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In the early 1800's, the Morris Canal and Banking Company was tasked with building a canal to help move freight across the New Jersey. In order to supply the Morris Canal with a reliable source of water, Lake Hopatcong, a natural glacial lake, was expanded and Lake Musconetcong was created. A side effect of the creation of the lakes and canals was a growing number of visitors coming to the beautiful Musconetcong River Valley for recreation. The trend continued after the canal outlived its usefulness and today Lake Musconetcong is a fantastic Skylands destination. Surrounded by Hopatcong State Park and the beautiful farmland of the Musconetcong River Valley, Lake Musconetcong offers acres of water to play on and respite from a hectic world.
Construction on the Morris Canal started in 1825 and by 1831 the first canal boats were making the trip. The 102 mile-long canal carried boats from Phillipsburg on the Delaware River to Jersey City, the Hudson River and on to New York Harbor. Connecting to the coal region of the Lehigh Valley, the Morris Canal was used to transport coal, iron and zinc, carrying more than 880,000 tons of freight in 1866 alone. The canal used a series of locks and inclined planes to move the freight over an elevation change of 1,674 feet and depended on a reliable source of water to maintain its four-to-five foot depth and power the cables that hoisted the canal boats up the inclined planes. The Morris Canal and Banking Company created Lake Musconetcong as a water supply reservoir for the canal system.
Cottages sprang up along the canal route and tourism became a growing industry. Unable to compete against the more efficient Morris and Essex Railroad, the Morris Canal was only used to transport freight for just under a century. Its tourism and recreation value, however, continues today. Visitors still flock to Lake Musconetcong and its larger sister, Lake Hopatcong, to fish, boat, swim, and play in the waters of the Musconetcong River.
Deeded to the State of New Jersey in 1924, Lake Musconetcong is part of the Hopatcong State Park. There is no hunting allowed in the state park, but there are plenty of places to picnic, along with playgrounds and ball fields. Boat rentals are available and visitors can explore Lake Musconetcong's 329 acres by boat, canoe and kayak. Both Lake Hopatcong and Lake Musconetcong are stocked with brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout. There are healthy populations of largemouth bass, catfish and American eel. In the winter, ice fishing enthusiasts can pull pickerel and perch from Lake Musconetcong's frozen waters.
The Musconetcong River makes up both the inflow and outflow of Lake Musconetcong. The 44 mile-long river passes through the beautiful farming valleys of the Garden State before joining the Delaware River. On its way, it flows through Stephens State Park. Just a few miles from Lake Musconetcong, Stephens State Park includes a section of the Morris Canal. Waterloo Village is a reconstruction of a 400 year-old Lenape Native American village as well as an early 19th-century restored port along the canal. The port includes a working grist and saw mill, a blacksmith shop, and a general store. Trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding cross the park and in the winter some of the trails are open for cross-country skiing. There is also a site for rock climbing and hunting is allowed in season. Overnight accommodations include a campground in the park. The Allamuchy State Park is connected to Stephens State Park and is just to its north. The park includes over 8,600 acres of forest criss crossed with miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Lake Musconetcong is just an hour away from New York City and everything it has to offer. Nearby, the Village of Stanhope has restaurants, antique shops and accommodations ranging from historic bed and breakfasts to vacation rentals including some on the lakefront. For anyone wishing to extend their stay, there is also real estate available for sale.
With the history of the Morris Canal, the beautiful waters of the Musconetcong River and the charming shops and restaurants of Stanhope, Lake Musconetcong is a great Skylands destination. Add in its proximity to New York City, and there is something to please everyone.
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