (horse balm)
Comptonia peregrina (sweetfern)
Coronilla varia (crown vetch)
Cryptotaenia canadensis (honewort)
Cuscuta sp. (dodder)
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace)
Desmodium glutinosum (pointed leaved tick trefoil)
Dianthus armeria (Deptford pink) 11/07/00
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's breeches)
Elodea canadensis (common waterweed)
Epilobium coloratum (willow herb)
Erythronium americanum (trout lily) 4/21/01
Eupatorium maculatum (spotted joe pye weed)
Eupatorium perfoliatum (boneset)
Eupatorium rugosum (white snake root) 11/07/00
Euphorbia cyparissias (cypress spurge)
Euthamia graminifolia (grass-leaved goldenrod)
Fragaria virginiana (wild strawberry)
Galium lanceolatum (pointed-leaved wild licorice)
Galium triflorum (sweet-scented bedstraw)
Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)
Geum macrophyllum (large-leaved avens)
Glechoma hederacea (gill over the ground)
Hedeoma pulegioides (American penny royal)
Helianthus sp. (sunflower)
Hepatica americana (round-lobed hepatica) 4/21/00
Heuchera americana (alumroot)
Hieracium paniculatum (panicled hawkweed) 11/07/00
Hieracium sp. (hawkweed)
Hypericum perforatum (common saint johns wort)
Iris sp. (iris)
Lespedeza striata (Japanese bush clover)
Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs) 11/07/00 one in bloom
Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco lobelia) 11/07/00
Lycopus sp. (bugleweed)
Melampyrum lineare (cowwheat)
Melilotus alba (white sweet clover) 11/07/00 only one in bloom; 11/07/00
Mitella nuda (naked mitrewort)
Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot)
Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipe)
Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose)
Origanum vulgare (wild marjoram)
Osmorhiza longistylis (aniseroot)
Oxalis sp. (yellow wood sorrel)
Panax trifolius (dwarf ginseng) 4/21/00 near
Paronychia canadensis (forked chickweed)
Penstemmon sp. (beard tongue)
Plantago lanceolata (English plantain )
Polygonatum pubescens (hairy Solomon's seal)
Polygonum cespitosum (cespitose smartweed) 11/07/00
Polygonum punctatum (spotted smartweed)
Polygonum virginiana (jumpseed)
Potamogeton sp. (pondweed) small floating leaves, ribbon like submerged leaves
Potentilla canadensis (dwarf cinquefoil)
Potentilla simplex (common cinquefoil)
Prenanthes alba (tall white lettuce)
Prunella vulgaris (self-heal)
Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima (black-eyed Susan)
Rudbeckia sp. (laciniata var. laciniata?) (cutleaf coneflower)
Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) 4/21/00
Satureja officinalis (wild basil)
Saxifraga virginiensis (early saxifrage)
Solanum nigrum (black nightshade)
Solidago bicolor (silverrod)
Solidago caesia (blue stem goldenrod) 11/07/00
Solidago flexicaulis (zig-zag goldenrod) 11/07/00
Solidago puberula (downy goldenrod) 11/07/00
Stellaria media (common chickweed)
Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)
Thalictrum dioicum (early meadowrue)
Thalictrum pubescens (tall meadowrue)
Trifolium arvense (rabbitsfoot clover)
Trifolium aureum (yellow clover) 11/07/00
Trifolium pratense (red clover)
Tussilago farfara (colts foot) 4/21/01 -- lots along the Sand Pond Road
Typha latifolia (cattail)
Uvularia sessilifolia (sessile-leaved bellwort)
Veratrum viride (swamp hellebore)
Verbascum thapsus (common mullein)
Verbena urticifolia (white vervain)
Veronica officinalis (common speedwell)
Viola spp. (violet)

Rushes and Sedges:
Carex laxiflora type (sedge)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) 4/19/01
Carex stricta (tussock sedge)
Eleocharis sp. (spike rush)
Juncus canadensis (Canada rush)
Juncus effusus (soft rush)
Luzula multiflora (wood rush)
Scirpus cyperinus (woolly grass bulrush)

Echinochloa sp. (barnyard grass)
Eragrostis sp. (grass)
Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stilt grass)
Panicum clandestinum (deer tongue grass)
Panicum sp. (panic grass)
Phragmites australis (giant reed grass)
Schizachyrium scoparium (little blue stem grass)
Setaria spp. (foxtail grass)

Ferns and Fern Allies:
Equisetum arvense (field horsetail)
Lycopodium lucidulum (shining clubmoss)
Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern)
Dryopteris carthusiana (spinulose woodfern)
Dryopteris marginalis (marginal woodfern)
Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern)
Osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern)
Polypodium virginianum (rock cap fern)
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)
Thelypteris noveboracensis (New York fern)
Thelypteris palustris (marsh fern)

Fontinalis moss?


