Union County, NJ – From an eye-popping model train display to a lavish 1920’s vaudeville house, Union County is full of hidden and not-so-hidden surprises. Now you can explore dozens of them by visiting a new page on the Union County website, “52 Great Things to Do in Union County,” at ucnj.org.
The new page was inspired by a recent magazine article titled “52 Things Every New Jerseyan Must Know.”
“Union County was barely mentioned in the article, and that’s a bit mystifying because we can match practically every one of those 52 things, with the possible exception of whale watching,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella, a resident of Fanwood. “We even have pedal boats.”
Mirabella noted that Union County offers many unique sites and experiences that are difficult if not impossible to find anywhere else in the region, such as a historic Shakespeare Garden, an Olympic-scale public archery range, and the Deserted Village of Feltville.
“We have places to fish, hike, and ride horses,” said Mirabella, “And we are especially happy to match any of New Jersey’s fine private golf clubs with our own public Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth.”
Galloping Hill is now the official headquarters of the New Jersey State Golf Association. In 2016 the organization will hold its prestigious Open at the course, marking the first time in its 91-year history that the event has been located at a public facility.
“I’ve lived in Union County all my life and it never fails to surprise and delight,” said Mirabella. “Our list is just the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure that every Union County resident has their own favorites to add.”
To view “52 Great Things to Do in Union County” online, visit ucnj.org and go to the Green Connection page in the Community link. For general Union County information call toll free, 877-424-1234.
52 Great Things to Do in Union County
For all the latest updates on Union County information visit us online at ucnj.org.
1. Step Out in Style
Take in a show at our genuine 1920’s vaudeville palace, the Union County Performing Arts Center, in the heart of the downtown Rahway Arts District at 1601 Irving Street. Union County recently completed the restoration of this rare gem with all the trimmings. UCPAC hosts affordably priced performances by rising stars and beloved classics, from comedy to theater, dance, concerts, and children’s shows, along with classes and workshops, too. Information: visit ucpac.org or call the box office, 732-499-8226.
2. Make Friends with a Horse
Horse lovers ages 3-8 can meet a stable full of friendly horses and get a fun, non-riding introduction to the equestrian arts, with winter mini-clinics at Union County’s public Watchung Stables at 1160 Summit Lane in Mountainside. Children ages 9 and up can attend advanced winter clinics and join riding classes and camps in the spring, summer and fall. There are lessons and special riding events for adults, too, and you can even book a birthday party. Visit ucnj.org, email email@example.com or call 908-789-3665.
3. Go Eye-to-Eye with a Turtle
A crawl-through tunnel that lets youngsters cozy up to a tank full of turtles is just part of the fun at Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation, at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. Admission is free and Trailside offers many special events, guided hikes and programs for all ages throughout the year including a youth summer camp. Information: visit ucnj.org/trailside, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 908-789-3670.
4. Let Your Best Friend off the Leash
Union County’s newly renovated Echo Lake Dog Park is a wide open space where dogs can run free in the winter and all year long, with a separate area set aside just for smaller dogs. The Dog Park is near the middle of Echo Lake Park, which stretches from Mountainside to Springfield off Route 22 – just follow Park Drive and look for the signs (map).
5. Cut the Ice
Union County’s public Warinanco Ice Skating Center is available from October to March for open skating and group rentals along with special programs including lessons, hockey clinics, and the annual George T. Cron high school hockey tournament. The rink is located in Warinanco Park (map) at Thompson Avenue, Roselle. Information: Visit ucnj.org/wisc, email email@example.com or call 908-298-7850 for a recorded message.
6. Sled ‘Til You Drop
Called “one of the best sledding parks in the area” by Patch.com, Echo Lake Park has been a winter tradition for generations of Union County residents. Echo Lake Park is conveniently located just south of Route 22 in the Mountainside. The most popular slope is by the east end of the park near the Springfield border and 9-11 Memorial (map).
