For a long time, the Orange Reservoir was just some water you saw on your way to the Turtle Back Zoo or Codey Arena. But one piece at a time, Essex County has transformed the reservoir area into the South Mountain Recreation Complex—and now it’s a place for a pretty full day of family fun.
In May of this year, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren cut the ribbon on the new 1.7-mile walkway around the reservoir. The freshly paved path has a pair of footbridges, nautically themed decorations and lighting, new landscaping, access to hiking trails, and lots of benches and Adirondack chairs for kicking back and enjoying the views across the water.
What’s across the water? Even more stuff to do. Last summer, the county opened a paddle boat dock and picnic area (boats can be rented for 30-minute rides; $14 for a two-person boat or $18 for a four-person boat), which is just a short walk from McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant and a safari-themed mini-golf course. And of course, the whole shebang is anchored by the arena, Turtle Back Zoo and Treetop Adventure Course.
“With this project, we are beginning to realize the potential of the Orange Reservoir as a recreation destination,” DiVincenzo said in a statement, and he’s not kidding. My family spent a full afternoon at the reservoir, navigating a paddle boat through the spray of the big fountains at one end of the water, waving to the zoo’s famous train as it chugged past the walking path, sprinting across the 84-foot bridge, checking out the fish and ducks making their way through the water, having a cool drink in the shade of the picnic pavillion, and more low-key, low-cost fun.
And if that’s not enough for you, Essex County has broken ground on a playground that will extend the nautical theme with 24 pieces of equipment and a rubberized base. The playground is scheduled to be completed by the end of this summer.
Dive into the recreation area in and around the reservoir this summer (or spring or fall) and see how a small corner of the South Mountain Reservation has become a big destination for local fun.
The South Mountain Recreation Complex is located along Cherry Lane in West Orange (with plenty of free parking). More info online here