Local residents fear loss of Devil’s Tea Table to proposed rockfall mitigation plan


Jordan Oldenburg

Kingwood residents strongly believe motorists traveling along Route 29 are in no danger of the surrounding rock bluffs and Tea Table.

Jordan Oldenburg, The Delphi Staff

Recently, nearby residents of Kingwood Township’s well-known Devil’s Tea Table have learned about the upcoming $28 million rockfall mitigation project proposed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) that is projected to occur in the next few years.

Many local citizens fear that this historical landmark will lose its charm and value following the rockfall mitigation. They also fear that the project is simply not necessary, nor worth the spending or sacrifices of the natural riverside scenery and lore.  

According to the NJDOT and Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Rock Fall Hazard Managements System, the segment along Route 29 where Devil’s Tea Table is located has been labeled as the third highest priority rockfall project in New Jersey, much to the local residents’ surprise. 

“Even through the hurricanes we have lived through here, nothing! No rockfall!” Camille Oldenburg said, who, along with her family, has been a nearby resident of Route 29 for over 34 years.

Her son, Michael, agrees, saying he does not know of, nor has he experienced, any rockfall along 29. “I’ve never heard of it,” said Michael. “I’ve only ever seen the ‘warning: falling rock’ signs.” 

Should the rockfall mitigation take place, many factors will be at play in irreversibly changing this location.

The vegetation would be removed from the area, and slope scaling would take place. This is a very concerning concept for many, as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) maintains the Green Acres and open space here, and Route 29 is included in the Delaware River Scenic Byway.

Kingwood Township also sits within the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River corridor.

The D&R Canal Park, as well as many species of wildlife, including endangered ones, exist near the future project site. This change would not only have considerable impact on the scenery, but also the environment along this stretch of 29. The beauty and aesthetic value of the area is also at stake.

In addition to slope scaling and vegetation removal, Devil’s Tea Table and other rock formations would be secured, and a metal draping material would be installed in select areas.

Pullquote Photo

I would hate to see such an unusual and picturesque piece of our local landscape defaced or destroyed,

— Rick Epstein

Along Route 29, a 15-20 foot ditch will be constructed along with these other significant changes.

Long-time Frenchtown resident, Richard Epstein, expresses how he does not want to see damage done to the Tea Table, but would also not like to crash into a boulder. “I would hate to see such an unusual and picturesque piece of our local landscape defaced or destroyed,” Epstein said. 

 The majority of locals dread this upcoming project, as they fear seeing a beautiful and treasured landmark be permanently altered. Del Val junior, Michael Cerne, a lifelong resident of the area, fears the change of this riverside road becoming a more industrial looking highway. “I haven’t seen or heard about any rockfalls. [The rockfall mitigation project] would destroy the local scenery,” he said.

Cerne brings up an honest point, saying how this sight of natural beauty “would just become known as that ugly area on 29” to outsiders driving through.

On top of becoming a visual blight after these changes, residents fear the harm that potential rock blasting could bring, especially to their groundwater and wells.

Dan Rose, another longtime Kingwood local, and nearby resident of the Tea Table, states how rock blasting is no minor procedure. He brings up the point that there will be tremors that follow the blasting, “there is no city water here, [and] all the local residents rely on their wells for clean water.”

Furthermore, Mr. Rose, along with many other Kingwood residents, believes that rock blasting this area is a clever ploy used by the state as “an excuse to line pockets and destroy natural beauty.” 

While scenic and environmental factors are the first things many residents fear are at risk with this project, the rich and important history that has continued on for centuries at the Tea Table is also threatened.

From the legend of the murdered Lenape Chief whose flattened head the rock resembles, to the night E. Urner Goodman made Boy Scout history in August of 1915 during his twilight vigil perched above the river, Devil’s Tea Table has been a vibrant and constant staple in Hunterdon County’s history. 

Its indigenous and historical value is charming and simply irreplaceable. “[Devil’s Tea Table] is a very important location to all of us who have grown up here and lived here for a long time,” said Nicole Planer, Del Val senior and lifelong resident of Kingwood.

“We understand its importance, its beauty, and its history.” Dan Rose adamantly agrees, reiterating the importance of Lenape history at the Tea Table. Approval of the current mitigation project “would certainly be a major slap in the face to [the Lenape Native Americans],” Rose said. 

The project’s exorbitant price tag of at least $28 million certainly does not make up for the centuries of history that will be cast aside to solve a seemingly nonexistent issue.

Dan Rose, having grown up in close proximity to Devil’s Tea Table, has his own history there above the water, just like so many other Kingwood residents.

Since his childhood, this beautiful landscape has provided him a place to “study, think, pray, read, stargaze, spend time with friends, and escape the generally unavoidable, frantic pace that permeates life in New Jersey,”vRose said.

The continuation of the rockfall mitigation would not only be a tragic loss to the entire community, but also a personal one to its individual members.

In my entire life, I have never seen or heard of an accident resulting in any serious damage, nor have I personally witnessed so much as a road closure due to rockfall,

— Dan Rose

Despite all of these countless and weighty environmental, aesthetic, indigenous, and historical considerations, it seems to locals that the NJDOT chose to prioritize an insubstantial issue over their homes.

This is not to say that the safety of motorists should not outweigh the values of this area. Falling rock is undoubtedly a serious issue, and the local residents of Devil’s Tea Table agree that in the case of there being a reoccurring and legitimate threat posed by the cliffside along 29, safety measures would have to be taken. 

However, residents vehemently oppose the plan, for in all the years they have traveled Route 29, hardly anyone can recall a time in which falling rock caused even a slight inconvenience.

“In my entire life, I have never seen or heard of an accident resulting in any serious damage, nor have I personally witnessed so much as a road closure due to rockfall,” Rose said. Along with the majority of citizens in Kingwood, Mr. Rose, even as a neighboring resident of Route 29 and the project area, is finding it difficult to see a legitimate or immediate reason for the project.

Currently, many efforts are being made in protesting the NJDOT’s plan for Kingwood’s most famous landmark.

Petitions have been put out, letters have been sent, and residents have risen up demanding the project be reconsidered.

Despite the diverse community that exists along the Delaware, the citizens of Kingwood and surrounding townships have banded together in a remarkable way in opposition of this proposed plan.

This community can only hope that the state will listen to their voices, and that the beloved Devil’s Tea Table will continue to stand proudly over the riverside scenery as it always has.