The South Mountain Reservation — An Essex County NJ Community Gem
With the onset of spring, it seems fitting to herald one of our Essex County New Jersey communities most treasured gems, The South Mountain Reservation. It’s lush history and natural gifts have always aroused and delighted my senses.
Just a little in the way of its history…The South Mountain Reservation covers approximately 2,047 acres in the central section of Essex County, bordering our Midtown Direct communities of Millburn, South Orange and Maplewood. Built from land purchases begun in 1895, it remains the largest of the Park System’s reservations. I love the fact that it was designed by The Olmsted Brothers – who inherited a landscape architecture business from their father – Frederick law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park.
Thanks to The South Mountain Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works within the park to support, protect and preserve it, the Reservation has changed very slightly over the years. The Reservation provides endless opportunities for family adventure including 19 miles of hiking and walking trails, 29 miles of carriage roads for jogging biking & cross country skiing, Washington Rock lookout historic site, an archery range, fishing at Diamond Mill Pond and simply savoring its natural beauty and wildlife. Countless varieties of trees, shrubs and herbs are identified throughout. The Conservancy offers free hikes, so check their website for the latest hiking schedule.
And did you know that the South Mountain Arena and Turtle Back Zoo are located within the reservation’s boundaries? It’s truly a little slice of heaven right in our very own backyard. Rain or shine the Reservation offers area residents so many fun things to do. For the winter months, The Richard J. Codey Arena contains two indoor ice skating rinks and training facilities for the New Jersey Devils.
The Turtle Back Zoo, voted the #1 Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly Magazine, is a delightful outing for children and grown-ups. Some favorite exhibits include Essex Farm, the reptile center, black bears, the new Southeast Asia exhibit and a tropical aquarium. The Zoo got its name from rock formation located on the mountainside that was called Turtle Back Rock by its earliest settlers, the Lenape Indians. The rock patterns are said to appear as though you are standing on the back of an enormous turtle. And just last year, the Essex County Mini Golf Safari, an award winning 19-hole course, was developed adjacent to the zoo. Finally for those real adventure seekers, a new Treetop Adventure Aerial Course has been designed and built right in the trees next to the zoo.
So when looking for a day full of rich history, exploration and treasured family memories, The South Mountain Reservation may be just the perfect answer.