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  • Writer's pictureZack Demopoulos

Finding the beauty of Morris County NJ On A bike

A 27 mile loop on my bike

I have done the loop on my bike from my house in Randolph, NJ to Chester, NJ (27 miles), all in Morris County, at least fifty times in the last few years. It typically takes me a leisurely 2 1/2 hours at 11 miles per hour without stops (we have a lot of hills in New Jersey!). Today I decided to intentionally stop and take in the scenery.

Since I have started in #realestate, I know how important it is that families learn as much as they can about the potential town or county they are looking to make a home. My purpose as a realtor is to help families find and make a #housetohome. It occurred to me that I have a great opportunity to share a little more close up about a location because of how much I get to see when I ride my bike. So, 3 1/2 hours I have great photos and information to share with you.

Starting the ride and a little history

West Hanover Avenue, Mount Freedom

New Jersey is well know for its history, its patriotism, and preservation of its past. For the history buffs, please check out this site.

In 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and the first state to sign the Bill of Rights. In 1790, Trenton officially became the state capital of New Jersey. William Livingston became New Jersey's first state governor.

When exiting my neighborhood, I ride into Mount Freedom, a neighborhood of Randolph. I have probably passed this church on West Hanover Avenue and the adjacent cemetery at least a thousand times via car or bike. Today I stopped to see it up close. Though I did not visit the cemetery (read more below to see the one I did visit), I did look at the sign that declares this property a landmark and this Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1847. A facebook site declares that the graveyard has been there since 1791 when it was considered Baptist but they disbanded and a new church was erected on this site at the cost of $5000 under the Methodist Episcopal faith.

By the way if you are wondering about churches in New Jersey, there are 109,816 and here is a directory for the ones in Randolph.

Preserved Farmland

Calais Road, Pleasant Hill Road

What most people may not know (especially if you have only travelled through the Newark Airport) is that New Jersey's nickname is "The Garden State" and has plenty of farmland which New Jersey has done a great job preserving.

Kahana Farm on Calais Road has a rich history. Originally established in 1792, the Kahana's are only the third family to own and run this farm. Their website shares the following:

On our 80 acres of preserved farmland, we work hard to provide the community with a fresh source of naturally raised livestock. We primarily produce eggs and chickens with our 3,000 hens and growing up to 10,000 by 2023.
We have a small front section for visitors to walk around where you will see goats, cows, rabbits, and chickens and horses.

Along my ride, I pass many farms that have boast rows of apples trees and tomato plants. I especially enjoy watching the corn grow from its deep green color to the large yellow stalks we are all familiar with around October. The site shares this:

While most people associate agriculture with our nation's heartland, New Jersey is home to more than 9,900 farms covering 750,000 acres of farmland. The state is among the leaders in many forms of agricultural production. For example, New Jersey ranks: 5th in blueberry production, 3rd in cranberry production, 3rd in spinach, 3rd in bell peppers, 3rd in peach production and 8th in tomato production. The state also produces an abundance of corn, apples, strawberries, potatoes, hay, soybeans and nursery stock.

Farm on Pleasant Hill Road

You can also see many animals on these farms from the road. Besides Kentucky and Florida, New Jersey is well known for its horse country.

The Garden State has long held the title of the most densely populated place in the U.S., packing about 9 million people into its iconic cities and highways and beaches. Turns out, Jersey also holds the national title for packing in the most horses — all 27,658 of them. Put another way, that's nearly 4 horses for every square mile.

Speaking of horses, this expansive property, which looks a little like the Ewing Mansion from the Dallas TV series (Jersey style of course), has a very interesting structure in its front yard.

Outside of a reverse google image search (came up empty) and knocking on the door of the owners, I am not sure what this structure is used for but most likely was a livestock shelter of some sort! Anyone knows please share!

Where the water lies

Pleasant Hill Road, Ironia Road, Hillside Road

New Jersey has over 400 bodies of publicly accessable bodies of water and plenty of rivers, streams and brooks. Morris county contains over 5% of them. This graphic gives you a very good glimpse of where the water lies.

I am fortunate to cross over the Black River twice along my travels. The first time is where Randolph turns into Chester along Pleasant Hill Road before it turns into Ironia Road. The second time is back on Pleasant Hill in Chester before it gradually turns into Hillside Road.

The Black River (also called the Black-Lamington) is only about twelve miles long from beginning to end, but on the way it slices through the lives of tens of thousands of New Jerseyans. ... The river highlights the natural beauty of this corner of the state, ... In its middle, as it roars through the hemlock groves of Hacklebarney State Park in Morris County, the Black River puts on a show of beauty, peace and power that can make a visitor forget where he is or why he came ­ and cease to care.

Pleasant Hill Road / Ironia Road

I never stopped at either location, especially the latter, which lies at the bottom of a very steep hill that has me doing close to 40 miles per hour on my bike. Stopping is not an option. The views on both sides of the road are stunning. I have seen people canoeing and kayaking on this river.

Pleasant Hill Road / Hillside Road

There were two other cyclists catching the view as well when I pulled up and I struck up a conversation with one of them who shared with me that she is an Ironman competitor. But today she is on her mountain bike riding the Patriot's Path trails (more on that soon) and taking in the beauty. She shared with me that I should join up the cycling group rides that Marty's Cycles (excellent local bike shop chain) sponsors. If you are cyclist, you should certainly check them out.

