Tragedy occurs in Wawayanda Park

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

WEST MILFORD — The circumstances surrounding the drowning of a New Jersey man in Wawayanda State Park are still uncertain this week. Stephan Boyce, 48, of East Hanover, was found by two hikers on Aug. 24 lying facedown in Terrace Pond, a popular hiking destination located on top of Bearfort Mountain. The Medical Examiner's Office in Newark is doing an autopsy in an attempt to establish how Boyce fell victim to the pond's deep waters. "It may take several weeks to complete if toxicology reports have been requested," John Hagerty of the Division of Criminal Justice said Wednesday. However, authorities have said there does not appear to be any suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. The New Jersey Park Rangers were among the first to respond to the accident scene and had a difficult task of recovering the body. "A Forest Fire Service helicopter had to be brought in to airlift the body out," said the Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dana Loschiavo. "This had to be done the day after the body was discovered due to it being too dark to carry out the previous evening but our rangers remained at the scene throughout the night." Loschiavo said there had been previous drowning incidents in this section of the park. "We have signage that says "No Swimming" and our rangers do patrol Terrace Pond but due to the vast area they cover, they are not always going to be there," he added. Police also recovered the car belonging to Boyce at the head of a trail near Clinton Road. Experienced hiker and member of the NY/NJ Trail Conference Don Weise noted both the allure of the site on top of the mountain as well as its potentially dangerous nature. "Terrace Pond is a beautiful and very rugged hiking or picnicking destination. It has clear, blue waters which are bordered by impressively steep puddingstone, an unusual, purplish-on-white sandstone-quartzite conglomerate rock cliffs. "There is an abundance of wildlife and unusual plant life, and people also go there to cliff dive and swim even though both are prohibited in the pond," he added. The location of Terrace Pond presents challenges to emergency personnel in the event of an accident. "It's an extremely rugged 2.5 mile, approximately 45 minute, hike down to Clinton Road from Terrace Pond so rescue efforts can be difficult, dangerous and sometimes too late," Weise said. "The biggest danger with swimming there is that there is no lifeguard or supervision of any kind. The water appears to get deep very quickly, something which could take a weak swimmer by surprise." One theory being considered by authorities is that a snake bite took the victim by surprise. "Venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes and copperheads can be found throughout the Northern Highlands," Weise said. "Many visitors to Terrace Pond are not experienced hikers, so they don't know to keep a close eye out for snakes on the trail."