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The Essex County Park System was the first created in the United States and was founded in 1895. The County Park System includes 17 parks, five reservations and various facilities with 5,985 acres of parkland. Twenty of the 26 parks and reservations were designed by the renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who also designed Central Park in New York City and the Capital grounds in Washington, D.C. The Essex County Park System contains 68 tennis courts, three public golf courses, two community centers, three reservations, a zoo, an environmental center and an indoor ice-skating complex. Programs range from tennis clinics and golf tournaments to summer camps and outdoor concerts. The following are the most famous parks in Essex County: Branch Brook Park, Riker Hill Park, South Mountain Reservation, and West Essex Park.

Branch Brook Park nearly 4 miles long and averages 1/4 mile in width at 359.72 acres. Today the park is used largely for athletics activities. This Park offers playgrounds, ballfields, basketball, tennis, horseshoes, and pedestrian bridges. The Cherry Blossom Festival attracts over 10,000 people a day during April. Branch Brook Park is the largest developed park in the U.S.A featuring a combination of open meadowland and small patches of woodland on gently rolling terrain.

Riker Hill Park is located in the western section of Essex County and is 204.68-acres. This park is composed of three parts: 1) The Riker Hill Art Park, a 42-acre former US Nike missile tracking base, acquired in 1977. Its former army barracks are now occupied by artists, sculptors and craftsmen; 2) Dinosaur Park, a 16-acre tract acquired in 1970--well known throughout the state as the site of the smallest dinosaur tracks ever found. Access to this land is through the Riker Hill Art Park; and 3) Becker Park, a 147-acre tract of undeveloped parkland that was purchased in 1969 in part through the Green Acres Program.

South Mountain Reservation covers 2,047.14 acres in the central section of County and was founded in 1862 by the State Legislature as the Town of Fairmont.Woodlands abound in a variety of hardwood trees, and tall hemlocks tower above streams, creeks and ponds. The west branch of the Rahway River flows through the valley. Features include nineteen miles of hiking and walking trails; twenty-seven miles of carriage roads for jogging, horseback riding, & cross-country skiing. The Turtle Back Zoo and the South Mountain Arena are located within the area and deep within the woods a 25-foot waterfall awaits all.

West Essex Park was incorporated in 1908 and is located in the western section of Essex County. The 1,360-acre park stretches along six miles of the Passaic River starting at Bloomfield Avenue in Fairfield, and ends just beyond South Orange Avenue in Livingston. The park contains boating & canoe landings, fishing areas, picnic areas, and scout camping areas. The Center for Environmental Studies is located at this park as well.


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