The State We’re In: Celebrate Highlands Water, History & Culture

Michele S. Byers

Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Water – clean and plentiful – is a luxury we New Jerseyans often take for granted. But as those who follow national and world news know, abundant drinking water is in heavy dispute in many places.

Almost 6 million residents of this state we’re in depend on the Highlands for their water. The rivers, streams, lakes and underground aquifers of this mountainous region serve as vast sponges and filters for a safe drinking water supply.

For the first time, the Highlands and its water, culture, ecology and history will be celebrated at historic Waterloo Village in Byram Township.

Billed as “a celebration of all things local,” the Highlands Festival at Waterloo on Sept. 21 and 22 will include tours of the restored 19thcentury village on the Morris Canal, live music, hikes, kayaking, boat rides, food, crafts, educational demonstrations, exhibits and vendors.

The New Jersey Highlands Coalition is hosting the festival. The coalition is an advocacy group whose mission is to protect the water and natural and cultural resources of the Highlands region – and raise awareness of its importance to New Jersey’s quality of life.  The coalition represents a diverse network of more than 75 organizations, including land preservation, environmental, agricultural and outdoor recreation groups.

Julia Somers, executive director of the Highlands Coalition, said the inspiration for creating an annual festival came out of a desire to draw attention to the Highlands region.

Waterloo Village seemed like a perfect fit, she said, because of its rich history. The village is located at the midway point of the Morris Canal, which in its heyday was a 102-mile barge route connecting Phillipsburg on the Delaware River to Jersey City. Barges pulled by mules transported coal, iron and agricultural products.

Waterloo Village is part of Allamuchy State Park and is open to the public, although its buildings are open only on certain occasions. Visitors will be able to tour some of the historic buildings during the festival.

Somers noted that nonprofits like the Friends of Waterloo and the Canal Society of New Jersey – both members of the Highlands Coalition – will benefit from the exposure. “The more people know about the village, the more likely they are to support the work of the Friends and the Canal Society,” she said.

More than anything, though, the Highlands Festival will be a fun way for people to learn about the New Jersey Highlands.

Twenty New Jersey bands will perform on two stages, providing almost continuous music. Activities include boat rides on the canal, kayaking on the pond, an edible plants walk, a juried art and photo show, a solar oven demonstration, storytelling at the park’s Lenape Village, and more.

The festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22. There’s parking for only 1,000 cars, so Somers urges attendees to come early – and carpool! Kids under 12 are free when accompanied by an adult, and tickets are cheaper online in advance of the event.

For information about the Highlands Festival at Waterloo, visit the event website at

Waterloo Village is owned by the state, but strong public-private partnerships are needed to continue restoring its buildings and keeping its history alive. Fortunately, there are several groups doing just that! To learn more about Waterloo Village and the Morris Canal, visit the Canal Society of NJ at , the Friends of Waterloo Village at  and Winakung at Waterloo at


And to find out more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources – in the Highlands and beyond – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

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