Topographic Map of the park Aerial photo of the park
This park has the dubious distinction of being the most northerly remnant of Pine Barrens type vegetation of what is left of the Spotswood Outlier (see the Frost Woods description for a more detailed explanation of the Spotswood Outlier). It is just a sliver of this habitat type and is easily explored in an hour or two. The park currently has no trails so exploring it requires a bit of bushwhacking. Sawmill Brook bisects the park from Harts Lane to Tices Lane. Unfortunately, Sawmill Brook has suffered from vast upslope development along Route 18 and Harts Lane and is now largely fed by stormwater runoff. Water quality is likely poor and erosion is evident in places along the bank. Still, the portion that runs through the park is relatively natural looking and is worth wandering along when exploring the park.
Although Tices Lane Park is not the most interesting park we have from a wildlife perspective, with one insect-related exception, and not very large in size, it does have some amazing topography for East Brunswick. While not overly evident from the nearby roads, the central portion of the park rises well above the surrounding landscape forming a high ridge that is worth the short climb.
The ridge is a mix of oaks and Pitch pine, characteristic of the Pinelands and an open understory. A dense layer of lowbush blueberry is present in places and the highest point on the ridge is an open sedge area.
This area seems like it would be worth exploring for hill-topping butterflies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill-topping). Hill-topping is a way that butterflies concentrate to find mates and as the name implies often occurs on the tops of hills. The side slopes leading to the ridge and along Sawmill Brook are dominated by black gum and sweet pepper bush with occasional highbush blueberry, witch hazel, red maple and catbriar. The park also has a small pond that was clearly once an excavation along Harts Lane near Sawmill Brook.
In fact, by carefully looking, there are many areas in the park that exhibit evidence of historic excavations and even of an old railroad bed. Most of these are obscured by time and regrowth of the forest but they speak about the history of the area that was once a hub of sand, gravel and clay mining. The East Brunswick Historical Society has written an excellent history of the township that can be found at http://www.eastbrunswick.org/about/history.asp.
Perhaps one of the most interesting features of the park is an insect, the Great Spreadwing damselfy (Archilestes grandis). This damselfly (damselflies are very closely related to the dragonflies) has been found in Sawmill Brook and has an interesting ecology. The Great Spreadwing damselfly is the largest damselfly in North America and is one of the latest on the wing, often flying well into October and even beyond (http://www.njodes.com/Speciesaccts/spreadwings/spre-grea.asp). During the past half century it has spread across the country from the southwest to the northeast often utilizing habitats like Sawmill Brook that have low water quality (Read more about A. grandis in NJ). It is a striking damselfly with blue eyes and yellow stripes on the thorax and is well worth looking for in the late summer or fall when many other insects are no longer flying.
View Tices Lane Park in a larger map