The weather threatened rain but it turned out to be a good day with just a touch of overcast skies. The group listened to the current news about the threat to Hamburg Mountain W.M.A. north with the huge Canadian company IntraWest wanting to develop almost the entire area into a ski-entertainment complex. The company wants to put up a golf course on W.M.A. land the state sold to them, but with a hitch. The land sale has the stipulation that the land only be used for "passive recreation" and golfing and mountain biking does not fit this description. It is very sad to think that soon this entire area could be soon unrecognizable to the hiker with the onset of massive development of the mountain.

The group found a lot of blooming spring wildflowers around the parking area on Sand Pond Road where there is a small stream nearby. Among the finds were Anemonella thalictroides (rue anemone), Asarum canadense (wild ginger), Cardamine concatenata (cut-leaved toothwort), Erythronium americanum (trout lily), Hepatica americana (round-lobed hepatica), and Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot). There were scads of Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) along Sand Pond Road.

The oak ridge itself was much drier with fewer blooms accordingly. Down by the lake there were lots of remnants of Comptonia peregrina (sweetfern). At the base of the dam we found Allium tricoccum (wild leek). We ate lunch by the lake, where we saw a beaver crossing the waters.

After lunch we walked up the path heading to the ski lift. On the way back, we found Epigaea repens (trailing arbutus) in bloom.

Total attendance was 13. The trip leader was Dr. Patrick L. Cooney. Thanks to Dr. William F. Standaert for his identification assistance and his compiling the plant list.

PLANT LIST BY SUPPORTING STAFF OF THE DEVELOPERS (some of the more interesting finds)

Lawler, Matusky and Skelly Engineers, LP. October, 2000."Environmental Inventory for the Mountain Creek Properties." Vernon, New Jersey.

There are some problems with out of date nomenclature and a few wrong identifications. But typical of surveys done by these types of firms is that they don't do much with grasses, rushes, and sedges, some of which may be rare.

Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple)
Achillea millefolium (yarrow)
Acorus calamus (sweetflag)
Ageratina altissima (white snakeroot)
Alisma plantago-aquatica (water plantain)
Amelanchier arborea (shadbush)
Amelanchier canadensis (coastal plain shadbush)
Aruncus dioicus (hairy goatsbeard)
Baptisia tinctoria (yellow wild indigo)
Brasenia schreberi (water shield)
Caltha palustris (marsh marigold)
Carex lurida (sedge)
Chelone glabra (white turtlehead)
Circaea alpina (alpine enchanter's nightshade)
Circaea lutetiana (enchanter's nightshade)
Cirsium virginicum (Virginia thistle)
Claytonia caroliniana (Carolina spring beauty)
Clintonia borealis (bead lily)
Cornus canadensis (bunchberry)
Cornus stolonifera (red-osier dogwood)
Cypripedium acaule (lady's slipper orchid)
Dipsacus sylvestris (teasel)
Elodea canadensis (common waterweed)
Epilobium hirsutum (hairy willow herb)
Euonymus atropurpurea
Euphorbia esula (leafy spurge)
Gentianopsis crinita (fringed gentian)
Goodyera pubescens (rattlesnake plantain orchid)
Juglans cinera (butternut walnut)
Juglans nigra (black walnut)
Larix laricina (American larch)
Lychnis flos-cuculi (ragged robin)
Maclura pomifera (osage orange)
Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern)
Melanthium virginicum (bunchflower)
Morus rubra (red mulberry)
Myriophyllum exalbescens (northern water milfoil)
Myriophyllum spicatum (water milfoil)
Nuphar luteum (yellow pond lily)
Picea glauca (white spruce)
Pinus resinosa (red pine)
Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak)
Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak)
Rubus odoratus (purple flowering raspberry)
Sambucus pubescens (red elderberry)
Scirpus cyperinus (woolly grass bulrush)
Sphagnum palustre (sphagnum moss)
Thelypteris simulata (Massachusetts fern)
Trillium erectum (purple trillium)
Utricularia macrorhiza (bladderwort)