Highlands, NJ - Resilience in the midst of tragedy
On September 11, 2001, plumes of smoke from the twin towers of the World Trade Center made their way across New York Harbor and Raritan Bay toward the small town of Highlands, New Jersey. The people there watched and waited to find out if their loved ones, who were working in the city, would make it home. Sadly, many from the area did not come home and those people are memorialized in a park where, on a clear day, you can see the skyline of Manhattan.
Mt. Mitchill Overlook Park, sits on the highest point along the Eastern Seaboard (not counting islands). Inside this park you can enjoy sweeping views of Sandy Hook, Manhattan, the Raritan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The peace and quiet there comes as a bit of a surprise, as you are only about 20-miles from the nation’s largest city. It is also a fitting place for a memorial to9/11.
From one of the parking lots, a sidewalk marked with a timeline of 9/11 events leads to a stone eagle clutching a piece of steel from the twin towers. Just below the eagle, the names of 147 Monmouth County, NJ residents who died on9/11 are carved into black granite, listed by the towns they called home, including Highlands. From the backside of the monument you can look into the distance and see the Freedom Tower in Manhattan.
A little more than 11 years after the attacks on New York City, the small fishing community of Highlands suffered another major blow. Superstorm Sandy showed her might and destroyed or damaged about 1200 of the 1500 homes in the downtown area, and more than a dozen restaurants and businesses (*according to a November 2012 article in the Huffington Post).
Today, people in Highlands are still rebuilding. A former United Methodist Church is now a work center for volunteers coming to the area as part of A Future With Hope, a Superstorm Sandy recovery program operated by the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church. (I have volunteered twice with the organization along with groups from Maryville, TN).
Visitors can find wide variety of restaurants in Highlands including seafood eateries, Italian restaurants and even a place called the Chubby Pickle. There’s also a small “beach” along the bay and a park along the water with some interesting sculptures. Highlands is the last town visitors pass through before heading to the beaches of the North Jersey Shore and the Gateway National Recreation Area (an incredible park with amazing history and views).
Highlands’ most visible landmark sits high on the ridge line above the city and is a place you must visit if you’re in the area. The Navesink Twin Lighthouse came online in the 1860’s and it is still lighting the way for ships today. From the front walkway, you can sometimes catch a view of dozens of ships coming toward New York City along with airplanes coming into New York City’s major airports. According to the Twin Lighthouse website the first official reading of the Pledge of Allegiance was held there. The lighthouse was also instrumental in the launch of the wireless telegraph and the development of radar.