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
I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).
I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)
This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.
In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself.
With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix DMC-ZS15 compact camera.)
I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.
Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!