It was a modest addition compared to other far more eye-catching changes that had been made to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation Environmental and Cultural Center on Landing Road.
On a sweltering Saturday morning in early July, a small group of volunteers wielded shovels for hours to create a thin strip of dirt that stretched 120 feet, defining the parking lot from the roadway.
Strewn liberally with grass seed, the berm was designed to be a cosmetic enhancement, as well as a deterrent to motorists who might otherwise be inclined to stray too far from the road.
Then the unimaginable happened.
In the middle of the berm stood a lone fire hydrant, the longest-standing one in Landing. It dates back to the year Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run, the Beatles released their “Magical Mystery Tour” album, and a gallon of gas cost 33 cents.
“It’s like an antique,” said Gene Darcy, of the Roxbury Township Water Department. “We were going to swap it out soon because we’re replacing our older hydrants.”
Darcy’s timetable was suddenly accelerated when, only 17 days after the berm work had been completed, the driver of an SUV lost control on the bend in Landing Road, right along front of the LHF property.
The motorist swerved across the lane of oncoming cars, incredibly without hitting one during the afternoon rush hour, laid a deep tire track on nearly the entire length of berm, and plowed over the fire hydrant along the way, before driving off.
A surveillance camera showed the SUV was a 1997-2003 model Dodge Durango, black or dark blue, which is now missing a front left-corner reflector and, presumably, has a pretty severe blemish on its front bumper.
It was a frustrating coincidence that the berm had been ruined so shortly after it was created, but the odds of the fire hydrant standing for 52 years without having been hit by a vehicle are longer than the odds of winning Megabucks.
If, say, an average of 1,000 cars a day traveled that stretch of Landing Road since 1967, it had an estimated 20 million chances of being whacked.
Fortunately, due to the constant threat of being hit by a vehicle, fire hydrants have long been made to snap free in the event of a collision, according to Darcy. In addition, their valves are located underground to keep them from blasting water sky-high when toppled.
Oddly, the Landing one was shoved over by the SUV, bending the pipe below, where it enters the ground.
Darcy’s crew is expected to do repairs and install a new hydrant this month, while stalwart LHF volunteers have already rebuilt much of the berm. They’ll return to finish the job after the new hydrant is securely in place.