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Merrill Creek Reservoir Perimeter Hike
Directions to trailhead
Take I-287 to I-78 West. Continue on I-78 to Exit 4 (Warren Glen/Stewartsville). Turn right at the bottom of the ramp, and continue for 1.8 miles to a blinker light. Make a right onto Washington Street (County Route 638) and continue for 2.4 miles to Route 57. Turn right onto Route 57, then immediately turn left onto Montana Road. In 2.0 miles, bear left at a Y-intersection onto Richline Road, then, in 0.3 mile, turn left onto Merrill Creek Road. Bear right at the next fork, and continue to the main parking area for the Merrill Creek Reservoir. Park here and walk to the visitor center, where you can obtain a trail map and view the interesting exhibits.
The 650-acre Merrill Creek Reservoir, owned by a consortium of power companies, is a pumped-storage facility, completed in 1988. It stores 16 billion gallons of water that can be released, during low-water periods, to the Delaware River to augment river water used by electric generating stations. Although the route of this hike - which encircles the reservoir -- is mostly level, portions of the treadway (especially towards the start of the hike) are rocky, so hikers should use care. You’ll be following the black-blazed Perimeter Trail for most of the way, but also use several other trails towards the beginning of the hike.
To begin the hike, walk to the rear of the visitor center, where a trail leads into the woods. Follow this trail for a short distance to a fork, then bear left, following the red markers of the Timber Trail. The trail passes through a wooded area, where many trees were uprooted by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and then runs along the shore of the reservoir. You’ll notice many dead trees in the water near the shore; these trees were flooded when the reservoir was filled with water in 1988.
Soon you’ll reach a small beach (with a bench) on the left, with a panoramic view over the reservoir. Here, the trail turns right and begins to follow a woods road which heads away from the reservoir. At the next junction, take the left fork. You are now following the blue-blazed Shoreline Trail.
A short distance beyond (at the top of a rise), concrete steps on the right lead to the stone foundations of the former Cathers farmhouse (surrounded by a wooden fence). After crossing a wet area on a boardwalk, you’ll pass more stone ruins on both sides of the trail.
Just beyond, the yellow-blazed Farmstead Trail comes in from the right. You should continue ahead, now following both blue and yellow blazes. At the next junction, the yellow-blazed trail proceeds ahead, but you should turn left to continue on the blue-blazed Shoreline Trail. On the left, you’ll notice the stone ruins of a lime kiln.
Soon, you’ll reach a viewpoint over the reservoir in an open area. Here, the trail turns right and heads uphill on a grassy road, shortcutting a peninsula that juts into the reservoir. Upon reaching a narrow arm of the reservoir, it right again and follows a rocky footpath parallel to the shore of the reservoir. You’ll notice more drowned trees in the water.
After paralleling the reservoir for some distance, the blue trail turns uphill and reaches a T-junction. Turn left, now following yellow markers. You’ll soon pass a 1.0-mile marker (actually, you’ve gone about two miles by this point) and reach another trail junction. Here, you should turn left, following the sign for the Perimeter Trail, and cross Upper Merrill Creek on a wooden footbridge (use caution, as the bridge was damaged by Hurricane Sandy). You will be following the black-blazed Perimeter Trail for the remainder of the hike.
After crossing the bridge, the trail turns left and follows an attractive footpath along the northern shore of the arm of the reservoir, passing through a dense stand of fir trees and running along the shore in several spots. In another three-quarters of a mile, after briefly joining a woods road, you’ll come to the first of four dams that hold back the waters of the reservoir. Here, the trail turns left and crosses the crushed-rock dam (shown on the map as "NW 2 Dike"), with paved Fox Farm Road just beyond. The dam affords a splendid view of the reservoir. Beyond the dam, follow a dirt road which curves to the right, with views to the north over the Kittatinny Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap.
The trail now crosses a paved access road, then bears right and continues around a locked gate to cross another crushed-rock dam (shown on the map as "NW 1 Dike"). The Inlet-Outlet Tower, which controls the flow of water between the Delaware River and the reservoir, is immediately to the left. Beyond the dam, the trail continues along a woods road through a forested area.
After passing through an area devastated by Hurricane Sandy, you’ll come to a junction. The trail to the left leads down to an observation point along the shore of the reservoir (an optional side trip – but you’ll be afforded many other views of the reservoir from the Perimeter Trail). Bear right at this junction, and almost immediately, you’ll reach another intersection. Turn left, passing a bench which overlooks a narrow slice of the reservoir, then turn right and continue on a footpath which descends gradually.
Bear left at the next junction to continue on the black-blazed Perimeter Trail. Just beyond, you’ll pass through a forest of red pines that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. After passing another viewpoint over the reservoir on the left, you’ll proceed through a section of the red pine forest that was not affected as severely by the hurricane and emerge onto a paved road. Turn left, go through a stile around a locked gate, and cross the main dam of the reservoir. (Do not follow a branch of the trail that leads right and descends below the dam.) The dam provides excellent views of the reservoir as well as a south-facing vista over the hills of Warren County. At the end of the dam, the trail continues along a wide gravel road, passing a 4.5-mile marker. It continues through a beautiful meadow and then crosses the fourth and final dam (shown on the map as "SE Dike").
A short distance beyond the end of the dam, you’ll pass the 5.0-mile marker. Soon, you’ll pass through another attractive meadow, this one dotted with cedar trees. A short distance beyond, you’ll reach the boat launch and boat trailer parking area. Continue ahead through the parking area, climb wooden stairs to the right of a small frame building (used by the attendant), and continue to climb on a footpath, bearing left at the next junction. The Perimeter Trail ends at a circular drive adjacent to the visitor center. Continue ahead to the main parking area where the hike began.