By Alexis Lopez
The Highlands Region of New Jersey is a vital drinking source for a greater portion of New Jersey. It covers 859,358 acres of land across the northwest portion of the state including 88 municipalities. Although preserved in many areas, industrialization has affected this historic region of forested ridges.
According to the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP), the onset of such changes date back to 1710, due to old iron mines. These changes brought more people, communities, houses, and more industries. Also, according to the RMP, an increased demand for transportation affected the region. The Morris Canal was completed in 1830, connecting the Hudson River and Newark to the Delaware River, allowing much more traveling back and forth. Another factor that affected and increased the industrializing of the Highland Region is agriculture.
There are numerous reasons to preserve this lustrous historic region. According to anjec.org, the Highlands Region provides drinking water for 64% of New Jersey residents, making preserving water sources in this area very important. Anjec.org says that the RMP uses an approach to the water supply systems which requires a detailed assessment of the natural and man made systems that support growth and development. The website also explained that the Highlands Council has spent much time preparing a comprehensive environmental and infrastructure analysis of the region, collecting data to help preserve the core area of the region. The data that is taken from the analysis will aid in allowing all of the municipalities in the region to use the information for future planning. Such documentation will help those who are concerned with the preservation and happenings in the region stay aware and know exactly the conditions that the region’s lakes and streams are in.
Additionally, this area has many historic sites, parks, hiking trails, endangered species, farmlands and much more that need preservation, which many residents are concerned about.
According to the RMP, there was a task force appointed to study the Highlands Region in 2003. The task force had 19 members and sought ways to protect and make the region’s overall quality of life better. The task force did so by realizing that although preserving the area was of utmost importance, the economic growth of the area was important as well and impacts the region and people around it.
The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was approved by the state Legislature in 2004. The RMP states that it is a balancing act; that they must figure out how much development and commercial activity is enough, and how much is too much. The Highlands Region has a regional council that is actively taking steps towards preserving certain lands and allowing development in other places. The RMP came to power in a 9-5 vote by the regional council and has already helped make improvements for the region.