7. Ski ‘Til You Stop
For nonstop cross-country skiing, you can glide all day along the hiking trails and paths in the sprawling Watchung Reservation (map), or take a shorter run at other County parks. For a complete list of County parks with nature trails and bike trails suitable for skiing (before the snow plows come through!), visit “Parks” at ucnj.org.
8. Shop Big…Shop Small
Whether you’re searching for bargains, unique gifts, or foods from around the world, Union County has it all. We are home to the largest – yes, the largest – outlet mall in New Jersey, the Jersey Gardens Mall right off Turnpike Exit 13A, and to hundreds of small and independent retail shops, bakeries, groceries and restaurants that liven up the downtown streets of our municipalities. Mall information: 908-354-5900.
9. Spot a Rare Bird
Union County is located on the Atlantic Flyway, so along with year-round feathered residents you can spot many passers-by during seasonal migrations. Our Lenape Park, for example, is “a critical habitat for over 190 species of birds including many migrant songbirds from South and Central America” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. When it’s too cold outside come to the Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside, where you can watch the action around strategically placed birdfeeders from the comfort of a picture window. In warm weather look for our very own pair of protected peregrine falcons, which nest atop the historic Union County Courthouse in midtown Elizabeth.
10. Rock Out, Warm Up
The local music scene is heating up all across Union County – a recent ad hoc sampling turned up everything from piano cabaret and flamenco guitar (complete with dancer) to traditional Irish music and original rock – so check your local listings for rock, pop and folk music at pubs and restaurants, along with performances by community bands, orchestras and ensembles.
11. Find a Zen Moment
Bring a yoga mat and let your stress melt away at the Trailside Nature and Science Center by participating in a gentle yoga series. Taught by a certified instructor, the program will cultivate your mind and body through a series of meditative techniques. Information: visit Trailside at ucnj.org/trailside or call 908-789-3670.
12. Cross Four Hundred Years in Four Blocks
Some of Union County’s oldest buildings rub elbows with the latest fashion trends in the county seat, the City of Elizabeth. A self-guided walking tour takes you through the main shopping district, which is peppered with historic and vintage sites. To receive a free “Elizabeth at the Crossroads” self-guided tour brochure, email theUnion County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 908-558-2550. For many more historical programs and cultural events throughout Union County visit the Cultural Connections Calendar.
13. Catch the Teen Spirit
Ever wonder what Picasso was up to in seventh grade? You can get a window into the mind of a young artist each spring at the Teens Arts Festival. The two-day event takes place in March at the Cranford Campus of Union County College with more than 4,000 middle and high school students and a staff of fifty professional artists participating. The public is invited to attend and enjoy the artistic talents of our students in the visual arts, music, creative writing, theater, media arts and dance. Information: Visit ucnj.org or call the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, 908-558-2550.
14. Shoot an Arrow into the Air
The Union County Archery Range is the region’s only public archery range. This wheelchair accessible, Olympic-quality facility was constructed with an assist from volunteers. Never bent a bow in your life? Union County offers an archery safety class, which qualifies you for a permit to use the range. Proof of training from approved organizations is also accepted. The range is located at Oak Ridge Park, on Oak Ridge Road in Clark (map). Information: Visit ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
15. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
Union County has one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in New Jersey, including a parade complete with bagpipes, drums, high school bands, local police and fire department units, veterans groups and many other organizations, floats and all the trimmings as well as dancers, music and stage performances, children’s activities and more. Information: unioncountystpatricksdayparade.com.
16. Stop and Smell the Flowers
The Henry S. Chatfield Memorial Garden in Warinanco Park serves up a riotous display of seasonal flowers beginning in mid-may. It’s a wonderful backdrop for family pictures and romantic portraits, or walk across to the Azalea Garden. Warinanco Park (map) is located at the nexus of Elizabeth, Linden and Roselle, with the main entrance on St. Georges Avenue.
