BERGEN, N.J. — A Maine housewife hunting for hidden treasure at Ramapo State Forest lost a true treasure trove of her own — but found a good Samaritan from Ringwood.
Exhausted from a Halloween day hike as part of a geocaching game, Rebecca Knox drove away and left behind a backpack containing $5,000, which was her parents’ down payment for their new home, and about $18,000 in jewelry, including family heirlooms.
Enter Joseph Monto of Ringwood, who spotted the backpack as he drove by the roadside parking lot, and — after discerning there was nothing sinister about it — set his mind on tracking down its owner.
“In my mind, it was the right thing to do,” said Monto, 33, a substation mechanic for PSE&G, who nevertheless ended up rewarded by a grateful Knox with some of the treasure.
Monto first was struck by the weirdness of the situation: He thought the backpack, left in the parking area along Skyline Drive in Oakland near the Ringwood border, would hold typical hiking items, maybe even a wallet — but he didn’t expect loads of cash and jewelry and notebooks filled with geographic coordinates and what looked like codes. He wondered if the bag was linked to a jewelry heist or terrorism.
Then he found medical records for Knox’s parents and emergency contacts, including Knox’s brother.
Through her brother, he eventually got in touch with Knox, who explained she was visiting from out of town, helping her parents move into a retirement community in North Jersey. The cash was a down payment on their home, and the jewelry pouch was an item she carried in her travels. It included her great-aunt’s platinum watch, gifts from her husband over the years and a four-strand string of apricot-colored pearls that she had picked by hand.
And then she explained the coordinates and codes: Knox had been geocaching, a hobby where people use Global Positioning System technology and coordinates to hide and find containers with surprise “treasures.” That day, she had followed two treasure paths in the park, which straddles the border of Bergen and Passaic counties, but found just one item: a water bottle.
Knox had misplaced the backpack around dusk, when she took it out of her car to look for her cell phone. A few hours later she was back at the same spot with Monto, thanking him for his honesty.
“It made me realize humanity still has a lot of goodness,” Knox said Thursday.
She gave Monto a $1,000 reward, which he plans to use to convert his attic into a bedroom for a new baby, his second child, due in February.
“I did say to him,” Knox added, “if at any time he wants a character reference, look for me.”
Republished with permission of The Record.