Back when I was a teenager growing up in West Long Branch, there was a lot of undeveloped land near my parents’ house that the neighborhood kids used to use as their own personal Motocross track. At any time during the week after school and on the weekends, you could find someone “popping wheelies” or “going airborne” with their bikes or sleds, depending on the time of year. One of the more popular sections within that huge tract of undeveloped land was a place the kids called “Red Hill”.
Red Hill was actually the backside of the Mount Carmel Cemetery off of Wall Street. It was nicknamed Red Hill because of the hill’s red-colored clay. A bunch of us kids would find large pieces of cardboard and ride down Red Hill, or take our bikes and run roughshod over the terrain.
In the winter time, the path into the woods would be blocked with snow, but we’d still somehow manage to get to Red Hill through an entrance at the base of West Campbell Avenue. Instead of cardboard, we all came armed with our sleds. We’d spend hours upon hours at Red Hill, sledding to our heart’s content. We’d go down so many times, the clay from the hill would start showing through the piles of snow that accumulated.
If our parents wanted to come along and have some fun with us, another option for sleigh riding was “Cemetery Hill”. This hill was the backside of Glenwood Cemetery and faced Route 36 heading east to the ocean. The parents would have to take us there because Cemetery Hill was a little bit too far for us to get to on our bikes. We’d pile ourselves and our sleds into the back of the parents’ station wagon, and one of them (usually dad) would drive us to Cemetery Hill for hours of wintery fun.
At the base of Cemetery Hill was a dune that extended almost all the way across the base of the hill. Using my dad’s Flexible Flyer, I’d always go airborne over that dune, and with the speed I mustered up after that jump, my sled would take me up an embankment and practically all the way to the shoulder of Route 36. I had to put the brakes on many times so I wouldn’t wind up on the highway (my dad’s sled was that awesome!).
Over time, those undeveloped parcels of land around my parents’ house gave way to streets, more houses, open space projects and other commercial development endeavors. East Walnut Place was extended all the way through to Orchard Road, with houses being built on both sides of the newly-created street. Michael Thorne Park was built at the base of Red Hill and is home to the borough’s Little League. An Aldi food store was built a few years ago at the base of Cemetery Hill.
Geez, what I wouldn’t do to get airborne again. . .
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri’s blog on his Facebook page, “Jersey Shore Retro” as well as on Twitter at @jsretro).