July is National Parks and Recreation Month, and Union County residents are invited to celebrate this year by exploring “undiscovered” programs and activities found throughout the nearly 6,200 acres of the Union County parks system.

“Union County was one of the very first counties in the United States to establish its own county-based park system for nature conservation and public recreation. Now, almost 100 years later, the Freeholder Board is very proud to carry on that legacy and ensure that our open spaces are protected, preserved and enjoyed by all,” said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados, who is also the Freeholder Board’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board liaison.

National Parks Month has been celebrated since 1985 as a project of the National Parks and Recreation Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to nature conservation, health and wellness, and social equity.

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The theme for 2018 is to explore the ‘undiscovered’ side of local parks and recreation, and go beyond conventional activities like playgrounds, walking paths, team sports and rec centers.

“When it comes to out-of-the-ordinary experiences in our parks, Union County has much to offer,” said Granados. “In particular, we are working to ensure that our parks are more accessible to people with disabilities and special needs.”

History buffs, for example, can wander through the Deserted Village of Feltville, a preserved 19th century mill town located in the Berkeley Heights section of the Watchung Reservation, and examine artifacts in the general store and church.

Another key feature of the village is the Masker’s Barn, a former carriage house which was recently restored as an ADA-compliant multi-purpose center. Masker’s Barn recently hosted its first history field trip with The ARC of Union County, an organization with a mission to empower and support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The facility also plays a role in the county’s regular schedule of social events for people with special needs.

For STEM activities, the Watchung Reservation is also home to the Trailside Nature and Science Center. First established in the 1940’s, it follows the “trailside” model of educating local residents and visitors about their natural surroundings and the importance of environmental stewardship, with year-round programming including summer camps.

Trailside was upgraded and expanded in 2006 and currently includes a 4,500 square foot space featuring interactive exhibits, classrooms and a 250-seat auditorium, and work is also under way on the County’s first Sensory Friendly Trail nearby.

Union County’s new Warinanco Sports Center at Warinanco Park in Roselle is an expansion and upgrade of a former ice skating rink for year-round activities, with a July schedule that ranges from a videography challenge to a rubber duck hunt.

Also in Warinanco Park, a new wheelchair-accessible fishing dock provides a close-up view of the many turtles swimming in the lake.

In terms of out-of-the-ordinary fitness programs, this year Union County continues pairing free yoga sessions with the annual free Summer Arts outdoor concerts series. The County’s free Family Flix outdoor movie series also features fun children’s fitness activities before each film.

“Volunteers are also a vital part of our parks and recreation culture,” said Chairman Granados. “Our Adopt-a-Park and Adopt-a-Trail volunteers have done everything from tagging trees and clearing trails to planting pollinator meadows and restoring a hidden stream, and there is always something more to be done.”

To find out more about Adopt-a-Park, Adopt-a-Trail and other volunteer opportunities in County parks, visit The Green Connection, ucnj.org/green-connection.

More information about recreation programs and activities for people living with physical, cognitive or developmental challenges is available from the new Office for People with Special Needs.

For information on all programs and activities in Union County parks, including archery, horseback riding, boating and more visit the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation online at ucnj.org/parks-recreation or call 908-527-4900.

For all Union County programs and services visit ucnj.org, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email info@ucnj.org or use the online Contact Form.

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