The area between Denville and Mountain Lakes, northwest and northeast of Birchwood Lake, was farmland before the opening of the new lands west of the Appalachians. Miles of laboriously constructed walls, springs and water holes, foundations, and ditches attest to the work put in by early settlers to earn a livelihood from the land. The long valley which extends from the present Birchwood Lake into the Tourne Park was called by hikers in the 1920s and 1930s “Rattlesnake Valley” or “Rattlesnake Swamp”. Early residents say that the area was indeed loaded with rattlesnakes and it was quite common to see them, especially on warm days when they were sunning themselves on the rocks. Intensive hunting eventually eliminated them and today there are none left in the valley.
A farm road, elevated above the swamp level cuts through the valley and extends down to the Rockaway Valley. It is now mostly a narrow path although its earlier width is clearly discernible. At the time the stone walls were built and the fields enclosed, it was all fields with the higher elevations probably used for grazing.
The area northwest of Birchwood Lake around and behind what is now Arden Road was called “Sheep Meadow” and was still in use for grazing in the 1920s. An aerial photograph taken about that time and now hanging in the Mountain Lakes Borough Hall clearly shows the meadow.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Mountain Lakes schools extended only through 8th grade. For many years the 8th graders celebrated their last fall here with a Hare and Hound chase through the woods and along Rattlesnake Valley. A dozen or so “hares” would be set loose with half an hour head start and the obligation to drop bits of paper along the route they followed. They were then followed by the rest of the class, the “hounds”, who chased them to a destination. Sometimes this was the “Bubbling Spring”. (A lovely little spring dug and lined with stones centuries ago. It has not run dry in the last 60 years.) In the mid 1930s, the Hares and Hounds instead of the usual happy picnic staged a monumental war which marked the end of the Hares and Hounds chase.
Rattlesnake Valley was much more like a swamp until about 1930 when a mosquito commission work crew dug the present two ditches down the center lowering the water level several feet. The Valley was rescued from oblivion in the 1960s when several dry summers led to a proposal to build a gigantic pumped water reservoir which could become a major recreational area, replacing the dismal “good-for-nothing” swamp area. Fortunately conservationists changed the name from swamp to wetlands and today thousands can still glory in the skunk cabbage and deep woods just a few miles from their homes.
[This description was taken from a historic write-up by Roland Mueser, a long-time resident of Mountain Lakes, dated February 8, 1995.]
How to get there
Go west on Pocono Rd. and turn right onto West Shore Road. Go to the end and park in the Birchwood Lake parking lot. Birchwood Lake is straight ahead of you with it’s beach on the left. Crystal Lake is to your right. A trail, approximately one mile long circles Birchwood Lake. It begins on the right side of the lake and ends at the far end of the beach. Take the trail backwards by going to the far end of the beach and following the trail into woods. The lake will be on your right. Approximately 1/4 mile further, there is an intersection with another trail. The Birchwood Lake Trail turns right at this point and continues around the lake. The trail straight ahead is marked with white blazes and goes through the center of Rattlesnake Valley. It ends at the Tourne.