Ramapo Partners with Highlands Nature Friends

Photo by Nicole Williams

Ramapo College recently announced that it would be partnering with Highlands Nature Friends, a group dedicated to preserving the now closed Weis Ecology Center. Together, the two groups hope to host family and school events for children in grades K through 12.

According to NorthJersey.com, the major roadblock in this process is actually receiving the land. The land and the Ecology Center are currently in the possession of the New Jersey Audubon Society, who closed the center due to economic reasons.

The Weis Ecology Center began as a horse farm and was purchased in the 1920s and turned into a nature resort for working-class families. In 1974, the Weis Ecology Center gained its current name. In 1996, the New Jersey Audubon Society gained control of the Center, and after over a decade and a half, the NJAS closed the center in 2012.

The Highlands Nature Friends was formed in response to the closing of the Ecology Center, originally entitled ‘Nature Friends for Preserving Weis.’ On the Highlands Nature Friends website, the group’s mission statement is to “preserve these historic buildings and save the infrastructure from destruction, create a new dynamic Center and bring back popular educational programs." The group is currently accepting donations, which can be given through the purchase of a membership on the HNF website.

Working with the HNF is Ramapo’s own Angela Cristini, a professor of biology. In an interview with NorthJersey.com, Cristini talked about the future of Weis Ecology Center.

"Ramapo already has a longstanding relationship with the Weis family," Cristini to NorthJersey.com. "That arrangement continued until Audubon shut down two years ago, we’d love to be able to bring it back."

Cristini went on to mention how Ramapo is no stranger to nature programs.

"We have plenty of experience with these types of programs," she said to NorthJersey.com. "We already run the educational program at the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst."

On the topic of future programming for the new Weis Ecology Center, Cristini commented that a summer day camp is the type of programming they are looking to start, NorthJersey.com reported.

While experience with ecological education is not lacking in this partnership, the current condition of the Weis Ecology Center has been causing problems all around. Because the building was constructed in the first half of the 20th century, the grounds certainly need some work. While the NJAS would rather have the buildings demolished, the HNF is fighting to keep the historical value of the Ecology Center in one piece; however, whether the buildings are safe to be used by visitors is still up in the air.

Building repair is on the horizon if the Center comes into the hands of the HNF, but the question of profit still comes into question. What remains to be seen is if the repurposed Weis Ecology Center draws in a profit; however, the HNF and Ramapo seem confident in the endeavor and are keeping their focus on nature and education, rather than money.