Land of the Lost – Former Highland Park Industrial Site

Alongside River Road, across the street from Johnson Park, right on the Piscataway/Highland Park border, there is a huge woodsy lot with an old iron fence that runs parallel to the road below a steep incline. When driving by all you can see is the summit of the steep hill of woods and the fence, nothing too obviously interesting to the casual commuter, but to the ever-intrepid RR Team, where there’s an iron-bound fence and woods- there’s something cool. Sure enough, when we decided to explore the area further and find out exactly what the fence was meant to keep out (or in), the Team found yet another interesting abandoned industrial site which suggests that the Rutgers area is literally peppered with environmentally questionable spots.

This one, technically located in the furthest eastern section of Highland Park, is vaguely listed in town maps as the “former industrial site” and “filling station” adjacent to Cleveland Ave and an active Conrail railroad line. All attempts via the Internet to find out exactly what “industry” was originally located here have been fruitless. Clearly, like Union Carbide, this was a site of some level of hazardous contamination as nearly every trace of the former structure has been removed and there are these strange pipes that go into the ground which are actually used to for testing toxicities in the soil. The area is also listed with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as one of the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Contamination Sites, but the company that was there is not named. After walking alongside the railroad track, the RR Team found an access point where the barbed wire fence had ended. They found the site to be a desolate wasteland that while mostly hidden by the woods alongside River Road, is an apparent and obvious eyesore in the quaint Highland Park suburban setting.

In addition to some strange wooden debris, the Team also found a remnant of an animal”s bone at the site. This nearly petrified fragment turned out to be part of the joint of a large muscular mammal, most likely a deer or large dog, which is only unusual in that this fragment was found alone and not with any other parts of the animal”s frame. The most likely explanation is that a deer was probably struck by a train on the nearby railroad, but why such a small piece was scattered in an abandoned area remains a mystery. There were few signs of life at the site, no birds, rabbits or deer. This place is a silent testament to the reckless days of EPA-free industrial environmental exploitation. One can only wonder if this site is yet another Rutgers Rarities X-factor that in some way contributes to the strangeness of the area.

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