The newly renovated gazebo and waterwheel at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside is another favorite spot for picture-taking.
17. Fly a Kite
Union County is a densely developed area with a generous tree canopy, but that doesn’t stop us from being a great place for kite-flying, too. Oak Ridge Park, located on Oak Ridge Road in Clark, has acre after acre of gently rolling lawns where the kite-eating trees are few and far between. Situated on a hilltop, the park is also perfect for picnicking, strolling, jogging or biking along paved paths. Information: Visit Parks at ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
18. Float your Boat…and Float on a Paddle Boat
The boat ramp at Lake Surprise in the Watchung Reservation (map) makes it easy to launch a kayak or canoe, and you can spend hours paddling the mile-long lake. Keep an eye out for ducks, turtles, and even a heron or two. It’s just one of many waterways in Union County parks where boating is approved. Before you take to the water, visit the Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal at ucnj.org for information on getting the required Union County Boat Permit, or call 908-527-4900.
Union County also has not one but two parks that feature the time-honored summertime tradition of paddle-boating, Warinanco Park and Echo Lake Park. For information on both paddle boat concessions visit ucnj.orgor call 908-527-4900.
19. Go Fish
Enjoy a quiet day of fishing at Union County’s many small lakes, ponds and rivers. The distinctive waterway theme was built into our parks system in the 1920’s by the same firm that designed Central Park and other iconic public spaces. Kick off the season at the Kids Fishing Derby, held every April at Echo Lake Park. To obtain a state fishing licenses (not required for children 15 and under) contact the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. For a list of fishing spots at Union County parks visit ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
20. Gather Ye Rosebuds…and Tomatoes
Gardening enthusiasts gather at the Watchung Reservation each May for the Spring Garden Fair, featuring hundreds of flowering plants, herbs and vegetable seedlings for sale highlighted by the famous Ramapo Tomato. All proceeds go to fund community projects of the Master Gardeners of Union County. The Master Gardener program is run by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County with the support of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders. For Garden Fair information – or better yet, to learn about joining the Master Gardeners – call the Union County Extension, 908-654-9584.
21. Find Your Inner Shredder
Union County residents can discard personal papers through our wildly popular free, secure shredding service, which travels around Union County from spring through fall. You can also use our free special waste collection days to safely dispose of household electronics and cleansers, home improvement products, car care products, pesticides and even automobile tires (limit 8 per household). For complete details and the most recent schedule visit the Recycling page at ucnj.org, or call 908-654-9889 for a recorded message.
22. Golf Like a Pro
Union County’s two public golf courses combine the quality of private clubs with affordable fees and a welcoming atmosphere for all, under the management of the renowned firm KemperSports. Ash Brook in Scotch Plains offers a parkland style 18-hole course with Pitch & Putt (information: 908-756-0414). Galloping Hill in Kenilworth is the new headquarters of the New Jersey State Golf Association. “The Hill” welcomes all skill levels with one of the most challenging 18-hole courses in the area, a driving range, PGA-certified instructors, the Learning Center with First Tee youth programs, and a practice course (information: 908-686-1556).
23. Monkey Around
The Loop Playground at the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside (map) features the County’s largest jungle gym, with play equipment suitable for younger and older children as well as wheelchairs. It is conveniently located by an open field with picnic areas and grills, restrooms, and easy access to miles of rustic hiking trails. Play outside all day or take a break indoors with a short stroll over to the Trailside Nature and Science Center. Note: The Loop Playground will start a top-to-bottom renovation this winter, and will be ready for play by spring.
24. Adopt a Park
A dedicated corps of volunteers helps to keep our Union County parks pleasant and enjoyable. Whether joining in an afternoon cleanup to mark Earth Day or making a longer commitment, all are welcome: individuals, Scouts and other civic groups, school groups, or company-organized groups. For more information aboutAdopt-a-Park or its sister program Adopt-a-Trail, call 908-789-3683.
