An Evening at The Waterfront - West Orange, NJ
Back in March 2010, I took my camera out with me. I didn't have a destination...I just drove around to see what I would find interesting that day. I came across an old picnic area near the Orange Reservoir in South Mountain Reservation. Its old bones were still there from years ago - old picnic pavilions, broken charcoal grills still covered in ash, a broken-down old house with the only remaining window smashed and a tree growing from its base. I know that none of this sounds attractive, but there was something about it that I cherished. It was like looking at something that wasn't just from the past; it contained the past. Every initial carved in the wood beams had a story attached to it.
When I found out the area had been "refurbished" a couple of years ago to create the South Mountain Recreation Complex (SMRC), equipped with lights and paddle boats (in the shape of...SWANS), I was not happy. Paddle boats in the Reservation? It just sounded like they took this genuine place with history and turned it into a cheesy funplex. I couldn't bring myself to witness it until recently.
South Mountain Reservation is a nature reserve that covers over 2100 acres in Essex County, NJ. It stretches through the towns of Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, and borders South Orange, between the first and second ridges of the Watchung Mountains.
South Mountain Reservation (aka "The Reservation") is one of my most cherished places. It's where we go for evening walks to see if we can hear the owls in autumn. It's where we arrive after cycling up an extremely steep hill to enjoy a leisurely ride surrounded by nature. It's where we went with rented snow shoes during a recent tough winter when we were determined to make the best of the never-ending bitter cold and constant snow. It's where we went after 9/11 to view the aftermath in the distance of the Manhattan skyline after what we had been through, and it's where we stop to see that same view over a decade later to see its progress. It's where I go with my camera to capture the change of seasons and get a breath of fresh air. Swan boats just weren't what I had in mind for this place....my place.
Despite my reservations, I had heard some very complimentary things about the work they had done. I was encouraged by people's descriptions of it. So recently, I visited. Not once, but twice. I guess you could say that I had a change of heart.
I took a stroll around the reservoir, starting at the area known as The Waterfront. The walking path that surrounds the water is a 1.7 mile loop with spots to sit or even fish along the way. The reservoir is subtly lit around its perimeter with gentle fountains at a few spots in the center. It's a pleasant walk and would be a great place to spend some time with a good book. After a stroll, stop off at McLoone's Boathouse Restaurant, which is on the path itself. Have a cocktail or some eats out on the deck. (Warning - it can get crowded there in the evenings.)
Upon arriving at The Waterfront, you're greeted by The Clipper Pavilion, a covered outdoor seating area where anyone can sit and eat or relax. Bring your own food/drink or enjoy something from the snack bar. The pavilion can also be rented for events. The Clipper Pavilion is linked to the Children's Regatta Playground to its left, which features a "wave-like rubberized safety surface and a series of play equipment designed to look like boats."
Swan boats, also part of The Waterfront can be taken out for a spin. There are "Swans for Two" or Swans for Four."
The SMRC actually contains many other attractions. In addition to The Orange Reservoir walking loop, Clipper Pavilion and Regatta Playground, the SMRC also hosts The Turtle Back Zoo, Mini-Golf Safari, Treetop Zipline Adventure Course, and Codey Arena. For a map of the layout of the complex and more information, check it out here. They even have evening yoga at The Waterfront on Mondays.
Am I glad this is here?
I have to admit, I was a bit "determined" to not like this place. But, I couldn't help but like it. After a stroll around the loop, I stopped at McLoone's Boathouse, sat outside and enjoyed the almost bright and bold full moon - the evening before the Super Moon. I have to give the organizers, designers, and anyone else who was involved in recreating this place. It's a treasure, and I hope if you're reading this that you get a chance to enjoy some or all of its facilities.
Know Before You Go
West Orange, NJ 07052
Directly across the street from the Waterfront/Clipper Pavilion is a parking lot. A safe walking path crosses the street from the lot to The Waterfront.
Events such as Waterfront Yoga and Live Music at the Clipper Pavilion are posted on their events calendar.
Admission is Free
Paddle Boat Rentals
2 Person Paddle Boat: $14
4 Person Paddle Boat: $18
*2 Person Paddle Boat (Orange Township Resident): $7
*must show ID
To reserve the Clipper Pavilion Picnic Area, call (973) 735-6228
For Up-to-Date Info
Go to their website for the latest