Trailside Nature & Science Center

located within Union County’s Watchung Reservation 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, NJ 07092

Winter in the Watchung Reservation.

Freeholders hold ribbon cutting for County’s first – and nation’s most extensive Sensory Friendly Trail at Watchung Reservation in Mountainside

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders today cut the ribbon on the Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail, the first of its kind in the county and the most extensive one in the nation. The trail is accessible to all residents, allowing them to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings at the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

“We continue to champion equal access and inclusion for all residents, and the sensory trail will be leading the way nationwide,  providing a way to safely experience the outdoors and providingopportunities to interact with nature and learn about the rich history our county has to offer,” said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados.  “We are committed to providing children and adults of all abilities access to recreational opportunities, and as such we also created the Office for People with Special Needs, this year, which is coordinating programs for children at the Sensory Friendly Trail including a Special Needs Summer Camp.”

The trail is open to all visitors, seven days a week from dawn to dusk for free, and is located behind the Trailside Nature and Science Center at the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside.

There are many different components to the trail which is designed to provide sensory stimulation and interaction, and meet the physical, social and cognitive needs of different age groups.

To being with, the Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail is a 0.3 mile loop with a central gazebo.  The interpretive signage includes two talking kiosks highlighting the natural and human history of the Watchung Reservation.  There are also sounds from nature, including bird sounds, insect sounds, and the sounds of the Lenape Indians, who once occupied the reservation.

The central gazebo has a sensory play area to attract children and encourage exploration and discovery—including a crawl through a log, mushroom steppers, and a balance beam that looks like a tree branch.  

There are also musical components on the trail—including drums, Xylophone, and other items to touch, including wheels and balls, and raised garden beds (sensory gardens for touching and smelling).

The 0.2 mile braille trail loop with guide ropes features multiple stops to learn about the local flora and fauna.   

The nearby Trailside Nature & Science Center will utilize the new Sensory Trail and offer educational programs to allow students and families an opportunity to explore nature and gain a better understanding of the natural world around them. As part of Freeholder Chairman Granados’ “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives for 2018, the Freeholder Board created the Office for People with Special Needs, which has been expanding resources and activities while also working with local organizations to build connections for the betterment of people with special needs.

The trail stretches from the Trailside Center and into fields surrounding the center and there are two outdoor classrooms along the trail (log and acorn searing) where naturalists can gather groups and/or make presentations.

The project was designed by CME Associates Consulting and Municipal Engineers, which is based out of six offices in New Jersey. The project contractor is Pavelec Brothers from Nutley, NJ. The cost of the project is $652,000.

The Freeholder Board continues to champion equal access and sensory friendly opportunities for its residents. As mentioned above,  the Freeholder Board through Freeholder Chairman Granados’ “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives for 2018, created the Office for People with Special Needs, and also the “Level the Playing Field” initiative which is creating sensory friendly and accessible playgrounds in all 21 towns throughout the County—the first such initiative nationally. Last year, the Freeholder Board created the County’s first inclusive playground at Mattano Park in Elizabeth, and several years ago under Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, created the Sensory Friendly Theater series, which continues annually.

Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados and Freeholders Bruce H. Bergen and Rebecca Williams joined Union County Manager Ed Oatman, Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner, Union County Parks and Recreation Director Ron Zuber, Union County Department of Human Services Director  Debbie-Ann Anderson, county employees and people with special needs in cutting the ribbon, officially opening the new Sensory Friendly Trail at the Trailside Nature and Science Center at the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside. The trail, which is the first of its kind in the County, will be accessible to all and allow residents to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. 

The full-day option was a great way to immerse the kids and capture their interest.  The teachers were enthusiastic, professional and knowledgeable.  Thank you for sharing your skills.
Cranford, NJ
The combination of your teachers’ enthusiasm, natural expertise and energy combined with the deep, hands-on content was fantastic.  The parents learned as well as the kids.  My son said “Trailside never disappoints, but this camp was amazing!”  Highlight of the summer!
Scotch Plains, NJ
The instructor was kind, patient and knowledgeable.  My son felt comfortable asking questions.  He especially enjoyed searching for sassafras and other trees in the woods.
Watchung, NJ
This was a fantastic intro to wildlife for my preschooler.  She wants to know more about animals.  She loved having friends in class, going outside every day and seeing real animal homes in nature.
Westfield, NJ
I loved that the size of camp is smaller and my daughter gets to have more one on one interaction with the counselors to learn more.Fanwood, NJ
Such a great way teach the children about nature while having fun.
New Providence, NJ
My son was very excited to share what he learned at camp.  He loved searching for bugs in all the different habitats.  Wonderful place to learn!
Berkeley Heights, NJ
She enjoyed her time at Trailside camp.  It was more than I expected.  She felt very comfortable and enjoyed every day.  We will come back next year for sure!  Thank you.
Scotch Plains, NJ
My son had a blast.  Teachers and curriculum was great.  Reasonably priced.
Westfield, NJ
We are always pleased with the educational level and hands-on experiences of the Trailside camp.  The staff is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Cranford, NJ
We really enjoyed the camp, a perfect mix of educational and fun activities.
Fanwood, NJ

Trailside Nature & Science Center is Union County’s Environmental Education Center, located in the Watchung Reservation, a 2,065-acre preserve containing woodlands, fields, lakes, streams and more than 13 miles of hiking trails.

This serene setting provides the perfect classroom to have fun while learning about the natural world. Renovated in September 2006, the Center houses 4,500 square feet of interactive, state-of-the art exhibits, including a towering 34-foot American beech tree exhibit that fills the building’s atrium.

This jewel, secluded in the Watchungs, also features classrooms that look out on the Reservation, a multipurpose room, a library, children’s discovery room and a 250-seat auditorium.


Noon to 5 p.m.; Seven Days a Week

Thanksgiving, Day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day, New Years Eve/Day, Fourth of July and Easter


452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, NJ  |  908-789-3670  |  Map




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