Stag Hill is a beautiful spot in Mahwah with sweeping views of the Hackensack River Valley below, all the way to Manhattan. This valley is also the ancestral land of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, whose members were forced to flee into the mountains by European colonists when they arrived in this part of North America.
Unfortunately, even the mountains weren’t safe for the Ramapough. Besides the nasty stereotypes and ignorant fears of its inhabitants, Stag Hill has been an illegal dumping ground for at least the past 60 years, despite being sacred and used as hunting grounds. Thousands of pounds of trash spill down the hillside, from old cars, refrigerators, and toilets to countless cans and broken bottles. But on Saturday, 30 volunteers scoured the place clean thanks to an event organized by MEVO (Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization) in partnership with TLCNJ, which is in the process of acquiring another property here. Enough metal was collected to fill a 20-yard dumpster 1.5 times over, and 30 tires and 35 bags of trash and recyclables were hauled out of the woods.
This is part of a larger effort to build our Ramapo Mountain Preserve and eventually hand it off to the original inhabitants of this land, who are so deeply connected to it. The Land Conservancy has been working with the Ramapough Lenape Nation for a decade now, slowly purchasing properties in the Ramapo Mountains and cleaning them up to protect in perpetuity. In fact, we are helping the Ramapough reclaim their ancestral lands in a number of ways—for example, by giving the tribe safe, long-term access to Split Rock Mountain in Mahwah, a site of archaeological and cultural importance.
TLCNJ is engaged in this work year-round, but it feels meaningful that this cleanup—the only one MEVO was able to organize this year because of the pandemic—occurred during Native American Heritage Month.
MEVO has already cleaned up half a million pounds of trash in this area. Just before the cleanup began, MEVO’s director Violet Reed offered sobering but inspiring words to the assembled group of volunteers. “Stag Hill has been ancestral land for the Ramapough Lenape Nation since revolutionary times, for both hunting and spiritual purposes. There are still 5,000 members in this area today. This mountain has been dumped on for the last 50 to 60 years; it’s a critical social issue for our area. With this cleanup, we are standing in unity with the tribe.”
There remains a lot of work to be done, but one way we can move forward together is by making this land available to the descendants of its first inhabitants—as we do for so many others.