We must look out for the Lookout Mountain Caves

| 01 Dec 2020 | 01:05

    Orange County is on the verge of compounding past irresponsibility.

    Orange County’s unparalleled prehistoric site, home to our first residents some 15,000 years ago, is again literally on the chopping block. The Lookout Mountain caves overlooked a vast Atlantic White cedar swamp (now drained to create the Black Dirt region) teeming with mastodon and giant beaver.

    Today the “Dutchess Quarry caves” stand above a cavernous 200-foot deep hole cut out of its dolomitic limestone. When the mining is done, the county, lacking any reclamation plan, will be left with this chasm, forced either to continue to run pumps or allow it to fill with water, creating Lookout Lake.

    Either choice may harm the caves protected only by a small buffer.

    Instead of facing this disaster head on, the county is about to sell the remaining parcel for more mining, losing control of land that may be necessary for addressing the problems of the whole site.

    And continued mining, even with some additional buffer land, cannot be good for the caves.

    Beyond its responsibility to preserve this National Register site for perpetuity, the county has heretofore ignored the unparalleled educational importance of the site and its implications for authentic tourism.

    If the Legislature drops the ball, as all signs suggest, all eyes are on the County Executive. Any responsible decision about property sale and additional mining should be put on hold until there are comprehensive studies of how to best preserve the caves, optimize site reclamation and develop educational programs and coordinate research, appropriate tourism and an interpretive center/museum required to reassemble artifacts from the site.

    All these pieces must be in place to understand the best ways forward.

    Although the Legislature has wrongly decided otherwise, a full environmental impact statement is also necessary.

    The county Legislature, cowardly meeting in the absence of public comment, is once again failing its fiduciary responsibility.

    We are forming a broad coalition of public stakeholders to make sure the public has the last say. Someone has to look out for the future of Lookout Mountain, its caves and the echoes of our first people.

    Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.


    Professor of Environmental Psychology

    Environmental and Sustainability Studies Programs

    Ramapo College of New Jersey (I respectfully acknowledge that Ramapo College is located on the ancestral and traditional indigenous territory of the Ramapough- Lenape Nation.)