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Rol’s List

By Heather Shirley I May 03, 2022

The ruffed grouse is a medium-sized grouse occurring in forests from the Appalachian Mountains across Canada to Alaska. It is the most widely distributed game bird in North America. It is non-migratory. It is the only species in the genus Bonasa.

As I write this, we are experiencing round two of COVID-19 surges. I don’t know about you, but I am trying to be cautious and consequently I spend a lot of time hanging out at home. Again. (Sigh.)

I find myself pondering whether I acted on my 2020 lockdown intention, which was to spend the time doing something material. I wanted to be able to say that I achieved something concrete, identifiable, meaningful. I set the intention for lockdown, but, really, such a hope is bigger than that, not bound by pandemic precautions, but applicable to our entire lives. Don’t we all, at some level, wish to leave a legacy? Bestow something meaningful to our communities at least once in our lifetimes?

For many of us, it is a goal easier dreamed than done.

I spent the original COVID-19 lockdown in pursuit of a creative life, and I largely achieved it. But I’m a dabbler, interested—mostly superficially—in a plethora of things.

I learned to play an instrument, decorate cakes, bake bagels from scratch and crochet. I finished years-old needlepoint projects. I wrote a lot and read a lot.

I attended virtual art lectures and exhibitions. I practiced my Spanish. I honed my drawing and painting skills. I replanted my flower beds. I went birding (a lot).

Of each little achievement, I felt satisfaction and a bit of pride. My bagels, for example, are delicious. At the same time, I am under no illusions that I achieved anything truly great or made any lasting impact on the world.

In other words, I didn’t really achieve my COVID-19 intention. I wish I’d done so. I wish I’d written and published a top-selling book, and I wish my Spanish were fluent. (Pero no lo es!)

Just imagine…what if you had the vision and wherewithal to transform the hours spent enjoying your avocation into something that, decades later, is still inspiring people and bringing them joy? Roland Eves did exactly that, way back in the 1970s.

Eves was a longtime summer resident of the Lake Hopatcong area and a counselor at a camp in Byram Cove (now an area of homes known as Coves End) in the area behind Sister Islands. He was also related to the Henderson family (of Henderson Bay and Henderson Cove fame). One summer, another lake lover named May Bachman, who at the time lived in the Northwood section, caught his eye. Bachman’s family owned the small hotel located on Sister Islands. Eves sought to impress Bachman by standing on his head on an aquaplane— apparently it worked, since the couple married and continued to be active lake residents for many decades.

An avid fisherman and one of the founders of the Knee Deep Club, Eves invented a device that could retrieve water from the deepest strata of the lake so it could be tested. The data used from these water samples eventually helped prove that trout would “hold over” during winter months. This data ultimately helped ensure Lake Hopatcong was stocked with trout by the state.

Eves (who was known as Rol), was also a birder and all-around naturalist. He is remembered by another well-known lake resident, activist and former mayor of Hopatcong Cliff Lundin, as always being on the watch for wildlife and diligently recording his sightings in a notebook. In the mid-1970s, Lundin and Eves came up with the concept to establish a greenbelt on the west shore of Lake Hopatcong. To gain support and approval by the state, Eves prepared a bird and wildlife inventory.

Eves recorded all the animals he saw on his list, even including homo sapiens with 22 other mammals such as star-nosed moles, black bears and southern flying squirrels. There are 30 herptiles listed, including nine species of snakes, seven species of salamanders and something called a stinkpot. I had to research what a stinkpot is! Turns out they are also known as common or eastern musk turtles. These small aquatic, mud-dwelling turtles secrete a foul- smelling musk from a gland under their shell to discourage predation. Duly noted: steer clear of stinkpots.

Also on Eves’ list are 83 bird species, including some that are quite hard to see, such as the ruffed grouse. Although it is the state bird of Pennsylvania, ruffed grouse are not commonly seen. Their population has declined steeply since 1966, in part because they are popular game birds and also because of habitat loss.

Ruffed grouse are medium-sized, reddish or grayish brown birds that have jaunty crests. In spring, the males perform a courtship ritual to attract females. They fan their tails much like turkeys do, and they flare out normally hidden special black neck feathers that form an Elizabethan era-looking ruff around their necks. It’s this ruff that gives them their name.

Ruffed grouse males produce a drumming sound by rapidly beating their wings forward and backward, sucking air into a sort of vacuum in their armpits (wingpits?) that produces a loud sound wave that can carry up to a quarter of a mile—a mini sonic boom. These booms make female grouse come to be courted.

Ruffed grouse live mostly in a cold climate, across Canada and the northern United States. In the coldest parts of their range, the grouse bury themselves in soft snow drifts to insulate themselves. They also grow projections off the sides of their toes in winter, which help act as snowshoes. In the southern part of their range, which includes New Jersey, these birds hunker down in stands of conifers to shield themselves from bitter winds.

Aldo Leopold, a forethinker of environmentalism and the author of 1949’s “A Sand County Almanac,” wrote of the ruffed grouse: “The autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a Ruffed Grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre - yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”

When I spoke recently with Lundin about Eves’ list, he told me that all the species listed in 1977 could still be seen in the same location today. I wanted to confirm this and felt at once dubious but hopeful. Given that only 0.1 percent of the world’s population of ruffed grouse live in New Jersey, according to research by the Cornell Lab, and given all the development around the lake, is it possible that this species is still found in our community backyard? I researched state records and found that a ruffed grouse was indeed seen on Eves’ same plot of land as recently as 2015, along with many of the other birds Eves listed in 1977.

Do you see what Eves did? He achieved his vision and left a legacy that Lake Hopatcong residents, visitors and hundreds of wildlife species are still enjoying today. He had a vision decades ago to preserve a bit of the natural area around the lake so that his and Lundin’s grandchildren would be able, as Lundin recalls, “to be in, understand and appreciate nature.”

Eves undoubtedly enjoyed his own time in nature, spent his time recording what he saw, then rallied support and doggedly pursued protecting his favorite area. My research uncovered six partner agencies, six county agencies and 10 nonprofit organizations that Eves worked with to make his dream happen— and I’m quite certain I did not identify every partner he rallied to join his cause.

He worked tirelessly, and while he encountered many stumbling blocks and initial refusals, he was ultimately successful. The parcel of land was first preserved as the Hopatcong West Shore Greenbelt and became the Roland-May Eves Mountain Inlet Sanctuary in 1993. It is now part of the Lake Hopatcong Trail network and connected to the recently approved Musconetcong National Water Trail.

A lot of things that first launched in 1977 turned out to have real staying power: the Star Wars film franchise, the world’s first PC, the Commodore PET, the Apple II, the Department of Defense’s NAVSTAR GPS program. And Roland Eves started the groundwork to preserve a special plot of land tucked into the north shore of Henderson Bay. He achieved his dream.

How are you progressing your life’s dream achievement? Perhaps a nice walk in the woods would help inspire you. Why not explore Eves’ sanctuary this weekend? I wonder what you’ll see and whether Eves saw it there 44 years ago?

Just one word of caution…be sure to watch out for stinkpots!


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