Sensory-friendly Watchung Reservation trail caters to special-needs individuals
It's the first of its kind in Union County, the first of its kind in New Jersey and possibly the first of its kind in the nation. The Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail is open, catering to those with special needs.
Sergio Granados, chairman of the Union County Freeholder Board, said what makes the Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail in Mountainside so unique is that in addition to being a sensory-friendly trail for special needs children and their families, it's history-oriented. He said there are sound effects — Lenapes speaking throughout the trail to create a unique experience for all visitors.
The Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail is a .3-mile loop with a central gazebo. At the gazebo, there is a sensory play area for special-needs kids filled with a crawl-through log, mushroom steppers and a balance beam that resembles a tree branch.
There are also outdoor classrooms that have fire pits, plus interpretive signage, which includes two talking kiosks highlighting the natural and human history of the Watchung Reservation.
The trail also features musical components, including drums and xylophones and other items to touch such as wheels and balls, and raised garden beds. These sensory gardens are for touching and smelling to encourage special-needs children to come out of their comfort zones and hone in on their senses, Granados said.
Another cool component on the trial is a braille trail loop, with guide ropes for the kids to help them learn about the local flora and fauna on the reservation.
He said this year, the freeholders created the Office for People with Special Needs, which is coordinating activities at the trail, including a special needs camp.
Also this year, through Granados' "Level the Playing Field" initiative, Union County awarded grants to all 21 municipalities in Union to help provide inclusive playgrounds to children with disabilities. This is 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, the Sensory Friendly Theater series was created — and continues annually.
The Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail in Mountainside is open to all visitors, seven days a week from dawn to dusk, and is free to access.
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