Garret Mountain Reservation: Beauty, Serenity and Nature So Close To Home


It’s hard to believe that just a short car ride away from Clifton, people can leave behind all the chaos of modern-day life – traffic, noise, crowds – and spend time in an idyllic environment. Garret Mountain Reservation is a 568-acre park located on First Watchung Mountain in Paterson and Woodland Park and extending into Clifton. It was designated a National Natural Landmark as part of the Great Falls of Paterson-Garret Mountain listing in 1967. The original landscape was designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm who designed other well-known parks including New York City’s Central Park, Niagara Falls State Park, and the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The Reservation is over 300 acres and rises to over 500 feet above sea level. On a clear day, the views are breathtaking. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk.

Near the park entrance is the Garret Mountain Equestrian Center, where you can take riding lessons or even board your horse. A few steps away is Lambert Tower, built by Paterson resident Catholina Lambert who also built his eponymous Castle that’s still on Valley Road. Renovated through grants and private donations, the Tower is often the setting for prom and wedding photos thanks to its spectacular views from the top of the structure as well as views of city skylines and natural beauty. Families can sled and cross-country ski in the winter, picnic and play games in warmer weather, walk and bike on pedestrian trails. For the more adventurous there are carefully marked and groomed hiking trails. There are areas for gatherings, including gazebos and even fishing at Barbour Pond. Fall is the time for high school track cross-country meets and the park hosts numerous sanctioned meets after school and on weekends.

Garret Mountain is a nationally recognized Important Bird Area/Important Bird and Birding Area. It is a significant migrant stopover/flyover area for land birds during their spring and fall migrations. There are literally hundreds of different species of birds, all valuable to our ecosystem, as well as numerous online registries that collect data and photos so that others can track their bird sightings.

Modern life has taken its toll on wildlife and in recent years, butterflies have dwindled in numbers, which has significantly eroded the availability and diversity of native plants necessary for our well-being and survival. To this end, the Friends of Garret Mountain Reservation (FOGMR) created a butterfly garden last year and are in the planning stages for this year. It consists of native plants, shrubs and flowers that attract butterflies, as well as plants not appealing to the local deer population. Plants include milkweed, violets, and asters and are staggered by seasons. When one variety fades out, another takes its place. The garden is surrounded by a fence to keep out deer and has appropriate signage to educate about its role in the community.

FOGMR is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides educational and environmental support to the community and is responsible for a variety of different projects. They started 20 years ago with the mission to “help preserve, protect and enhance the natural beauty of Garret Mountain Reservation and Rifle Camp Road in cooperation with Passaic, NJ County officials.” They conduct bird and nature walks, oversee native species planting and habitat restoration, and the butterfly garden and hiking trails. Additionally, they provide environmental, educational, and advocacy and an appreciation of nature. Information on the group can be found HERE.

Last summer, Passaic County officials including some from Paterson, Clifton, and Woodland Park officially broke ground on a much-needed improvement project to improve existing elements and add new recreational facilities. These include road, parking lot, and masonry repairs, new hiking paths, trees and landscaping, new gazebos, benches, and picnic tables, and a new stone amphitheater. Other significant additions include additional parking, a new family-friendly comfort station, exercise equipment, and a large playground for children of all abilities and ages. Improvements and additions were based partially on needs assessment meetings held at the county level with residential input.

The Phase II project is being partially funded by the Garret Mountain Reservation FY22 New Jersey State Budget Grant and the remaining funding will be supplied by the County. The project was awarded to the lowest bidder, Concrete Construction Corp., for a total of $5.2 million. The project is expected to be completed in June.

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