Conservation History

Borough Conservation History

When developer, Herbert J. Hapgood, surveyed the area that became Mountain Lakes, the Fox Hill Ice Company had already purchased and dammed Birchwood, Crystal and Sunset Lakes.  As Hapgood planned his community, he created Mountain and Wildwood Lakes as the centerpiece of recreation with homes and streets flowing around both.  Early residents enjoyed a rich recreational life of swimming, boating, fishing and sailing.

Mountain Lakes became its own municipality in 1924 and the newly incorporated government bought both lakes on behalf of the citizens to be used for public recreation.  The Depression forced the remaining construction companies into bankruptcy and was accompanied by a wave of abandoned homes in what became known as “Mortgage Lakes”.  In the 1930’s, Mayor Halsey Frederick began the first land acquisitions by buying these properties and then reselling them to put them back on the tax rolls.  This practice continued until the end of World War II when the Borough began to hang on to that land.

In 1952, Mayor Wilcox acquired 250 acres from the Fox Hill Ice Company bringing Birchwood, Sunset and Crystal Lakes into public ownership. Some property was sold for residential development of the shoreline.  Following the early construction of the Lake Drive School, additional land was sold to the Board of Education by the Council for a token amount when the need arose.  In addition, Borough property was leased to the Board to permit construction of a practice field behind Briarcliff School.  The result of these acquisitions and leases has been a random pattern of publicly owned property consisting of large natural areas, scattered building lots, and odd-sized and odd-shaped parcels.  In 1956 the Borough acquired additional deeds to various properties throughout the community, but the sentiment of the community began to change resulting in a policy to sell no more Borough-owned property than was acquired.  That policy would eventually morph into an official resolution whereby Council prohibited any further sale of Borough property in 1972.  This policy was reaffirmed by Council in 1979 and has been passed by resolution every year since.

Mountain Lakes began to establish the parks that would become so central to its persona in earnest in 1964.  In that year, 165 acres were set aside for parks and recreation followed by an additional 152 acres in 1974.  More park lands were added in 1985, 1996 (26 acres) and again in 2002. The ordinance authorizing the 1996 acquisition states that the purchase is for “public purposes, including aquifer and watershed protection, wetlands and open space preservation, recreational and other municipal purposes.”  The result of these acquisitions is that Mountain Lakes now represents a leafy oasis between busy Route 46 and Interstate highway 287.  Good land use policy, coupled with opportunity, created a valuable “Green Belt” buffer between the residential area of the Borough and the highways, protecting residents from noise and air pollution as well as fulfilling the original purpose of protecting the aquifer.