MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ - Budding arboriculturists can become instant tree experts just by taking a stroll, thanks to “Tree Trail” projects in Union County parks undertaken by volunteers with the Rutgers 'Master Tree Stewards program. In the latest project, a group of Master Tree Stewards recently 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 Master Tree Stewards program is an all-volunteer group run by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County. Supported, in part, by the Board of Chosen Freeholders, 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.

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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 fourth 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.

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