MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ - The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders broke ground on the Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail last week, the first of its kind in the county, that will be accessible to all and allow residents to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings at the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

“Access to the outdoors and nature is important to the health, well-being and education of all individuals regardless of age, location or physical capabilities,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen. “The Freeholder Board is proud to support this project and others that provide equal access.”

Freeholder Vice Chairman Sergio Granados, who is the Freeholder liaison to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said: “The sensory trail is specially designed for all park visitors and provides a way to safely experience the outdoors and provide opportunities to interact with nature. The Freeholder Board is committed to providing children and adults of all abilities access to recreational opportunities.”

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The Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail is a 0.3 mile loop with a central gazebo.  The interpretive signage includes two talking kiosks highlighting the natural and human history of the Watchung Reservation.  

In addition, the 0.2 mile braille trail loop with guide ropes features multiple stops to learn about the local flora and fauna.  The central gazebo offers a sensory play area to attract children and encourage exploration and discovery. 

Sensory stimulation is provided through sensory gardens, musical components and nature-themed play structures designed to meet the physical, social and cognitive needs of different age groups. These areas provide tactile experiences and create opportunities to enjoy the touch, sound and smells of the outdoors.  

Trailside Nature & Science Center will utilize the new Sensory Trail and offer educational programs to allow students and families an opportunity to explore nature and gain a better understanding of the natural world around them.

The trail stretches from the Trailside Center and into fields surrounding the center and will be two outdoor classrooms along the trail (log and acorn searing) where naturalists can gather groups and/or make presentations.

The project was designed by CME Associates Consulting and Municipal Engineers, which is based out of six offices in New Jersey. The project contractor is Pavelec Brothers from Nutley, NJ. The cost of the project is $652,000 and construction is expected to begin shortly with completion by the end of February.

Over the past few years, the Freeholder Board has supported both sensory friendly productions at the Union County Performing Arts Center and the creation of the County’s first inclusive playground at Mattano Park in Elizabeth. The Freeholder Board is currently planning to support the creation of more inclusive playgrounds through the Open Space Trust Fund later this year. Additionally, the County continues to provide recreational programs that promote inclusion and social events for people with special needs through the Office of the County Parks Director.

Taking part in the ground breaking in the photo, were: Union County Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen, Vice Chairman Sergio Granados and Freeholders Linda Carter and Alexander Mirabella joined Union County Manager Alfred Faella, Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner, Union County Parks and Recreation Director Ron Zuber and Trailside Nature & Science Center Director Patricia Bertsch.