Remembering our past, honoring our heroes, and American Flags

Pleasant Hill Road

I mentioned before I visited a cemetery on my ride. I have never stopped at this cemetery because it is on a crest of a steep hill, the same one I mentioned previoulsy. Today I stopped and I am glad I did. The Pleasant Hill Cemetery is exactly how it is described on its website:

The cemetery that has been serving the community for over 250 years is one of quiet permanent beauty that will endure though the ages.

Pleasant Hill Cemetery with its beautiful row of mighty oak trees guarding over the departed. They and the red cedars are some of the oldest trees in New Jersey and are appropriate to stand guard over the centuries of those who rest here.

The New Jersey hydrangea tree brings beauty and elegance to the cemetery.

With a rich history of 250 years, I wanted to spot the oldest graves by walking around and looking for deteriorating stone markers. I found a clump of tilted, sinking and broken grave markers on the southwestern part of the property near the entrance. I initially thought they were for unknown graves but the markers were facing south west unlike the others. These stones, and incidentally, the gravesites, were certainly the oldest in the cemetery.

I believe this gravesite below has to be the oldest. It's of a young 22 year old man who passed in 1813. The epitaph is one that really took me back and I had to research it. I learned that there are many versions and I found this particular piece the most interesting!

It’s a relatively common epitaph throughout the world, “As I once was so you are now. As I am now soon you will be. Prepare for death And follow me.” It’s so well known that there’s a famous retort to it … “To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.” The epitaph dates to at least the fourteenth or fifteenth century in Europe, and you find it fairly often along the east coast of the United States.

There were many small American flags waving in the breeze and most of them were on gravesites of veterans which we will always honor and be grateful for their sacrifice and service. I also saw these flags below and with a closer inspection found out what they represented. The Chester Volunteer Fire Department has over 100 years of history and I find it very appropriate that they fly flags over the gravesites of the brave and unselfish individuals who were part of this important service the community benefited over the years.

Speaking of flags, I took extra notice of how many American flags I saw during my ride waving in front of homes in different shapes and sizes--way too many to take pictures. I could not keep up the count and this makes me very proud and happy to see that even though this country has its up's and down's, divisions and challenges, one thing clearly unites us and that is our patriotism. I wanted to share this flag that proudly flew where you could not see the home from the street but you certainly can feel its patriotism.

North Road & South Road, Chester, NJ

Before returning back to Randolph, just a little past the half way point, I always rode by this scene in Chester on North Road before I get on South Road and never really thought much about it. I did wonder why all these cut off telephone poles were sticking out of the ground but I never stopped to research it. Today I did. I discovered it is referred to as Chester's Telephone Pole Farm (yes there is such a thing) that started in 1928 to test the durability of telephone poles and abandoned in the 1980's when advancements made the farm unnecessary.

South Road has two very steep hills that accelerate me down and make me peddle hard back up as I return to Randolph. I never stop. This time I took time to notice the properties along the road. I found that it's not just farms that sell produce or goods. I notice homes do as well and you will find anything from firewood by the bundle to rainbow eggs.

Parks, Trails, and Lakes

There is an abundance of parks in Morris County. This is from their website:

The Morris County Park Commission’s 18,704 acres are home to 38 specific sites, several of which are nationally recognized. Over 3 million people visit New Jersey’s largest park system annually, proving there really is something here for everyone. Over 150 miles of well-maintained trails wind through scenic Morris County, providing all kinds of educational, relaxing, active, fun, entertaining and memorable experiences.

On my ride home I cut through two in particular that are beautiful and a great spot to visit for various activities in all four seasons.

I have taken my children to this park for an endless number of soccer games on Saturdays!

This park boasts a community garden, pickle ball, commemorative signs to veterans, trails, fields, and more.

And in case you are wondering, the parks are just as beautiful in the winter where we go bobsledding down the many snow covered slopes they have to offer.

My son snow sledding and carrying his and his little cousin's sleds.

My neighborhood: Shongum Lake

My last leg on my ride home is one of my favorite of the loop. I love my neighborhood, Shongum Lake in Randolph. It has rich history as well. Supposedly this was a recreational escape for wealthy New Yorkers back when you did not have air conditioning and they would get away from the heat in the summer to relax on this little mountain with lake cabins. I have lived here almost 24 years, longer than I have lived anywhere. The ride down Radtke Road into the neighborhood is beautiful. I actually take this road home even when driving which is the "long way" just because I enjoy the scenery so much regardless of what season it may be.

Along Radtke Road riding north east towards Shongum Lake I cross over Den Brook which is a tributary of the Roxbury River.

Along the way you will find entrances to the famous Randolph Trails part of Patriots' Path. This is what their website boasts:

If you enjoy recreational activities, such as biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, jogging, walking your canine companion, and hiking, Patriots' Path is the place to visit. Comprised of 46.3 miles of main trails and 27 miles of spur trail located on 291.9 acres, Patriots’ Path is a trail system of hiking, biking and equestrian trails, as well as green open spaces. It links several federal, state, county, and municipal parks, as well as watershed lands, historic sites, and other points of interest throughout Morris County

And then finally to Shongum Lake which is a beautiful 70 square acre non-motorized boat lake. During any four seasons, you will find recreational and competitive swimming, beach activities, fishing, boats (with no motors), canoeing, ice skating, ice hockey, or just taking photographs of the beautiful fall sceneries.

My beautiful wife Phyllis on her 60th birthday at Shongum Lake.

I finally arrive home where I find my own flags waving in my yard and reminding me that there are many like me out there!

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