By Lindsey de Stefan
I have been a New Jersey resident all my life. But I had no idea that there were so many environmental landmarks in such close proximity to my home. More importantly, I never realized that, at one point, these sites required the hard work and dedication of a number of people in order to save them from industrialization.
Many of these events took place before my time - some before I was even born. They are not something that the local public schools tend to teach students about, though perhaps they should. The Great Swamp, Sterling Forest, and the Farny Highlands are all places within driving distance of where we live. They are not far off places that we hear about on television or read about in the news that we cannot possibly relate to. They, quite literally, hit close to home.
Today, people take advantage of many things. Perhaps the conservation of these beautiful places is one of them. Some years ago, some very motivated and relentless individuals worked tirelessly to protect these sites so that we today can enjoy them. Many of the younger generations are not even aware of all of the effort that was put forth, and so they take these places for granted. This may be true, too, of some who lived through the struggle. They are safe now, so why continue to think about it anymore? This, I believe, is a poor attitude to have.
People like Helen Fenske and Pieter Prall deserve recognition for what they did for New Jersey. They were not paid or compensated for their diligent efforts. In fact, most people have never even heard of them. But what I think is most important, regardless of whether you can name the exact individuals who played key roles in saving Farny Highlands, Sterling Forest, and the Great Swamp, is simply that you remember what they did. What they have done for us should serve as an inspiration to many. They were not political leaders or millionaires who had the money to fund such grand projects. They were simply common people, like you and I, who believed in a cause. And instead of sitting around hoping someone else would do something, they did it themselves.
As long as a person can find others who have the same beliefs and motivation, he or she can create and effective campaign, much like the ones that saved these three New Jersey locales. You do not need money or vast political influence. You just need to think carefully about what you need to do and organize yourselves accordingly. As these examples in New Jersey and at Sterling Forest in New York show, people are capable of great things.