25. Get Fit as a Fiddle
Union County’s many paved walking paths and exercise trails make for a pleasant, relaxing way to keep fit. Round out your personal wellness program with a nutrition class hosted by experts from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, designed to help you ease into healthier eating habits. For a list of Union County parks with fitness trails visit ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900. For information about upcoming Extension classes call 908-654-9854.
26. Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Pedals
Each May hundreds of cyclists from all over the Union County region and beyond turn out for the Tour de Elizabeth, an annual family-friendly excursion that winds leisurely through the unique neighborhoods that make up the City of Elizabeth. Information: call Groundwork Elizabeth, 908-289-0262 or email@example.com.
27. Go Van Gogh
Senior citizens throughout Union County prepare year-round for the annual Senior Art Show, a program of theUnion County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs. Amateur and professional artists age 60 and up are eligible to enter their artworks, and have the opportunity to display their work at a public gallery in June. Information: Visit ucnj.org or call 908-558-2550.
28. Party with the Stars
A few billion stars, that is. Join Union County for Astronomy Day in April at the Trailside Nature and Science Center, and tour the skies with experts from Amateur Astronomers, Inc. of Union County College’s William Miller Sperry Observatory. Information: Call Trailside, 908-789-3670.
29. Baseball, Anyone?
In 1945 the non-profit Union County Baseball Association introduced Youth League baseball for girls and boys ages 8-15, a tradition that continues to this day. Union County youngsters can sign up in the spring to play baseball all summer lat our own “Field of Dreams,” Warinanco Park. Registration fees are kept to a minimum with the help of community sponsors and the Freeholder Board. For UCBA information (including fall league for high school players): visit www.ucba-nj.org.
30. Get Wild with Wild Animals
Union County’s Wild Earth Festival at the Trailside Nature and Science Center (453 New Providence Road in Mountainside) provides a full day of fun activities along with a chance to see some of New Jersey’s wilder wildlife uncaged and up close. Past exhibits have included trained falcons, an enormous owl and a registered wolf. Nature crafts for sale, arts and crafts for children, entertainment and other activities round out the day. The Wild Earth Festival takes place at the beginning of each May. Information: call Trailside Nature and Science Center, 908-789-3670.
31. Join a Bio-Blitz
Amidst the urban development of Union County lies a subculture rich in wildlife, and you can take a snapshot of the biodiversity found right in your own backyard during the annual Union County Bio-Blitz. Team up with our experts to help with this 24-hour, round-the-clock survey of our native flora and fauna. Each year, Bio-Blitz visits a different park with special programs like River & Stream Life, Owl Prowl, Fungi Foray, and Mammal Tracking – perfect for explorers of all ages. Information: visit ucnj.org or call 908-789-3683.
32. Make a Splash
Beat the heat this summer by making Union County your own personal water park. With two swimming pools open to all County residents, you can avoid that pesky summer traffic and spend countless hours in the sun. Swimming lessons are available for adult and little swimmers, for a nominal registration fee. Information: For the Walter E. Ulrich Memorial Pool in Rahway call 908-732-4045. For the John Russell Wheeler Memorial Pool in Linden call 908-862-0977. Or, visit the Pools page at ucnj.org. For a complete list of County playgrounds with spray features, visit the Parks page or call 908-527-4900.
33. Fill Your Summer Nights with Sound
One week it’s classic big band, the next it’s reggae: take tour around the world of music at Union County’s Summer Arts weekly series of free outdoor concerts, from July through August at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside and Oak Ridge Park in Clark. Information: ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
34. Catch a Flick under the Stars
Bring lawn chairs and blankets, and stretch out under the stars for Union County’s free Family Flix outdoor film series, located at various County parks throughout the summer starting in July. The series includes pre-show activities for children, free popcorn and special events. Information: visit Events (summer season) at ucnj.orgor call 908-527-4900.
