Union County High Point Trip Report

Date: July 2000
Author: Dan Case

I did these two spots in reverse order from the way Mike describes them as I came in not via I-78 but along local roads from Summit, the town where I grew up.

Both these areas have been somewhat affected since the construction of the interstate, which did not exist in 1981. The plans had been bogged up in a lawsuit since the early 1970s as it runs through a large county forest, the Watchung Reservation. This is the land where I learned to love walking aimlessly yet curiously around in the woods as a boy, wondering where the faint path I was following eventually led. Despite the construction of I-78 (inevitable, I think), it is still an excellent place for a day hike and indeed an ideal route around it is described in "50 Hikes in New Jersey."

1 area 3/4 mile SE of Hillview School (560+ ft)

From Summit, follow Ashland Road or Mountain Avenue (they converge about midway across town) past my old neighborhoods into New Providence. You will find Murray Hill Boulevard on the left in a small section that crosses into Berkeley Heights. Follow it uphill to the high school parking lot as Mike Schwartz directs in his report. The baseball field with the pitcher's mound is not visible from the lot, but walk past the football field (the school's teams are known as the Highlanders, aptly enough), across the soccer field and you'll see the fences and the diamond hidden behind the trees (at this time of year it too has soccer goals on it). HP bagged? Not quite so easily, I think.

The school isn't identified as such on the map, it's just a crosshatched building. I seem to recall from a visit here years ago that the extra fields off to the NE didn't exist, and they aren't on the topo either (the area is shown as wooded). It wouldn't surprise me if the school district cleared, filled and graded this area when it needed more fields at some point. It's hard to say whether the original contours are still valid, or even if they were accurately surveyed to begin with.

I noticed a crown of sorts near the far soccer goal. I hit that. It may be within inches of the pitcher's mound. Then, the area behind the soccer field has some piles of dirt that must be left over from the construction. A hundred feet behind the northeast goal these make a nice multiple summit that is obviously the highest ground in this area, though just as obviously manmade. The highest is easy to discern, very solid and I could see a water tower to the southwest (perhaps the one at the other area). Interestingly enough, the map puts this area in Summit, not Berkeley Heights.

Back at the school parking lot (this circuit is a good mile walk, I think), one can see that the parking lot seems roughly equal to the fields, even though the map has only a 540' contour here. I hit the land near the picnic tables in the entrance island, the middle of the intersection of Watchung and Murray Hill Boulevards to be sure.

I then saw built-up areas in front of the school. I stood between a cedar and juniper scrub near the entrance opposite Mercer Road and in one area near the secondary entrance to the northeast of the main entrance. Only then did I consider all the bases touched.

There is a road, which may sometimes be gated, that runs from the lot along the northern edge of the athletic fields and then past them. The map shows this curving downhill and reaching Glenside Avenue in the reservation at some point. It might be a good way to reach the far fields if it's open, though I suspect it is a private, school district road. I also think its other end does reach Glenside, but it is gated there as well and open much less frequently. (This may be shown as a Something Hollow Road on some old road maps of the area. As part of the concessions made when I-78 was finally built, the overpass is extra wide and planted to allow wildlife to cross to the reservation's northern ridge, one of two land bridges across 78 through the reservation.)

1 area 1500' south of Diamond Hill Church (560+ ft)

Back on Mountain Ave. I continued west, past Bell Labs (supposedly on the Russians' short list of nuclear targets when I was growing up, the great "Ground Zero in My Backyard" urban legend) and the light at Diamond Hill Road and Union Avenue, then into Berkeley Heights for good. The turnoff and the neighborhood are as Mike Schwartz described it, and I found the access road to the water tower quite handily (it looks at first like the driveway for #195, but very quickly it's obvious that no self-respecting homeowner in a neighborhood like this would let his driveway degenerate to that point).

The highest ground is well outside the fence. There are numerous paths in the area so it is not at all difficult to reach. I investigated the house at #30 that seems to be on higher ground. In fact, the ground just next to the deck IS higher. I didn't feel like trespassing into backyards, and it was humid and warm and I'd done enough walking, so I didn't bother. Besides, it's obvious from the architecture that this subdivision was built in the late 1980s, after 78 was finished, and I strongly suspect that the ground was piled up around the house to shore up the foundation so I'd call it manmade. In fact, I take it as a rule that ground next to houses in subdivisions less than 20 years old where it was obvious that earth was moved does not count.

Both these HPs, however, are close to the Diamond Hill Road exit on I-78 and lend themselves well to being done as a short detour by a traveler.