Union County, NJ – Local residents can now enjoy a ¼-mile trail that winds along Trotters Branch, a stream that runs through the forested western section of Union County’s Phil Rizzuto Park in Union and empties into the Elizabeth River.

Phil Rizzuto Park is located at the intersection of North Avenue and Morris Avenue.  The eastern section of the park includes turf fields, a large playground, and other recreational facilities.

The Union County Freeholders officially opened the Trotters Branch of the Elizabeth River Nature Trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 7. The trail features interpretive signage and a pavilion for outdoor nature classes and other community activities.

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The nonprofit organization Groundwork Elizabeth spearheaded the trail project in partnership with the County of Union. Funding for the pavilion, trail work and interpretive signage work was provided by a grant from Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery with assistance provided by Groundwork Elizabeth, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Great Swamp, The Mushett Family Foundation Inc., the J.C. Kellogg Foundation and the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Part of the trail work was undertaken by the Green Team, a community youth engagement and development program of Groundwork Elizabeth. Phil Rizutto Park serves as a training ground for Green Team members to learn basic trail maintenance skills. The Green Team also conducts wildlife monitoring programs, water testing, children’s educational programs and other volunteer activities in the park.

“The Nature Trail demonstrates an outstanding commitment to the quality of life of our residents,” said Township of Union Mayor Michele Delisfort. “This project is a unique community resource that will provide many residents and visitors with new opportunities to learn about the natural world around us, and to help protect, preserve, and promote our natural resources.”

“It is very important to ensure that young people in our urban areas can experience nature first-hand, and also have the experience of improving neighborhoods and helping to preserve and protect ecosystems in our communities,” said Freeholder Sergio Granados, who is an Elizabeth resident. “The youth members of the Green Team have done a wonderful job on the Nature Trail. We truly appreciate their hard work and dedication to civic improvement, and Groundwork for organizing and supporting their efforts throughout the community.”

“Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery has had a long history of working with Groundwork Elizabeth and supporting their efforts to save, enhance and educate about the environment.  We are proud to be a partner in the Outdoor Nature and Education Center at Rizzuto Park and to assist in educating about the forest in this park, which is the only natural area of its kind in the vicinity. We are proud to sponsor the new kiosk, interpretative signs and other improvements within this natural woodland along Trotters Branch, stated Nancy Sadlon, Manager of Public Affairs, Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery in Linden, NJ. “Our company values are safety, honor and commitment. Being part of this project and others in previous years at Rizzuto Park is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to this community.”

“Groundwork has been fortunate to have broad support in the community, and it has been incredibly inspiring to see projects like the Nature Trail take shape through a collaborative effort between government, business, and non-profit organizations,” said Groundwork Executive Director Jonathan Phillips. “This is a long term project spanning several years, and it would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of Union County, Phillips 66, and our other partners.”

Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery contributed $30,000 for construction of the pavilion and other work on the Nature Trail. In-kind contributions were also made by the Freeholder Board through the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A second phase of the project will begin later this year, involving measures to remediate and prevent erosion in Trotter’s Branch and the construction of a boardwalk in a wetlands portion of the trail.

The cost of Phase 2 is estimated at $250,000. Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery has pledged $74,000 toward the effort. The U.S. Department of Agricultural Natural Resources Conservation Service has also committed $83,000 in funding, and discussions with additional partners are under way.