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wRog
New Jersey thoughts 
20th-Oct-2003 01:25 am
ring
From jfb's post.
So: New Jersey is still beautiful. If you've never been there--or if you've only been to the turnpike and Newark Airport--you don't know how green it is.
So, I was googling around a bit last night and I came across this brochure on Mendham Township open space, which I've decided is going to be what I show people who give me the standard bullshit about New Jersey ("Heeeeeey, what exit?"; ha ha).

See, Brookside / Mendham Township is where I grew up. (It's about 5 miles west of Morristown if you're trying to relate this to jfb's account). My family moved in when I was about 4 and we stayed there through high school, so if anybody can be said to have a home town, that would be it for me. Dismal-Harmony (#12 in the brochure) and Clyde Potts Reservoir (#10) were practically in our back yard (literally, you go out the door, 1/4-mile down to the end of the street and there you are). The picture on the front cover of the brochure is The Waterfall (or Dismal Gorge), which, back then, was buried deep in the Badenhousen estate but it was fairly easy to sneak in from Dismal-Harmony, which my friend John and I did on a regular basis (from his backyard it was a short, easy walk through the woods). Buttermilk Falls (#8) was where our scout troop did its annual 1st campout every September (something easy and close to home to get the new kids started).

I should point out that there are certain peculiarities of northeastern forests that I never fully appreciated until recently. Specifically, the fact that when you go back 150 years or so, they weren't forests. 150 years ago, New Jersey was, if not more densely populated than it is today, was at least more densely utilized. Up until about 1850, the Northeast was where most of the country lived, the society was still mostly agrarian, and so everybody had to have their own subsistence farm. People were just jammed together on all of their little plots of land.

And then came the great post-Civil-War westward expansion and all of these folks left.

So the whole notion of being able to go out your back door and explore the woods means something slightly different to me. You see, in the place where I grew up, when you go out in the woods, there's stuff out there. Lots of random trails (old colonial roads) that lead places. Mysterious lines of stone (remains of old walls separating farmers' fields). Stone castles (foundations of old buildings) cropping up in unexpected places. Strange rusted metal devices (abandoned farm equipment) whose purpose is unfathomable. Abandoned cabins. Places to explore. Games to play.

All in all, an incredible place when you're a kid.

It never really hit home to me until I went hiking in the Cascades and,... it's just trees. That's not to say that the Pacific Northwest isn't beautiful in its own way (and, oddly enough, there are reasons why I stay here rather than move back to NJ), but it's different. And there are some things I still miss.

- - -

I should also note that many of the parks depicted in the brochure didn't exist as such when I was a kid in the late-60s/early-70s. They were just random undeveloped land. E.g., Buttermilk Falls belonged to the Seeing-Eye Dog folks; the puppy farm was right up the hill and they were very protective of it, thus, being allowed to camp there was something of a rare privilege. Clyde Potts was completely off-limits (being an actual water supply).

And it utterly amazes me that they were able to save all of these places from development and open them to the public.

In fact, to some extent, finding this brochure was the antidote to my last trip to NJ, in which I made the mistake of driving through the former Schiff Scout Reservation lands. Schiff was originally one of the two (2) national camps run by the Boy Scouts (Philmont, in New Mexico, being the other one and the one you're more likely to have heard of, i.e., assuming you had heard of either of them). Sometime around 1980, the Boy Scouts finally gave up the ghost and decided the property taxes were just too much. And then there was a huge fight. AT&T wanted to buy the land and use it as a conference center. They would have kept most of the property intact, but the whole idea of a big corporation coming in and doing stuff upset certain people, particularly the developers who'd been drooling at the idea of all the houses they could build and sell on that land. So the latter folks started a campaign. Lots of bumper stickers appeared saying "Keep Mendham Residential!". In the end, they won, the AT&T deal fell through, and the developers had their way. And now the place has been bulldozed and covered over with McMansions and the usual set of twisty roads ending in cul-de-sacs. Seeing it made me want to cry.

But the Badenhousen estate is now part of the Morris County park system. Likewise for the old Seeing Eye farm.

And the Clyde Potts watershed is accessible! (apparently they do much more serious water-treatment now, so people wandering around on that property is less of an issue these days.) See, they condemned and submerged the village of Harmony when they built the reservoir in 1931, so there's probably all sorts of interesting shit back in there.

... stuff for somebody else's kid to find, but I'm still glad it's there.

Comments 
20th-Oct-2003 07:48 am (UTC)
Wow, thanks for this post. I love that part of New Jersey, but I was only there for two years, and I never delved into the history of how it got that way. That's really interesting about the formerly-occupied forests.

And what a great brochure. Completely makes the point I failed to photograph.
20th-Oct-2003 08:30 am (UTC)
You know, I noticed the same difference (to a lesser degree) in western Michigan when I was in college. A big part of the fun of hiking around in NJ and NY is finding that sort of thing. In fact, a lot of the content of Weird NJ comes from those abandoned sites.

I spent yesterday scrambling up the rock face of a ravine (probably only a few degrees of difficulty away from technical climbing), walking miles of back-country trails, and visiting a private home that was built in 1745. All of this within an hour's drive of my house, which is 5 minutes from Newark airport.

People think New Jersey is that background scenery in the opening credits sequence for The Sopranos. There's a lot that they miss.
20th-Oct-2003 01:07 pm (UTC)
See, now that is attractive highway exit decor.

^_^
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