Round Valley Recreation Area
By Doreen Trontell
In the 1960s, the New Jersey Water Authority constructed two dams and transformed a huge Hunterdon County ravine into a picturesque reservoir and recreation area. Named Round Valley, due to its bowl shaped appearance, the reservoir is situated west of Cushetunk Mountain in Readington Township. Fifty-five billion gallons of clean water, pumped by the Water Authority from nearby Spruce Run Reservoir, fills the ravine, creating a pristine lake over 180 feet deep. 5,291 acres of untouched eastern woodlands and parkland surround the lake.
My family and I have enjoyed many hours boating on the reservoir and exploring the terrain. The sparkling blue water and green woodland environment provide an excellent habitat for native wildlife. A variety of raptors and waterfowl use the reservoir to rest during migrations and raise their young. Depending on the season various types of wildlife can be observed, late spring and early summer offering the most diversity. Broad winged hawks, ospreys, loons, and mergansers frequent the reservoir. It is not unusual to see herons stalking minnows among the reeds in the shallows. Their stately appearance reminds my daughter of the toy soldiers.
The prized lake trout
The clean cool water in the reservoir is ideal for many of New Jersey's native fish species including lake trout, which are not able to survive in shallower lakes and reservoirs. The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife has stocked Round Valley with brown, rainbow, and lake trout, Large and small mouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, sunfish, rock bass, bullhead catfish, and eels.
The Round Valley Trout Association has introduced Kamloops Rainbow Trout to the reservoir, a species native to Canada, which eats, in addition to smaller fish, bugs, and grass shrimp, which are plentiful. Due to over-grazing by larger species that feed exclusively on smaller fish, the herring population has suffered, effecting the reservoir's food chain and impacting the Brown Trout population. Stocking Kamloops, a species that eats a varied diet, should assist in preserving the delicate balance.
The variety of stocked species lends itself to several types of sportsman. Fly-fishing for brown and rainbow trout from the shore, drop fishing from boats in the deepest areas for lake trout, or spinning in the grass beds off shore for bass and pickerel are all productive. Four New Jersey fishing records have been set at Round Valley Reservoir; the lake trout, the brown trout, the freshwater eel and the small mouth bass.
Watching the boats on the water enhances the view while hiking along the reservoir. A rugged three mile hike leads to the wilderness campgrounds, where on summer nights, we can see the fishing boats from our campsite. Eighty-five wilderness tent sites are located along the north, east, and south shores of the reservoir. They are equipped with fire pits; outhouses and water pumps are located along the trail. Shelter, equipment, and food must be carried in and out.
At our campsites, my children and I enjoy spending hot summer afternoons snorkeling through the grass beds observing huge smallmouth bass cruise by and bullhead catfish protecting their burrows. Catfish dig shallow tunnels into the slopes of lake bottoms to lay their eggs. Then diligently protect their nest until the eggs hatch. We often laugh as trout pass-up the fisherman's bait for more tasty appetizers in Sunfish and Rock Bass nests. The abundance of life beneath the surface amazes us, and an afternoon of snorkeling at Round Valley is more spectacular than diving in nearby coastal waters.
Snorkeling and scuba diving can be enjoyed at Round Valley Reservoir by permit only, obtained at the Park Office upon presenting required safety equipment, including a diver's flag and inflatable vests. Diving areas can be reached by boat or from shore. For more information call Round Valley Recreation Area at (908) 236-6355.
Boating is also permitted with approval. The reservoir has two boat ramps designed to launch motorboats. To protect the pristine environment and shorelines motorboats are limited to 10 horsepower gasoline engines. Individuals wishing to use the ramps must present a valid New Jersey fishing license or ramp permit. Summer storms tend to approach rapidly, and high winds make the reservoir treacherous. Two light towers have been constructed on the shores and flash when winds reach twenty knots. At that time all boaters must beach their craft. Life preservers are required on all vessels and must be worn by individuals in craft less than fourteen feet.
Our family takes advantage of the boat ramps to launch our sailboat, canoe, and kayaks. Sailing has been a passion of mine since childhood, and Round Valley is an ideal place to enjoy a passion. The reservoir is higher than the surrounding landscape and swift gusts can carry a boat across the water on a single reach. Often in the evening, while tacking back to the boat launch area, we are entertained by bald eagles nesting on Cushetunk Mountain. The eagles glide high above the water, wings spread, tails fanned, eyes searching, then dive to grasp their quarry basking just below the surface.
For the nature lover, kayaking is particularly enjoyable in the early summer when waterfowl nest along the shoreline. A quiet kayaker can paddle to within a few feet of fledglings in their nests or sneak up on frogs, turtles, and fish warming them selves in the sun. From a kayak, I have observed Kingfishers going in and out of nests in mud banks and deer coming to the water's edge to drink. Kayaking around Round Valley can take four to six hours, depending on how often one pauses to enjoy the wildlife and scenery. Sunscreen, a hat, and water should be taken along and considered part of your standard equipment. Ultra violet light reflecting off water is intensified and can be harsh if one is not prepared. After a day on the reservoir I often feel tired, but relaxed, and glad that I remembered my floppy hat and sunscreen.
Hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, have been included in the design of Round Valley Recreation Area. Trails can be accessed from several locations around the reservoir including the Fish & Wildlife Boat Launch Area, Cushetunk Preserve, and within Round Valley State Park. The trails are natural footpaths cut through the brush and trees. Terrain is rough and steep in many places. Comfortable hiking shoes and a backpack, to pack a light snack, make outings more enjoyable. The foliage along the way is diverse and dense. White pines scent the air. In late July, raspberries grow in abundance beside the trails.
For those less inclined to the rigors of rugged hikes, and more appreciative of the finer aspects of nature, Eagle Scouts have completed several projects including a Blue Bird trail with nesting boxes and an outdoor presentation area, which embraces a scenic view of the reservoir.
Swimming is permitted only within the beach complex. Red Cross certified lifeguards are on duty when the beach is open. Picnicking sites are available in the Day Use area. During the summer months, nature programs for children and adults are presented by a staff naturalist.
Also along the shores of Round Valley Reservoir is Round Valley Youth Center and Challenge Day Camp. Opened before the state park, the Youth Center host's events for organizations and a summer program for youngsters.
For more information about Round Valley Recreation Area programs and facilities, please call the park office at (908) 236-6355. Or check the official webpage.