In this week's New Yorker, Ben McGrath writes about the people of the Ramapo Mountain, known as the Jackson Whites. (Sadly, the article is behind a paywall. I'll save it for my local friends without a subscription.)
I live about twenty minutes from Ramapo Mountain. In nicer weather, we frequently take the kids up there for hikes. I also taught at Ramapo College for two and a half years, so I have some affinity for that area.
McGrath does an adequate job describing the unique culture that has been living a stone's throw from Manhattan for generations. But perhaps the best writing about the area and the troubles that they have faced was in a series of articles done by the Bergen Record several years ago. It was a fine bit of reporting that hopefully won them some awards.
The Ramapo Mountains have been settled since the 1700s. The bullets from Revolutionary War muskets were formed with iron found in the mines in the mountains. In the 50s and 60s, the Ford Motor Company built paint plants up there. As part of the paint making process, sludge or waste from plant accumulated. The executives didn't know what to do with the sludge at first. Then they noticed all the holes in ground from the 200 year old abandoned iron mines. Aha! They dumped the sludge down the holes. Really smart, right?
Well, all the sludge has been bubbling to the ground in people's backyards and on the edges of playgrounds and everybody has thyroid cancer. There have been lawsuits, but, so far, Ford has been able to avoid paying damages to the local people.
Bergen County is a highly developed, suburban area. Real estate starts at $350,000 for a tiny home with an outdated kitchen. I was surfing the real estate websites last night and looking at houses that were advertised as teardowns that cost $500,000. Developers fight over little plots of land to build $900,000 McMansions with two feet of backyard space. So, Ramapo Mountain is prime space for development. It's one of the few untouched parts of our county.
McGrath explains the tension that is arising from the encroachment of developers and local law enforcement into the community of people who live there. It's like the Saddle River Junior league set up a garden party in the middle of Appalachia. And all within the shade of the Empire State building.