POOL'S A REAL RESOURCE
Highlands Mountain Haven Marks 70th Anniversary
The Record, Sunday, August 28, 2005
By Kathleen Carroll
RINGWOOD - It's a five-mile drive from the interstate. A five-minute walk from the forested parking lot. And five steps down a brand-new diving board.
Lifeguard Zach Magee diving into the Highlands Natural Pool, a bucholic mountain getaway in Ringwood
now observing its 70th anniversary.
That's the sound of the Highlands Natural Pool, a soaking-wet surprise hidden among poplars and evergreens. Urban escapees and nature lovers have paddled and splashed in the stream-fed, Olympic-size pool for 70 years.
Fabiola Leon, 41, of Ringwood, treaded water Saturday afternoon and remembered her first swim here, after moving to this rural Highlands community from North Bergen.
"Breathtaking," she said. "I remember swimming on my back, staring up at the sky, looking at the beautiful evergreens. It was just overwhelmingly beautiful."
This mountain haven couldn't be more unlike the brassy, sun-soaked Jersey Shore.
Wading in the shaded water, the view is lush and calming. Smooth-faced boulders lean into a soft mountain, two and three stories high. The only soundtrack is birds and bugs and the swoosh of tall trees swaying in the breeze.
Because its water is constantly replenished by trickling streams, the 10-feet-deep pool is chemical-free and remarkably clean. Minnows dart through the clear water, which looks dark green-brown because of the pool's clay floor. Its walls are made of large rocks, which are capped with a traditional cement deck.
The unpackaged aesthetic recalls the pool's beginnings. It was built in 1935 by the Nature Friends, a group of expatriate Germans and Austrians who combined anti-tyrannical politics with ecology and environmentalism. The group purchased a forest tract in the 1920s and created Camp Midvale, which became an inclusive retreat for working-class families of all races.
Group members erected common buildings and family bungalows on the grounds. And they fashioned the pool at a natural dip in the land at the foot of the Saddle and Assiniwikam mountains, using clay and rocks to build it.
That land has since become the Weis Ecology Center, which is owned by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The society donated the pool to its neighbors, who formed the non-profit Community Association of the Highlands in the mid-1990s.
"We call it 'the hidden gem,'" said board member Jon Berry, 57. He first visited the pool as a 5-year-old, when his Manhattan family retreated to a bungalow on the property. It bred a lifelong love for the country, he said.
"Now I take my children swimming in the same place my parents took me," he said.
Day-tripper Susan McGettigan, 40, of Manhattan relaxed with her sister under a green tent Saturday, snacking on vegetables
and watching her twin nieces run around in the grass.
"This is an incredible retreat for me," she said. "I love being surrounded by trees."
Her sister, Jeanne McGettigan, 45, of Queens, said the pool is a worry-free out-of-the-city destination for her twin 5-year-old daughters.
"It's not packed with chlorine, or filled with dangerous waves," she said. "I can relax without worrying about them too much."
Berry said the pool is as much a supportive community as a swimming hole, with frequent potlucks, birthday parties and neighborly chats. And all of the annual labor on the pool, including patching cement and cleaning the grounds, is either donated by local organizations or done by the pool's members.
"We feel a sense of community," Berry said. "It belongs to all of us, and we're all responsible to help keep it going. We want people
to have a sense of connectedness."
PICTURE THIS: THE HIGHLANDS POOL
The Record, Monday, June 25, 2007
By Thomas E. Franklin, Photographer and Writer