Highlands Resources

Natural Resources

Water Supply

The New Jersey Highlands is a vital source of water for New Jersey. The region’s forests, wetlands, wells, streams and reservoirs provide as much as 373 million gallons of potable water daily. Over 6.2 million people — nearly two-thirds 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.

Most 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 Round Valley/Spruce Run Reservoir System, managed by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority.

Forests, Biodiversity, and Wildlife

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 of pollutants, 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. Four species — the Indiana bat, blue spotted salamander, bog turtle, and bald eagle — are Federally-listed. Also, 137 endangered, imperiled and rare plant species can be found in the region.

Open Space and Recreation

The region’s parks, lakes, hills, and beautiful landscapes give the millions of people in the New York Metropolitan area a chance to escape congestion. Nearly one third of the area of the NJ Highlands is preserved 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, geo-cache, picnic, photograph, or bird watch.

Wanaque Reservoir, Passaic County Photo Courtesy The Land Conservancy of New Jersey
Wanaque Reservoir, Passaic County Photo Courtesy The Land Conservancy of New Jersey

Historical Resources

Highlands history is all about iron, with geography calling the shots. Northwest New Jersey was a wilderness until after the Revolution, but the first visitors saw that iron ore lay underground in a wide diagonal swath through the area. And the forests provided all the charcoal they would need. Mining began early in the 1700s, or even before. While the English were in charge, colonists were forbidden to manufacture metal products for local use: those made the profits, and profits belonged to the mother country.

Washington knew the importance of northwest New Jersey iron. Local ammunition providers were concealed and protected. Wintering in Morristown was not an accident. After the Revolution, knowledge, investments, and a work force were ready to grow. Iron was the growth engine of Highlands settlement. At Ringwood and Mt. Hope, Mine Hill, Andover, and Oxford, the Ogdens, Fords, and Hewitts flourished. Markets opened in New York and beyond, reached via that engineering marvel, the Morris Canal, which carried loads of ore and local produce. By the mid 19th-century, railroads and the historic road network – turnpikes: the prototype Morris, the Hamburg-Paterson, the Newark-Pompton; parts of modern Routes 46, 23, 24, 206 – put the area on the move. Waterways like the Musconetcong and the Whippany, which defined the original Highlands travel patterns, changed from transportation corridors to power sources as agricultural land use spread into the lower, more fertile Highlands areas, and small towns grew up to provide commercial services.

Of course the story of Highlands development doesn’t stop there. The geography also gave us lakes, where city dwellers fled in summer for health and fun. Many lake communities, planted in late Victorian days, are still with us. We can still see their typical architecture and clustered growth patterns, under the changes that now make these little houses livable year-round.
The remnants of this 19th-century built environment are today’s cultural resources. To understand and honor their story, we must protect them, as the Highlands Act requires. Less than 10% of these resources have even been identified; we must find the rest. It is a huge job, and the Council will need lots of help from the community.

We have to label and celebrate the rusty “industrial archaeology,” the almost invisible farmhouse and barn foundations, the patterns of early cultivation in the fields. Historic resources are not just big pretty houses. Telling thewhole story of our past means seeing what our ancestors saw, in its open scenic setting, with all its limits and subtleties. The natural and built environments support each other, and together they keep us alive. Protect the water, protect the land, protect the past, to make sure the Highlands has a future.
The New Jersey Highlands are rich with connections to our past. In total, there are 597 identified historic and cultural sites and districts in the region, many of which are listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The Highlands Region also has four National Historic Landmarks and 56 archaeological sites.

Agricultural Resources

Farms and farmstands, 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 our local economy. Farms add to the scenic beauty of the region, and provide opportunities for agro-tourism.

Farming is a way of life for many. The state and local governments recognize the benefits agriculture adds to the economy and to the quality of life in the Highlands. However, agricultural viability remains at risk due to high operating costs and development pressures.

Farm Facts

  • 39,646 acres of Preserved Farmland in the New Jersey Highlands thru 2015.
  • 27,500 acres of farmland were lost to development in the Highlands between 1986 and 2002.
  • 483 farms in the Highlands have been preserved since 1983.

Support Local Farms

  • Buy local, buy fresh – at roadside stands and community farmers markets. See www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh and www.foodshedalliance.org
  • Buy organic – visit the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey’s website at www.nofanj.org
  • Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and contract for a share of the produce. See www.nofanj.org and www.localharvest.org
  • Pick your own – fruits, vegetables, flowers, pumpkins, etc. See www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh
  • Cut your own – fresh Christmas trees. See www.njchristmastrees.org
  • Plant your own – New Jersey grown flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. See www.state.nj.us/jerseygrown
  • Take a farm tour or stay at a farm bed & breakfast. See www.visitnjfarms.org