Ringwood, N.J.: A Rural Lifestyle 40 Miles From New York City

With its wooded hills, winding roads and shimmering lakes and reservoirs, Ringwood, N.J., feels more like the Catskills than like a New Jersey suburb. That rural charm was what attracted Linda and James Pentifallo when they decided to leave their longtime home in River Edge, in Bergen County.

“My wife really wanted to be on a lake, but I thought, ‘We’re not going to be able to afford that,’” said Mr. Pentifallo, 64, the owner of the Ridgefield Hobby store in Ridgefield, N.J.

Earlier this year, however, they bought a three-bedroom log cabin on Cupsaw Lake — one of several lakes in Ringwood — for $599,000. Their new home reminds Ms. Pentifallo, 65, a retired office manager, of the lakefront cabin her family owned in the Adirondacks.

“We go out on the deck and have a cocktail and enjoy the view,” Mr. Pentifallo said. “What’s great about Ringwood is its location: You’re in the country, and yet you’re not far from the city.”

Orly Steinberg, an agent with Keller Williams Village Square Realty in Ridgewood, said that many buyers start out searching in pricier northern New Jersey towns, only to realize that “they can afford a nice house and get more bang for their buck” in Ringwood. Others, she said, discover the borough during weekend outdoor adventures.

“During the pandemic, 30 percent of our clients came out of the city,” said Ms. Steinberg, a longtime Ringwood resident. “Everybody was hiking the trails. That brought people up, and a lot of them bought permanent homes, and some weekend homes.”

With many people working remotely, she added, “You can work in a beautiful environment, looking at a lake or trees.”

Amanda Navojosky, 35, and her fiancé, James Kalan, 33, paid $660,000 for a four-bedroom house on 3.3 acres in Ringwood last summer. Ms. Navojosky is a biomedical engineer who travels to hospitals to manage clinical trials, and Mr. Kalan is a data analyst who commutes twice a week to Westchester County.

The couple previously lived in a condo in Rochelle Park, in Bergen County, but “wanted more space and a slower pace of life,” Ms. Navojosky said. Their new home is near Monksville Reservoir, where they plan to kayak in warmer weather.

One of Ringwood’s greatest assets is Ringwood State Park, which includes Shepherd Lake; the New Jersey Botanical Garden at Skylands; and Ringwood Manor, once the country home of Abram Stevens Hewitt, who made a fortune in iron mining and later entered politics, serving as a member of Congress and the mayor of New York City in the late 19th century.

While many of Ringwood’s natural resources are protected as parkland or watershed for reservoirs, the borough also has dealt with an environmental hazard: A cleanup is underway at a 500-acre Superfund site that was contaminated by paint sludge and other toxic waste dumped in the 1960s and 1970s by a former Ford Motor Company manufacturing plant in nearby Mahwah.

Sprawling over 26 square miles in northern Passaic County, about 40 miles northwest of Midtown Manhattan, Ringwood is bordered by West Milford to the west, Ramapo Valley County Reservation in Mahwah to the east, Wanaque and Oakland to the south, and Sterling Forest State Park and Tuxedo, N.Y., to the north.

The borough is less diverse than New Jersey as a whole — its roughly 11,500 residents are about 84 percent white, 9.2 percent Hispanic, 2.2 percent Asian, 1.6 percent Black and 1.3 percent Native American. (By contrast, New Jersey’s population is 52.9 percent white, 21.9 percent Hispanic, 15.4 percent Black, 10.5 percent Asian and 0.7 percent Native American.) Ringwood is home to a long-established community of native Ramapough Lenape people.

Housing styles include cottages and cabins built as summer homes and later winterized; Cape Cods, bilevels and colonials from the 1960s and 1970s; and McMansions built in the late 20th century. There are few apartment houses or multifamily homes.

As of early December, there were 12 homes listed for sale in Ringwood, including a two-bedroom duplex for $112,321 and a five-bedroom, 6,320-square-foot house for $3.7 million.

According to data provided by the Garden State Multiple Listing Service, 104 homes sold for a median price of $483,500 during the year ending Nov. 1, 2023. During the preceding 12 months, 140 homes sold for a median price of $462,000.

The drop in the number of sales reflects a nationwide slump that Ms. Steinberg and other observers attributed to high mortgage rates.

Ringwood doesn’t have a downtown shopping district. Instead, most commercial activity is centered on two strip shopping centers on Skyline Drive.

Residents of the three lake communities — Erskine, Cupsaw and Skyline — often build their neighborhood connections around the lake associations, which offer summer camps, beach clubs, dinners, holiday parties and other activities.

For lovers of the outdoors, there are any number of natural spaces to explore. In addition to Ringwood State Park, there are several parks and wilderness areas nearby, including Ramapo Mountain State Forest, Norvin Green State Forest, Wawayanda State Park, Long Pond Ironworks State Park and Tranquility Ridge Park.

Ringwood has four schools serving about 1,100 of its younger students: Those in kindergarten through third grade attend Robert Erskine Elementary School or Peter Cooper Elementary School, which also has a prekindergarten program; fourth and fifth graders go to Eleanor G. Hewitt Intermediate School; and students in sixth through eighth grade attend Martin J. Ryerson Middle School.

Older students attend Lakeland Regional High School, in neighboring Wanaque, which has 900 students in ninth through 12th grade. In the 2021-22 school year, the average SAT scores were 547 in reading and writing, and 524 in math, compared with state averages of 538 and 532.

New Jersey Transit runs buses from a park-and-ride lot off Skyline Drive to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. The trip takes an hour to an hour and 20 minutes, and costs $10.75 one way or $267 monthly. (Skyline Drive, however, is a steep thoroughfare that sometimes closes during wintry weather.)

Those who prefer to drive to Midtown can take Route 208 or Interstate 287 in neighboring Oakland, a trip that can take as little as an hour or more than an hour and a half, depending on traffic. Interstate 287 also links commuters with corporate centers in Morris, Bergen and Westchester counties, as well as other suburban areas.

European immigrants began mining iron ore in the Ramapo Mountains around Ringwood in the 18th century. One early ironmaster, Robert Erskine, served as a mapmaker for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The iron mines of Ringwood and nearby areas provided iron for the war effort, including the chain across the Hudson River that blocked British sailing vessels.

Starting in the mid-19th century, Peter Cooper and his son-in-law, Abram Stevens Hewitt, ran the ironworks. The family, which also founded the Cooper Union college and Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum, donated their summer home in Ringwood to the state of New Jersey in the 1930s; it is now a museum and part of Ringwood State Park.

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