35. Throw an Outdoor Party
Family gatherings, birthday parties, wedding parties and more: any ordinary affair turns into a memorable celebration when you do it outdoors. Along with numerous spots for casual picnicking, Union County offers reservations for special events. For a complete list of picnic areas with grills, visit Picnic Areas at ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900. Helpful hint: Check out our reservation guidelines before planning your event.
36. Take Your Kids to a Kingdom
Every summer, Union County parks come alive with stage performances, hands-on demonstrations and displays, and many other children’s activities. For information on this summer’s attractions visit Events at ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
37. Support Your Local Sheriff
For a truly unique youth summer camp experience, check out the Union County Sheriff’s Youth Academy. Perfect for any young adult with an interest in public safety, participants get to experience training in an actual police academy and gain knowledge in areas like self-defense and crime scene investigation. This free program is open to youths in grades 7 through 12. Information: visit the Sheriff’s Youth Academy at ucnj.org, or call the Union County Sheriff’s Office, 908-527-4032.
38. Explore Your Inner Bard
The early 1900’s saw the birth of Shakespeare Gardens, established to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Decades later, many of these gardens have dwindled, but the Shakespeare Garden at Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield is still in bloom thanks to the efforts of the Plainfield Garden Club. Once termed among the finest gardens of its kind in the United States, the Plainfield garden continues to be a preservation of Shakespearian legacy for future generations. Information: visit Parks at ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
39. Ride the East Coast Greenway
Grab a helmet and hit the trails in Lenape Park while you enjoy our own slice of the East Coast Greenway, a 3000 mile bike route that passes right through Union County on its way from Maine to Florida. Whether you’re a serious cyclist or just heading out for a fun-filled day with the family, the Lenape Park section of the Greenway will lead you through parts of Cranford, Kenilworth, Springfield and Union. The trail can be accessed from Boulevard in Kenilworth, just west of Dorset Drive. Lenape Park information: visit Parks at ucnj.org. East Coast Greenway info: greenway.org.
40. Populate a Ghost Town
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city life lies Feltville, a town rich in history but void of many people. Established in 1845 by David Felt, the 760-acre village nestled inside Watchung Reservation was once a thriving mill town, but wasted away after its sale in 1860. Purchased in the 1920’s by the Union County Parks Commission, it is still home to ten 19th century structures including a visitor’s center and the newly restored Masker’s Barn. Guided and self-guided tours are available along with special events. Information: visit Events (autumn season) at ucnj.org.
41. Make a Lego Robot
The Lego Robotics Club is just one of Union County’s unique 4-H Clubs, which offer children in grades 1-12 a chance to unleash their imagination while developing important life skills including public speaking, organization and leadership. Fashion design, history, archery, and animal care are among the other active clubs in Union County. To join a club or volunteer to lead one, contact 4-H Agent James Nichnadowicz at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, 908-654-9854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
42. Earn a Master’s in Tree-ology
Get some fresh air and exercise while you train to become a Master Tree Steward this fall. As part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension certification course, participants enjoy a series of nature walks through local preserves while learning how to identify different trees, and how to care for our urban forest. Once certified, the Master Tree Stewards of Union County visit fourth grade classrooms to teach youngsters about the benefits of trees and the role they play in our environment. Information: contact 4-H Agent James Nichnadowicz at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, 908-654-9854, or email email@example.com.
43. Learn Some New Tricks
Lifelong learning is an adventure all its own, and Union County College offers some unique opportunities in that regard. Aside from a full slate of Associate degree programs and online learning opportunities, UCC offers professional certification and just-for-fun courses in a wide variety of skills and interests. For a complete list of current offerings at UCC’s campuses in Cranford, Elizabeth, Plainfield and Scotch Plains, visitAcademics at ucc.edu.
