It was an old dusty lot along River Styx Road in Hopatcong. Weed filled, marked by an old wall and the angular concrete slab of a forgotten bar, another sign of stagnation in a Lake Hopatcong town where, some said, its better days were long past.
But that changed this month, when town officials, the site’s developer and New Jersey and Sussex County officials broke ground on a mixed use project of housing and retail that is seen as the first investment in that section of the borough in years. Consider it a ripple in the pond in a borough that has had a couple of truly bad years filled with negative press about their schools and town direction.
And yet, even as the noise levels rose borough officials planned and worked: Sidewalks, park improvements, new drainage, public water and sewer, and streetscapes, a farmers market.
And as they turn to River Styx, a lake inlet surrounded by old, underused lots, there is only the message that change will come, and that it is better to be leading the change than to be rolled underneath it. Change is work, not talk.
It’s not just Hopatcong. Other towns around Lake Hopatcong are moving forward. Roxbury is building a new recreation facility in Landing, Mount Arlington completed the overhaul of its town park and is talking with others about plans to revitalize Lee’s Marina, and Jefferson continued the effort to keep the lake clean with the installation of artificial islands designed to draw pollution from the water.
Projects both large and small — that is how things change.
It’s not just Lake Hopatcong. It’s the renaissance of Morristown, investment in Camden and Newark. It’s the Forrestal Center in Princeton choosing to add housing and retail to its mix of offices, a complex in Annandale that uses solar power for its primary electric needs, and is adjacent to a NJ Transit station, an example of transit-oriented development in a rural/suburban setting.
It’s the truck I saw last year with wings on the back, a device aimed to reduce drag and increase gas mileage. It’s Mack Truck redesigning its entire fleet for better operations and fuel efficiency at the request if its customers; It’s Alcoa revamping its entire corporate philosophy to become an environmental leader and not a complainer; it’s Wyndham Worldwide infusing its operations with forward-thinking customer and environmental policies that reduce energy use and enhance the visitors’ stays.
It’s one natural gas powered bus, one charging station for electric cars at Turnpike rest stops, one more bed for the homeless; one more clean river, one more new hiking trail, one more repainted park bench, one more coat for a poor kid.
It’s the United Way’s ALICE report now in Connecticut showing in hard numbers how the lives of lower-income citizens are tough, and how they could be improved: A report that is not a screed or a whine, but a mirror.
It’s the food banks and non-profits who deliver food for the disadvantaged, seniors and military service families, the agencies that show how affordable housing can be planned, designed and built in a way that enhances neighborhoods and offers opportunities; it’s the agencies that reach out to soldiers and their families, the wounded and the jobless, who connect them to those who care and want to help.
It’s the high schools, county colleges and universities working with businesses to create training programs that help keep jobs in New Jersey, and those same schools working with the medical and health care industry to train workers for the new categories of jobs that have been opened as reform takes hold.
It’s about the organizations which bring Thomas the Tank engine to Phillipsburg each summer and draw thousands of people to the old industrial town, which gets to show off the slow improvements that have been made.
It’s the millions who now have health insurance across the county and the millions more who stood in line in the last national election to tell the politicians: No, you will not take away my right to vote.
And it’s the customers and employees of Market Basket, the New England based grocery chain whose corporate squabble recently played out in public. It’s about those people saying enough is enough: We matter more than your stock dividend.
And it’s Maggie Doyne of Mendham, who a decade ago began to change the way of life in a small Nepalese village with an orphanage, and today finds herself as the leader of an organization and movement that has altered and enriched the economic and social life there forever.
These are the things that matter, the changes that last, efforts that started because someone said: It’s time for a change, time for us to go to work.
It is not businesses taxes, and banks that play both sides of the game at the same time.
It’s not about profits, because there are plenty, so many that they have to hide them.
It’s not about the self-serving, the bombastic, the self-righteous, not about those with narrow, illogical answers.
It’s not about the complainers, the heel-draggers and the ideologically blind.
It’s about you and your neighbors, about finding the ways to connect.
And it’s about a vacant lot in a small town that forever stood for failure and neglect but now stands for progress.
Time is a conspiracy: It only moves forward.
Jump on or wonder why you have been left behind.
Michael Stephen Daigle
- Pre-release links set for ‘The Weight of Living’; Kindle, Kobo. Out April 26.
- New library date: May 20 at North County Library, Clinton, NJ
- ‘The Weight of Living’ trailer released on YouTube
- The fictional ‘It’ and the ‘Not-It’
- Nagler books accepted by new libraries; festival, readings scheduled
- Howard Newton explains political corruption in ‘The Swamps of Jersey’
- Join me at the South Jersey Book Expo, March 11
- Cover for ‘The Weight of Living’ is ready