Given the popularity of the Jersey Shore and its reality showcase, most people don’t think of New Jersey as having mountainous terrain but tucked in the northeast corner of Sussex County is the township of Vernon, New Jersey.
Located about a one hour drive from New York City, and part of the New York Metropolitan Area, the township is home to roughly 25,000 people, making it the largest township in the county measured by both area and population.
A Winter Wonderland
Vernon thrives as a year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts of every persuasion. The convergence of skiers and snowboarders during the winter months gives way to hikers, golfers, mountain bikers, kayakers, campers, picnickers in the summer and the fall. Vernon certainly lives up to its billing as New Jersey’s four season recreation community.
Attractions in Vernon include the Hidden Valley Ski Area, the Mountain Creek Ski Resort (formerly Great Gorge and Vernon Valley), the Mountain Creek Waterpark, the Crystal Springs Resort with 7 championship golf courses and health spa, a number of highly-acclaimed bed and breakfast inns and Mother Nature’s gift to the township—the Wawayanda State Park and the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the Appalachian Trail, which goes from Maine to Georgia passing through fourteen states, cuts straight through the heart of Vernon Township.
The township was formally incorporated in February 1798, after its establishment in 1793 from portions of Hardyston Township. The 68 square miles that make up the town’s borders over the last 200 years or so have not changed since that time. The population, though, has grown from the 1,548 people that resided there in 1950, as a result of the popularity of the ski industry and recreational activities found in the town. Additional growth has also come as home prices have soared in the near suburbs of New York City and property buyers seek the better values available from real estate developments in the area.
Mine Your Own Business
Iron mining in the town of Vernon was quite prevalent during the mid-to-late 19th century. Mines such as the Canistear Mine, Williams Mine, and the Pochuk Mine created a workforce for the ironworks industry, which spawned local businesses, and brought rail travel to the town.
There are various theories as to how Vernon Township originally received its name, but author Ronald J. Dupont, Jr. has a few thoughts as to how it came about. The most common presumption, he says, is that the township was named after one Admiral Edward Vernon. First off, the township was created the year George Washington was re-elected as the president, and the township’s first Masonic Lodge was named after Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia residence. Washington’s residence, in fact, got its name because Washington’s brother Lawrence served with Admiral Vernon.
A second possibility is that the township was named after a family named Vernon. A Nathaniel Vernon was a licensed tavernkeeper in Sussex County in 1756 but the tavern was not even located anywhere close to present-day Vernon. Or more literally, Vernon could have come from the Latin root of the word “vernus,” or “vernal” for vernal equinox. Vernon therefore meant connotations for spring, a green lush fertile place. Dupont also writes that in the late 19th century two places named Vernon existed, one in Sussex County and another in Essex County. When the Essex County village got a post office, they found out that another Vernon existed, and so they eventually named the town Verona.
The township recently changed the way it operates. During a November 2010 referendum, voters approved a change from a council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form of government. The new mayor is Victor J. Marotta. Under Vernon’s mayor-council form of government, the mayor is elected directly by the voters and serves as the township’s chief executive. In this capacity, Marotta oversees the day-to-day operations of Vernon, enforces all ordinances, appoints department heads and prepares a budget, all with the assistance of a business administrator.
Marotta’s term extends to December 2015. Members of the Vernon Township Council are Council President Brian Lynch (2015), Eddie Dunn (2013), Dan Kadish (2015), Patrick Rizzuto (2013) and Richard Wetzel (2013). All of the members of the governing body were elected in May 2011 and took office on July 1, 2011.
One of the tangible benefits of life in the township, of course, is its abundance of year-round recreation.
Winter enthusiasts have plenty of mountain adventures to try with skiing, snowboarding and sledding opportunities in the nearby hills and mountain ski resorts. Some notable residents that make their living on the slopes include Danny Kass, the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympian, who was the halfpipe snowboard champion and silver medalist at the Winter Games.
There are also a number of condo communities in the area that feature resort-like amenities for their residents. One such community is the Village at Crystal Springs. Nestled in the scenic mountains of the Sussex Skylands, you can choose from a collection of new luxury condos, townhomes, villas, retirement, estate and vacation homes situated in a four-season residential resort. Located just 47 miles from Manhattan, this NY metro area golf resort is complemented by Crystal Springs Resort's 7 award-winning courses, the Mountain Creek Ski Resort, 2 luxury spas, world-class dining and a wine-cellar.
Mountain Creek offers decent skiing across 3 small peaks in the winter, and good lift-served mountain biking in the summer. The condo village at the bottom of each mountain is typically rented out before the peak season. Hidden Valley is smaller than Mountain Creek but is likely more accessible and less expensive for a day-trip wintertime excursion.
Another little-known fact is Vernon Township’s proximity to the Appalachian mountains. The twenty-mile section of the Appalachian Trail that cuts through Vernon stretches from the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge at the Wantage border, across Pochuck Mountain and north-central Vernon, through Wawayanda State Park to the West Milford border.
The trail is part of the national park system and is maintained by a collection of both public and private entities.
If you love the outdoors and the scenic natural beauty it brings, there may be no better place than Vernon Township to call home.
Liam P. Cusack is associate editor of The New Jersey Cooperator.