Public Info

Sensory Trail and Universal Playground Earn National Award for Union County

The Sensory Friendly Trail in Union County’s Watchung Reservation.

Union County, NJ — The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is pleased to announce that the Department of Parks & Recreation is receiving an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties, in recognition of the County’s efforts to provide inclusive recreational facilities for people with disabilities.

The award, which cites the creation of a Sensory Trail in the Watchung Reservation and a universal-access playground in Mattano Park in Elizabeth, marks the second consecutive year the County is being honored by NACo. Last year’s awards singled out the Department’s Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs for programs designed to increase and encourage interest in local history.

“The National Association of Counties (NACo) is pleased to grant Union County a 2019 Achievement Award for its program titled “Experiencing Nature, Experiencing Play: Taking Inclusive From Lip Service to Reality,” said NACo spokeswoman Lindsey Maggard. “Congratulations to everyone involved in developing this innovative program! Your hard work will yield positive results for Union County residents.”

Union County Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski said she could not be more pleased with the national recognition Parks is receiving.

“With upwards of 20 percent of Americans estimated to have some form of disability,” Freeholder Chair Kowalski said, “this is not something that just the County needs to address, but at all levels of government, and the private sector. We need to find ways to bring people with disabilities into the mainstream so that we enjoy our lives together.”

Over the years, Parks provided opportunities for youngsters and adults with disabilities, including barn dances and crafts classes, along with ramp access to spray parks and playgrounds.  But there was still a long way to go.

The new Universal Playground at Union County’s Mattano Park in Linden.

“In 2016, Parks opened a playground at Mattano where the elements were designed to enable youngsters with physical and sensory issues an opportunity to have fun, to be in a place that fully included them,” Kowalski said.

“But playgrounds were not enough,” said Freeholder Sergio Granados, who chaired the freeholder board last year. ”Our Trailside Nature & Science Center staff worked together with our disabilities staff, visiting sites throughout the region and researching online what to include To make this trail inclusive to all.”

The new Sensory Trail opened a whole new world for visitors and now enables Trailside to offer programming for people with special needs including those in wheelchairs, including a new summer camp for youth with special needs. We continue to work on ways to make sure our parks system is accessible and inclusive to all who want to attend them,” he said.

The Sensory Trail addresses both physical and developmental disabilities with: a smooth, ADA compliant path, a knotted rope for the blind, flowers with texture and scents, and more.

“But perhaps most importantly, it is all outside for everyone to experience while breathing the crisp woodlands air, hearing birds sing, even spotting the occasional deer. This is inclusion,” Kowalski said. “While there are more than 40 miles of trails in the Reservation, this the first path where people with disabilities can experience our crown jewel of the County Parks system.”

NACo President Greg Cox said, “Counties implement innovative programs that enhance residents’ quality of life every day. This year’s Achievement Award-winning programs demonstrate how counties build healthy, safe and vibrant communities across America.”

Nationally, awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, information technology, health, civic engagement and many more.

For more information about all Union County recreation programs, call the Parks Department at 908-527-4900 or visit online at

For register for upcoming recreation programs for people with special needs, and to register for all recreation programs, visit

To learn more about the Sensory Friendly Trail visit

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For all Union County programs and services visit, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email or use the online Contact Form.

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