UNION COUNTY, NJ The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders invites adults and families with children of all ages to visit Trailside Nature & Science Center to celebrate the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day® on Saturday, June 1. Union County’s Trailside Nature & Science Center will host multiple activities along with special programs throughout the day for all ages. The event is free, and ample free parking is available.

The National Trails System Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968, and called for trails accessible to all in urban and rural areas.

“Our goal is to promote public awareness of our trails and their health benefits, enlisting volunteers for trail projects, and encouraging residents of all ages to get outside and enjoy nature,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski. “Now is a great time to get outside and have fun on our Union County Parks trails!”

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The Watchung Reservation is a forest preserve with 13 miles of hiking trails. The focus this year is Union County’s new Sensory Friendly Trail, an ADA accessible pathway which has won recognition from the New Jersey Recreation Parks Association (NJRPA) and the National Association of Counties for its design and creativity. The trail features many components designed to provide sensory stimulation and interaction, and meet the physical, social and cognitive needs of different age groups and people with disabilities.

At 2 p.m. guest speaker Don Weise will speak about the Best Hiking Trails in New Jersey.  The talk will cover health and fitness on the trail, hiking with families and wildlife awareness. Weise is the Director of Development and Membership with the NY-NJ Trail Conference.  In addition to having led close to 1,000 hikes since the 1990’s, he is an environmental advocate and author.   His latest hiking books will be available for purchase and signing.   

Free themed hikes for families will take place throughout the afternoon.  At 11:30 a.m. join Pete Axelrod, Educational Outreach Coordinator, from Wild Birds Unlimited in Scotch Plains.   The Watchung Reservation has several different habitats including woodlands, lakes, streams, wetlands, and meadows which make it an ideal area for birding.  Remember to bring binoculars if you have them or borrow a pair from Trailside as you learn how to identify common birds by sight and sound.

Visitors can join a Trailside Naturalist on the Sensory Trail at 12:30 p.m. for a “Sensory Hike.”  This hike introduces families with young children to the wonders of the outdoors and wildlife. Attendees will use their senses to observe the natural world. Smell sweet flowers, onion grass and mugwort and listen for animal sounds.  Feel nature’s textiles.  Learn how to identify poison ivy before it’s too late.  Learn how to stay safe on the trail while looking for signs of local wildlife, checking out their homes and hideouts. 

At 3 p.m. the “Stream Hike” offers participants a hike down to the Blue Brook to look for crayfish, salamanders, and aquatic insects.  Hikers will carefully collect, identify, and release these tiny creatures. It is advised to wear shoes that can get wet. 

Ongoing activities will continue throughout the day from 12 to 4 p.m. Participate in nature-inspired crafts located under the gazebo on the sensory trail. Join in the ongoing geocaching hikes which is now the rage with day hikers. With the help of the Northern New Jersey Cachers, a non-profit geocaching organization, work as a team to find geocaches around the reservation.  Throughout the day there will be opportunities to learn how to safely view the sun, with presentations by Amateur Astronomers, Inc. a member of the Miller Sperry Observatory in Cranford.

With miles of trails, Union County’s hiking, bridle, and multi-use trails need the valued help of dedicated trail volunteers. Interested volunteers are needed for the Trail Maintenance portion of the National Trails Day. Included will be a free continental breakfast for all pre-registered trail work participants.  No experience is necessary and jobs are open to volunteers ages 12 years and up (children must be accompanied by an adult).  Projects may include working to reroute a trail, pruning vegetation growing into the trail bed and more. Volunteers should wear long pants and long sleeved shirts and sturdy shoes or hiking boots. Hats and a backpack for a re-usable water bottle are advisable. Preregistration is required by contacting trailside@ucnj.org. Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m. and trail work goes from 9 to 11:15 a.m.

For more information about National Trails Day or other activities at Trailside, call 908-789-3670 or visit www.ucnj.org/trailside. The facility is open 7 days a week from 12 to 5 p.m. Trailside Nature and Science Center is located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside and is a facility of the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation.