Wanaque Reservoir, Passaic County
Photo Courtesy The Land Conservancy of New Jersey
- Water Supply
- Forests, Biodiversity, and Wildlife
- Open Space and Recreation
- Historic and Cultural Resources
The New Jersey Highlands are a vital source of water for New Jerseyans. The region’s forests, wetlands, wells, streams and reservoirs provide as much as 770 million gallons of potable water daily. Over five million people — more than half of the State’s population — rely on the Highlands for their drinking water. Most of them live outside the Highlands region, in Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Passaic, and Union counties.
Highlands residents get their water from wells that depend on groundwater aquifers, while residents of the rest of the state are supplied by the surface water of Highlands streams and reservoirs. The major surface water supply systems located in the Highlands include:
- the Wanaque / Monksville Reservoir System, operated by the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission;
- the Pequannock Watershed, owned by the City of Newark;
- the Boonton / Split Rock Reservoir System, owned by Jersey City;
- the Spruce Run / Round Valley Reservoir System, managed by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority.
Over half of the area in the New Jersey Highlands is forested land. Forests help protect water quality by capturing rainfall, recharging groundwater aquifers, filtering nutrients, preventing soil erosion and reducing run-off. Forests also moderate temperature, filter the air, and help combat global warming. Moreover, forests provide habitat to plants and animals, and preserve biodiversity.
The New Jersey Highlands have exceptionally diverse natural communities. Black bear, river otters, bobcat and wild trout make their homes in the region, as do many other species of mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles. And, more than 200 species of birds breed in, migrate through and winter in the region.
Seventy-two New Jersey-listed endangered, threatened and rare animal species live in the New Jersey Highlands, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and mussels. Three species — the Indiana bat, bog turtle, and bald eagle — are Federally-listed. Also, 137 endangered, imperiled and rare plant species can be found in the region.
Farms and farmstands, and orchards and vineyards, abound in the New Jersey Highlands. Nearly 13% of the land in the region is dedicated to agricultural uses. Agriculture provides jobs and contributes to the local economy. Farms add to the scenic beauty of the region, and provide opportunities for visitors to enjoy activities like apple and pumpkin picking, hayrides and corn mazes.
The region’s parks, lakes, hills, and beautiful landscapes give the millions of people in the New York Metropolitan area a chance to escape the congestion. Nearly one third of the area of the NJ Highlands is open space — lands and farms that, through the preservation efforts of governments, private individuals, and non-profit organizations, have some level of protection.
Visitors to the Highlands can find many miles of hiking trails, as well as opportunities to swim, boat, canoe, windsurf, sail, hunt, fish, downhill or cross-country ski, bike, golf, picnic, photograph, or bird watch.
The New Jersey Highlands are rich with connections to the past, offering significant tourism opportunities. Among the attractions are archaeological sites from early American settlements; remains of the iron industry, such as forges and abandoned mines; historic railroads; Revolutionary War sites; and architectural examples from the 18th and 19th centuries.
In total, there are 597 identified historic and cultural sites and districts in the region, many of which are currently listed on the State and National Registers of historic places. The Highlands Region also has four National Historic Landmarks and 56 archaeological sites.