44. Drop in on a Colonial Harvest Festival
Get an up-close look at rugged day to day life in Colonial Union County, with a visit to the annual Colonial Harvest Festival in September, at the Watchung Reservation. Children of all ages can enjoy Native American crafts, scarecrow building, pony rides and many other activities. Live re-enactments of Colonial crafts are also on tap along with music and entertainment. Information: visit Events (autumn season) at ucnj.org or call 908-789-3670.
45. Tour Four Centuries in One Weekend
To get a glimpse of Union County generations ago, take part in our annual Four Centuries in a Weekend tour of two dozen historic sites. Held each year in October, the self-guided tour tells the story of the growth and development of Union County through historic structures and artifacts including Dr. William Robinson’s 17th century office, the 18th century Miller-Cory farmhouse, a 19th century stagecoach stop and the 20th century neoclassical estate Twin Maples. Special events include open hearth cooking, re-enactments and period music. Plan your own route through Union County’s hidden history or use our free online educational kits. Information: visit the Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs at ucnj.org, or call 908-558-2550.
46. Have a Haunted Hay Ride
Just in time for Halloween, come down to the Deserted Village of Feltville at the Watchung Reservation in late October to hop on a hayride, follow a guide along a moonlit trail, and listen for all the things that go “bump” in the night. Information (including tickets and schedule): visit Events (autumn season) at ucnj.org.
47. Make a Pumpkin Float
Keep the Halloween spirit alive with the Great Pumpkin Sail at Echo Lake Park, held each year after Halloween. Light your pumpkin up one last time, put it on a specially provided float and watch it set sail across the lake with dozens of other Jack o’ Lanterns while enjoying hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows. Information: visitEvents (autumn season) at ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
48. Take a Trip to Lilliput
The cavernous building at the edge of Lenape Park that houses the Union County Model Railroad Clubconceals a colorful world in miniature within its plain white exterior. Inside, you’ll find a meticulously detailed system of railroads equipped with all the bells and whistles. Public viewings are held on most Saturday afternoons and be sure to stop by around Thanksgiving for the annual holiday-themed Light and Sound Show extravaganza. For visiting hours, Light and Sound Show tickets and membership details: visit www.tmrci.comor call 908-964-9724 or 908-964-8808.
49. See Great Sports from a Great Seat
Kean University’s Cougars put on a great show for football fans, and every seat in the stadium is a good one. The Kean University campus is conveniently located by mass transit in Union Township with ample onsite parking so bring your Cougar seat cushion and come cheer for our own Boys in Blue. Information: visitkeanathletics.com. For more collegiate sports, don’t miss the Union County College Owls.
50. Catch a Rising Star
From Grammy Award winning artist John Legend to the culturally explosive dance group Compañia Flamenca Jose Porcel, Kean University in Union Township hosts performances worthy of the Great White Way, all affordably priced with convenient access to parking and mass transit. Information: visit keanstage.com or call the Kean Stage box office at 908-737-SHOW (7469).
51. Skate Your Blues Away
Fine-tune your moves or learn some new ones at any of the three areas set aside in the Union County parks system especially for skateboard fans. Public skate parks are located in Mattano Park (Elizabeth), Esposito Park (Clark), and Wheeler Park (Linden). For maps and directions visit Parks at ucnj.org or call 908-527-4900.
52. Find a Special Something for a Special Someone
Get a jump on seasonal festivities early in December with a trip to Union County’s annual Nature Craft Show and Holiday Celebration at the Trailside Nature and Science Center. Choose from unique crafts by top local artisans, have a picture taken with Santa, sing holiday songs, and vote for your favorite tree decorated with donations to Union County families in need. Admission is free and a donation of nonperishable food or an unwrapped toy is suggested. Information: visit Events (winter season) at ucnj.org or call 908-789-3670.
For more information on any Union County press release, please contact Sebastian D’Elia, Communications Director for the County of Union, or a designee listed at the top of this press release. Please join the County of Union online at www.ucnj.org, on Facebook at www.ucnj.org/facebook, and on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/countyofunionnj.