Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus is a great place to view nature any time of year, but few people realize that it’s a pretty cool place in mid-winter — if it’s not too cold, that is.
The 70-acre park, located at the south end of town along the Hackensack River, features great water views, plenty of winter birding and Laurel Hill itself, that huge cliff that can be seen from almost anywhere in the Meadowlands.
“Even in the coldest temperatures of winter, Laurel Hill is one of the only places where you can find open water and waterfowl in the water,” says New Jersey Meadowlands Naturalist Gabrielle Bennett-Meany.
According to Bennett-Meany, the best places to look for the waterfowl are along the shore line and the distant marsh and tidal impoundments to the south.
“You might see Ruddy Ducks along the shore, or an occasional rare grebe,” Bennett-Meany says. “We often see Common Mergansers — a dynamic, sleek duck — swimming in the impoundment just south of the N.J. Turnpike Bridge, but you’ll want to bring a spotting scope.”
This time of year, you’ll have a good chance of seeing Common Ravens flying near the cliff. These beautiful, huge black birds have nested here for several years, and they should start getting their nest in order again any day now.
One other winter attraction for bird-watchers: Great Cormorants like to perch on the old railroad bridge toward the park’s south end. The winter is the prime time to these fish-eating birds in the Meadowlands.
For Bennett-Meany and many other folks, Laurel Hill is a special place because of all the history that holds. Once known as Snake Hill, the site housed most of Hudson County’s institutions, including a penitentiary, a poor house and an insane asylum.
“This park is a favorite place for me because of all that history,” she says. “There is so much history about the park and the area that many people don’t know. I especially enjoy the connectedness that people once had to it being a natural resource, for food, recreation and shelter. Life today differs from how it may have been 100 or so years ago.”
Although the park is visible from many places in the Meadowlands, it can be hard to find. For directions, go to the Meadowlands Commission’s nature blog, meadowblog.net, and check the left-hand column.
Better yet, join the NJMC and the Bergen County Audubon Society on a free guided nature walk at Laurel Hill County Park next Tuesday (Jan. 17). The two-hour walk starts at the ball field parking lots at 10 a.m., or you can carpool from DeKorte Park at 9:30 a.m.
Just be sure to dress warmly — the winds down by the river can get mighty cold. To register or get more information, contact the BCAS’ Don Torino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-230-4983.