UNION COUNTY — It may not look like much now, but when it’s done it may just become the destination playground for kids across Union County.
Nestled in the heart of the 2,000-acre Watchung Reservation, sitting in the center of the Loop, is one of the most popular playgrounds in the tri-county area—and it’s about to get a makeover.
The Reservation is Union County’s largest park and home to two of its most popular facilities, the Watchung Stable, and Trailside Nature and Science Center. The Loop, which is in between the two facilities, has always been a gathering place for picnics and recreation since the Reservation opened to the public in the 1920s.
“When my kids were younger, they loved playing at the Loop playground,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella. “But the old playground, for as popular as it was, was showing signs of age. And when wood starts to splinter, you know it’s time.”
The new playground, which will include features that are wheelchair accessible, is expected to be completed in the Spring, according to Union County Manager Al Faella, who oversaw parks operations before assuming the county’s top post late last year.
“Parks projects are always weather dependent,” Faella said. “The new playground includes a rubberized surface to protect the children if and when they fall. But installing that surface requires warmer weather.”
Faella said that it was possible that if the playground equipment was in early, the ground may be filled with wood chips so that youngsters can play until it is finally warm enough to install the permanent rubber matting.
The makeover includes all new climbing equipment and slides, along with the addition of flower-like misting devices. There will also be a hollowed-out “tree” to explore.
Over the years, the playground has become one of the most popular recreation areas, not just because of the playground, but its close proximity to the Trailside Nature and Science Center, on the western side of the Loop, the Watchung Stable, a short hike to the east, and Lake Surprise, just north of the open area, which also includes picnic tables and permanent barbeque grills.
The freeholders approved the purchase and installation of the new playground. The $685,235 price tag is coming largely from the Union County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, which will provide $425,235. The remaining $260,000 was drawn from the County’s capital budget.
The Trust Fund was established in 2000 by popular referendum to preserve open space and improve public recreation in Union County. So far, the fund has saved more than 300 acres of open space from development, including the Clark reservoir and some of the last remaining farmsteads in the area.
Trust Fund monies have also gone to improve playgrounds and other facilities in both County and municipal parks, and to fund recreation scholarships for income-eligible children.
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