Union County residents and visitors can become instant tree experts just by taking a stroll, thanks to “Tree Trail” projects in County parks undertaken by volunteers with the Rutgers Master Tree Stewards program. In the latest project, on Tuesday a group of Master Tree Stewards visited Echo Lake Park to tag selected trees along a paved walking trail from Springfield Avenue to the gazebo by the Echo Lake dam.

The ID tags display the name of the tree and a QR code that connects to more information online.

“The Tree Trails help raise awareness about the role of trees in our lives,” said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados. “There are many magnificent and unusual trees in our County parks, and the new tags encourage visitors to stop for a few moments, take a closer look, and gain a greater appreciation for the importance of preserving and protection our natural heritage.”

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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, the Union County Extension is part of a nationwide program coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, aimed at sharing scientific research with the public.

“The Freeholder is very proud to support the Master Tree Stewards and other Extension volunteer programs, which provide Union County residents with enriching opportunities to learn from the experts and give back to the community,” said Chairman Granados.

 “A growing body of evidence shows that the benefits of trees go far beyond simply being soothing to the eye,” added Granados. “They provide important cooling benefits in the summer, help reduce air pollution, and aid in preventing soil erosion. Improvements in public safety and well-being are also associated with trees.”

So far, the Master Tree Stewards have tagged trees along the paved walking paths in the following County parks: Briant, Cedar Brook, Echo Lake, Echo Lake Extension, Lenape (East side), Meisel, Nomahegan Park, Rahway River, and Warinanco.

The tagging program complements the ongoing classroom education mission of the Master Tree Stewards. Each spring, the volunteers visit 4th grade students throughout Union County to provide a lesson on the importance of trees. Each volunteer is trained and supported by Extension staff, and equipped with fun, interactive lesson kits.

Another Master Tree Steward activity involves estimating the age of the biggest and oldest trees in Union County, about half of which are located in Union County parks. So far, the Tree Stewards have nominated 18 of those trees to the New Jersey Champion Tree Program.  

Any Union County resident is welcome to join the Master Tree Stewards. No previous experience is necessary. Training takes place each fall, mainly in the form of guided walks through nearby nature preserves and parks. Trainees who successfully complete the course earn official certification as a Master Tree Steward.

Indoor training sessions and other activities are coordinated at the Extension offices, located in the Colleen Fraser Building at the Union County complex in Westfield, at 300 North Avenue East.

The Master Tree Stewards program supports the goals of Chairman Granados’s Moving Union County Forward “Plant a Seed” initiative for engaging and the public in conservation and environmental education.

For more information about the joining the Master Tree Stewards program visit the Extension online at the County website, ucnj.org/rce or contact Union County 4-H Agent James Nichnadowicz at the Extension, 908-654-9854 or jnichnadowicz@ucnj.org.

Quick links to all Union County environmental programs and activities can be found at ucnj.org/green-connection.

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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Photo captions:

Tree Tagging Group: Notable trees were recently tagged along a section of walking trail in Echo Lake Park by a team from the Rutgers Master Tree Stewards of Union County, an all-volunteer nature education and conservation program supported in part by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders through the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County.

Shingle Oak 1 and 2: The Shingle Oak can be easily mistaken for other trees due to its smooth, flat leaves, but a closer look reveals that tell-tale acorns are beginning to grow.

Gazebo: Echo Lake Park in Mountainside is one of 36 parks in the historic Union County parks system, providing residents and visitors with a green respite from the bustle of daily life.