Union County residents who are interested in improving environmental health in their communities are encouraged to join the Rutgers Environmental Stewards of Union County. The Environmental Stewards program helps residents learn to take specific steps leading to effective action. 

“The Environmental Stewards program empowers residents who are passionate about making a difference. It equips residents with an understanding of the issues that impact our area, enabling them to work effectively for environmental progress in their communities,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski.

The Environmental Stewards of Union County is an all-volunteer program of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County. The Extension also runs the popular Master Gardeners and Master Tree Steward’s programs for adults and 4-H clubs for youth in Union County.

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The Environmental Stewards program is designed to help non-scientists learn more about the science behind the environmental issues impacting their communities.

The Environmental Stewards will hold weekly classroom training sessions on Thursdays from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. beginning January 30 through early June. Classes are held at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County office located at 300 North Ave. East in Westfield.

The training sessions include weekly classes on environmental issues including habitat conservation in public parks, pollinator preservation, climate change and its impacts on the Union County region, soil health, protection of the Rahway River watershed, solid waste and recycling issues, and environmentally sound practices for yards and gardens. 

Field trips are a part of an interactive experience. Previous trainees have visited the Union County’s Warinanco Park to learn about invasive plant species and pond restoration, the Hawk Rise sanctuary in Linden to learn about wetland restoration, and to the Pinelands in southern New Jersey to learn about threatened and endangered species.

The training will also include sessions on making environmental policy at the local level, including guidance on reading Master Plans and site plans for new developments.

As part of the Environmental Steward training, participants will spend the summer working on internship projects of their choice. 

In addition to experts from Rutgers University, instructors are drawn from the Association of Environmental Commissions and the nonprofit organization Sustainable New Jersey. Experts from the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Bureau of Planning and Recycling were also part of the instructional team.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County is part of the national Extension system, established more than 100 years ago under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From its initial aim of assisting rural communities, the Extension has grown to embrace urban and suburban life, youth development and family health. In New Jersey, Rutgers University runs Extension programs in each county through the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and is supported in Union County by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The Freeholder Board provides administrative support and office space in Westfield, land for the Demonstration Garden in the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside, and funding for special projects among other support for the Extension.

For more information about the Rutgers Environmental Stewards program, visit envirostewards.rutgers.edu or contact Michele Bakacs, County Agent and Associate Professor for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County at bakacs@njaes.rutgers.edu or 732-398-5274.