Highlands Natural Pool

Our History

What's Happening at the Pool

The Highlands Natural Pool Story

Include the "chronology / factoid cards"

The Highlands Pool is located in the Wyanokie Highlands adjacent to the Norvin Green State Forest. In 1921 Camp Midvale was founded as a haven for working people seeking refuge, recreation, community, and nature by a group of outdoor enthusiasts called the Nature Friends. In 1935, Nature Friends volunteers carved the present pool out of the hillside by hand.

In 1974, Walter and May Weis provided an endowment in order to realize their dream of preserving land for the purpose of environmental education.

Thus the former Camp Midvale property became the Weis Ecology Center (WEC), a private, non-profit organization created to offer the public a unique opportunity to learn about the Northern New Jersey Highlands Region.

The WEC later became one of New Jersey Audubon Society's centers. WEC closed the pool in 1994. In 1995, New Jersey Audubon agreed to allow the community to open the pool and in 1996 The Community Association of the Highlands incorporated, reopening the site as the Highlands Pool. In 1998, NJAS/WEC formally donated the pool to the community.

In 2012 NJ Audubon Society closed the WEC. The fate of the buildings and surrounding structures are unknown as of 2014. The Highlands Natural Pool remains open and run by the community.


1765-- Peter Hasenclever discovers and opens an iron ore mine known variously as the Blue, London, Iron Hill or Whynockie Mine. Hasenclever worked for the American or London Company. At its widest part, the ore vein reaches 16 feet wide and is on the average 9 to 10 feet thick.

1838-- The Wyanokies are the scene of extensive iron prospecting and mining. A smelting forge known as Freedom Furnace is established in Midvale, NJ (The furnace site is now under the waters of the Wanaque Reservoir). The woods around the area were logged for charcoal by the Ringwood Mining Company. At this time, the Blue Mine is worked by Peter M. Ryerson and ore is shipped to the Freedom Furnace.

1840-1857-- The Laurel Hill Mine is opened. This mine was known at various times as the Laurel, Red, or Laurel Hill Mine (and on Hiking Maps as the "Roomy" Mine). The ore vein was four feet thick.

1855-- The Blue Mine goes "out of blast," i.e. shut down.

1871-1872-- The Blue Mine reopened for two years.

1886-- The Blue Mine reopened for a short period by the Whynockie Iron Company. This effort worked the mine over 100 feet down the slope and through a drift at the bottom some 50 feet in length. This effort produced about 300 tons per month.

1890-- The Blue Mine reopened by the Midvale Mining Company.

1905-- The last mine in the area was shut down.

1913-- The first hiking trails are constructed. Dr. Will S. Monroe designed and completed most of the trails in the Wyanokies. He was a professor at the State Normal School in Montclair.

1921-- Camp Midvale is established by the Nature Friends organization to provide permanent facilities for outdoor recreation.

1922-- The Wanaque Reservoir is constructed at a cost of $25 million. Water delivery began in 1930 after eight years of construction. The reservoir holds up to 29.5 billion gallons of water.

1935-- Camp Midvale builds an Olympic-sized swimming pool to replace their swimming pond.

1939-- An additional 86 acres are purchased by Camp Midvale to protect the mountain water supply to the pool.

1968-- After a suspicious fire destroys the building housing the kitchen, clubhouse, dining hall and canteen, Camp Midvale searches for a non-profit organization to take title to the property, to keep the land both open to the public and preserved from development.

1974-- Walter and May Weis provide an endowment to turn the 160 acres - the former Camp Midvale - into an environmental education center, in order to realize their dream of preserving land for the purpose of environmental education to the public. Thus, the Weis Ecology Center (WEC) is created as a private, non-profit organization,

1994-- The WEC closes the pool. Local residents and others organize to get the pool reopened.

1996-- The WEC becomes one of the New Jersey Audubon Society's (NJAS) Centers. NJAS allows the pool to be re-opened and operated by the independent, newly formed and incorporated, non-profit, Community Association of the Highlands (CAH).

1998-- NJAS/WEC formally subdivides the pool and surrounding land (approximately 5 acres) from the WEC property, and donates it to CAH, which continues to operate it as the Highlands Natural Pool.

2012-- NJAS closes the Weis Ecology Center. Discussions begin with the State of New Jersey to transfer the property to the State.

2013-- Local residents and others learn that a transfer to the State would require all buildings and infrastructure on the WEC property to be destroyed; they organize informally as the "Friends of Weis" to save the buildings and bring programs back.

2014-- The "Friends of Weis" incorporate and change their name to Highlands Nature Friends (HNF). They receive Federal 501(c)3 recognition. HNF begins discussions with NJAS for the ownership of the entire WEC property to be transferred to HNF. NJAS accepts the outline of the HNF proposal.

2015-- NJAS and HNF enter into discussions about the property transfer. HNF continues to develop program and event ideas for The New Weis Center for Education, Arts and Recreation, which they plan to establish at the former WEC site.

Return to the Highlands Pool History Page.

(Sources: Lenik, Edward J. 1996. Iron Mine Trails. New York: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference p:59-65; Nature Friends Newsletters 1930-1939; Wanaque borough website.)


Additional history:


History of the area hiking trails:

  • A Guide to the self-guided historic Loop Trail that skirts the perimeter of the pool. Courtesy of Matt Locker .

  • AEU Conference Center Trail Guide (PDF) from the late 1960s explaining the origins of the area hiking trails and highlighting many of the local landmarks.

  • A 1943 article from the Nature Friend explaining the role of Camp Midvale members in constructing the local hiking trails.