ALPINE, N.J. — A Closter woman who works in Palisades Interstate Park isn't letting a near-death experience stop her from appreciating nature and helping others.
“Sometimes I can’t remember (the accident). But, it has changed my life completely - 100 percent,” Erica Tait told Daily Voice. “Sometimes I want to put myself back there at the lowest point of my life to better understand the highs."
Tait, 23, was on one of her solo hikes near The Giant Stairs, preparing for a mission to Guatemala with the Peace Corps to serve in Guatemala, when tragedy struck on Sept. 23, 2014.
She fell from the cliffs near Peanut Leap Falls.
Tait suffered a fractured spinal chord, pelvis, and ribs that punctured a lung. was unconscious and lost for hours.
An off-duty New York firefighter who answered the rescue call eventually found her.
Recovery took months, but Tait was determined to walk again. A week after leaving her wheelchair behind, she revisited the park and got the refreshment stand post at Stateline Lookout in Alpine, where she works several days a week assisting tourists, outdoor enthusiasts and dozens of bird watchers.
In her free time, Tait hikes, runs, and rock climbs. But her greater career goal is to work for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
"I can see where people are coming from," said Tait, who is working on her graduate degree in social work at Rutgers-Newark. "I can see the good -- especially with people who have never heard a compliment in their lives.”
As part of her graduate work, Tait spends part of her week serving the homeless at the YMCA in Paterson.
“These people have the most oppressed, sad lives and I don’t judge any of them," she said. "I am no better than any of them.
“I think this whole experience has made me better at my job and my career than I could have been."