Public Info

Union County’s Sensory Friendly Trail Recognized for Excellence in Design

Union County, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is pleased to announce that the County’s new Sensory Friendly Trail has been recognized with an Excellence in Design award from the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association. The annual awards program helps to raise awareness of the value of public parks and identifies leadership in the field of environmental conservation and recreation.

The Sensory Friendly Trail is located by Union County’s Trailside Nature Museum and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation. Watchung is Union County’s largest park. Its borders include Mountainside, Springfield, Summit, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, and Scotch Plains.

 “The Sensory Friendly Trail invites people of all ages and abilities to explore our natural heritage, and we are all very proud that our Department of Parks and Recreation has been honored for its efforts to include all of the public,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski. “The new trail has already become a popular destination and we look forward to many more years of enjoyment for Union County residents and visitors alike.”

The new trail is the first of its kind in Union County, and the most extensive trail of its kind in the U.S.

The project was conceived in 2017 during the chairmanship of former Freeholder Bruce H. Bergen. Construction began in October 2017 and continued into 2018, when Freeholder Sergio Granados was chair. The trail opened to the public last August.

The Excellence in Design awards are based on aesthetic quality, uniqueness of design, usability and versatility. The awards also factor in compliance with the New Jersey Barrier Free Recreation Sub-Code and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Guidelines.

The Sensory Friendly Trail was specially designed for park visitors of all ages and abilities to experience the outdoors and interact with nature.

It consists of a 3/10-mile ADA accessible loop with a central gazebo. Highlights include audio kiosks highlighting the history of the Watchung Reservation, and a “Braille trail” loop with guide ropes and interpretative signs with 3-D reliefs and Braille text.

The central gazebo offers a sensory play area to attract children and encourage exploration and discovery.  Additional elements include sensory gardens, musical components, inclusive nature-themed play structures, and outdoor classrooms.

The New Jersey Recreation and Park Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting parks and recreation, professional development, and stewardship related to parks, recreation, and resource management.

The Trailside Nature and Science Center is located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. For more information about Trailside and all programs and facilities of the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, visit online at or call 908-527-4900.

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