At Trailside, It’s Not Your Mother’s Spring Cleaning

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MOUNTAINSIDE—When most folks think about spring cleaning, the chore list doesn’t include vacuuming the foxes and wiping down the tree leaves.

But then again, cleaning museum exhibits is not your typical job.


It’s been three years since Union County unveiled the new Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation, the county’s 2,060-acre preserve.

“We dust the animals and the foliage so it looks fresh,” said Thor Holbek, who heads the Massachusetts firm that built the center’s exhibits. “Each individual leaf has to be cleaned with a damp cloth.”

“If it looks dusty, it doesn’t look like it’s out in nature,” he said. “You wait too long to clean and the foliage becomes discolored.”

“When you walk in here, it still feels brand new,” Holbek said.

Having seen the kind of damage that has occurred at some museums, Holbek said he was really impressed with the good condition of the Trailside exhibits.

The exhibits contain a mix of the once real, like the fox preserved by a taxidermist, or the once-living tree leaves that have been preserved, and the artificial, such as the sculpted fiberglass that is made to look like stone or the bark of a tree.

“It all has to be maintained with great care, so you have to bring in a specialized cleaning crew,” Holbek said, noting that his crew would be doing some foliage repair, grafting a few branches back onto the artificial trees.

HOUSE CLEANING MUSEUM STYLE…at Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation.  Thor Holbek, who heads the Massachusetts-based Holbek Group that created the exhibits at the science center returned recently with a team for a spring cleaning.  Cleaning the dust off the exhibits is essential to keeping the displays looking fresh, he said.

WIPING THE LEAVES…is all part of the spring cleaning of the exhibits at Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center.  Artist Kevin Tolin, who helped create portions of the exhibits at the science center, wiped down each leaf because if dust is allowed to accumulate, the leaves will become discolored.

TOUCHING UP A DISPLAY…Henry Dwight works on cleaning off some marks on one of the displays at Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center.

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