Visitors to Union County parks can walk past hundreds of trees in a single visit without knowing their names. Now some of these trees can introduce themselves, thanks to an assist from the volunteer Master Tree Stewards of Union County.
The volunteers have placed colorful green and white name tags on dozens of distinctive trees along paved walking paths in selected Union County parks. The tags include QR codes that invite visitors to discover more details about each tree.
“On behalf of the Freeholder Board, I would like to thank our Master Tree Steward volunteers for encouraging visitors to take a closer look at trees in Union County parks, and gain a greater appreciation for preserving and protecting our natural heritage,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski.
A growing body of evidence shows that trees provide significant benefits to local communities. Trees can create a cooling effect in the summer, help reduce air pollution, and aid in reducing soil erosion, runoff, and flooding. Improvements in public health and well-being are also linked to the presence of a thriving tree canopy.
The Tree Trail project has been organized by Fanwood resident and Master Tree Steward volunteer Dean Talcott. Mr. Talcott selected the trees along each Tree Trail based on variety and other characteristics of interest.
“The most interesting trees are not always the biggest or the oldest,” explained Talcott.
Earlier this month, Talcott and a group of volunteers tagged 30 different trees along a paved walking path in Union County’s Oak Ridge Park, in Clark. Each tree has its own story, from the Blue Atlas Cedar – a native of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco – to the White Ash, prized for its use in making baseball bats.
The Master Tree Stewards program is an all-volunteer group run by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County. Supported in part by the Freeholder Board with offices in Westfield, the Union County Extension is part of a nationwide public outreach initiative coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The Freeholder Board is proud to support the Master Tree Stewards and other Extension outreach programs. They provide members of the public with enriching opportunities to learn from the experts and share their knowledge with the community,” said Freeholder Chair Kowalski.
The Master Tree Stewards have created Tree Trails along the paved walking paths in the following County parks:
- Oak Ridge Park in Clark (trails starts near the east end of the parking lot)
- Briant Park in Summit
- Cedar Brook in Plainfield
- Echo Lake Park in Mountainside
- Echo Lake Extension (trail starts behind the Mountainside municipal building)
- Lenape Park (trail is located to the east along the Kenilworth dike)
- Meisel Park in Springfield
- Nomahegan Park in Cranford
- Rahway River Park in Rahway
- Warinanco Park in Elizabeth
Phil Rizzuto Park in Elizabeth and the Sensory Friendly Trail in Mountainside will also receive tree tags this year. The Sensory Friendly Trail is located by Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation, in Mountainside at 425 New Providence Road.
The Tree Trail initiative complements the Freeholder Board’s longstanding support for urban forestry, which includes the Greening Union County matching grant program for municipalities as well as support for the Master Tree Steward program.
In addition to the Tree Trails and other special projects in Union County parks, each spring the Master Tree Steward volunteers visit 4th grade classrooms throughout Union County to provide a lesson on the importance of trees. Each volunteer is trained and supported by Extension staff.
Any Union County resident is welcome to join the Master Tree Stewards. No previous experience is necessary. Training takes place each fall, and consists mainly of walks through nearby nature preserves and parks including Oak Ridge Park. Trainees who successfully complete the course earn official certification as a Master Tree Steward.
For more information about the joining the Master Tree Stewards program visit the Extension online at ucnj.org/rce or contact Union County 4-H Agent James Nichnadowicz at the Extension office in Westfield, 908-654-9854 (ext. 4) or email@example.com.
A list of all 36 Union County parks, including directions and information on activities and recreation facilities at each park, is available at ucnj.org/parks-activities.
For quick links to all Union County environmental programs and volunteer activities visit The Green Connection, ucnj.org/green-connection.
Connect with Union County on social media.
Photo caption: Union County Master Tree Steward volunteer Dean Talcott shows where a name tag is placed on a White Ash growing along the new Tree Trail in Union County’s Oak Ridge Park, in Clark. The diamond-like pattern of the bark recalls the use of wood from White Ash trees for making baseball bats. The tree is much older than the park, dating back to the days when the area was farmland. Photo credit: County of Union, NJ.