On Sunday afternoon I went looking for some abandoned mines in the Ramapo Mountains. Ore from northern New Jersey’s highlands, especially iron, fed the state’s manufacturing centers and inspired the development of roads, canals, and railways to move metal and to bring Pennsylvania coal to foundries after local forests were too depleted to fuel them. Most of the mines were abandoned by the early twentieth century and some of them make worthy destinations for a history adventure.
I considered exploring the Peter’s Mine complex. I noticed that the trail near the Peter’s mine was closed, but I wasn’t all that concerned since I wanted to get off the trail anyway.
But then I vaguely remembered something that did concern me. It turns out the Peter’s mine complex was used as a dumping area for industrial waste, including paint sludge from a Ford plant in Mahwah. It’s now a Superfund environmental cleanup site. Local residents complain of health problems linked to contamination and it is still unknown how much waste remains in the area.
I chose to explore a different area, the Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Quite a few people were there in the mild weather, but the crowds dissipated the farther I got from the parking lot. I set out to find a couple of mines on my map, and hoped that by exploring deeper I could find something not on the map.
Downhill from the Ridge Trail, just south of its junction with the blue-and-white trail, is a location identified as Nickel Mine. If you look carefully, you can see the outline of a hole with a horseshoe-shaped pile of waste rock – called tailings – around it.
There were a few openings and a trench nearby.
Just down the hill is a rock face.
I got back on the trail and set out for the Pierson Exploration. I explored the area the Pierson Exploration looked to be on the map, but I don’t think I found it. As it turns out, the mines in this area are well-cataloged and described in the book Iron Mine Trails by Edward J. Lenik. According to Lenik, the Pierson Exploration is an opening on the hillside to the west of the woods road about 1100 feet from its junction with the green trail. It appears on an 1862 map of the Pierson estate, so it was dug sometime before then.
By the time I got to the Pierson area I was approaching the time I set to head back to the parking lot. But I decided to go up a nearby ridge.
I did not find evidence of a mine up there, but did find evidence of much earlier activity: a boulder that must have been left on the ridge by a glacier. Since it was the highest thing around I obviously climbed on top of it.
Embarrassingly I had trouble finding the woods road after coming down from the ridge, and had to do more compass work and pushing through thorn bushes than I should have needed.
With that detour, I was actually concerned about getting a ticket for parking in the county lot after it closed. So I sped down the trail, and got to my car just as a truck with flashing lights pulled into the lot. They didn’t look like they were giving tickets, but I left the parking lot feeling like an action hero anyway.
All in all it was a good afternoon. You never know what you might find when you take the time to look. Just watch where you’re going and know how to navigate back if you miss something. This trip would not bring me to mines as impressive as those we explored in Harriman State Park, but it did give me a much-appreciated opportunity to experience the outdoors and see what’s out there.
Layton, Mary Jo. “No end in sight for Ford cleanup in Ringwood.” The Record, December 12, 2010. http://www.northjersey.com/news/environment/121210ringwoodrevisited.html?page=all
Lenik, Edward J. Iron Mine Trails: A History and Hiker’s Guide to the Historic Iron Mines of the New Jersey and New York Highlands. New York: New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 1996. Pages 66-69.
Map Archive of New Jersey’s Abandoned Mines. State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water Supply and Geoscience. http://www.nj.gov/dep/njgs/enviroed/minemaps.htm
Trail Map 115 – North Jersey Trails. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Inc. 9th Edition, 2009.
Background on mining’s impact on transportation networks:
Lane, Wheaton J. From Indian Trail to Iron Horse: Travel and Transportation in New Jersey, 1620-1860. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1939.