The Essex County Environmental Center is located in the western section of Essex County at West Essex Park. West Essex Park is 1,360 acres of wetlands preserve which remains almost entirely undeveloped. It stretches along six miles of the Passaic River, starting at Bloomfield Avenue in Fairfield, and ending just beyond South Orange Avenue in Livingston.
The former Park Commission first began acquiring this land in 1955. Money to purchase the first piece of property came in part from the sale of Oraton Parkway to the New Jersey Highway Authority. Over subsequent years, other land was purchased from more than 70 individual landowners.
The Center for Environmental Studies was established onsite in 1972 and functioned for over 23 years as a place to educate students about the environment. It was officially closed in 1995 due to lack of funding, but organizations such as Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension, Master Gardeners and 4H, Essex County Beekeepers, and Sierra Club, Essex Chapter have continued providing services and programs at the site on a limited basis to meet the needs of the community. Now such organizations are partners at the new Environmental Center and assist in delivering superior natural science programs.
Currently, little remains of the Center for Environmental Studies except Garibaldi Hall, a building with a meeting room and offices, where the Rutgers Master Gardeners operate their help-line. The natural amenities have remained quite the same, however, offering fishing, boating and birding opportunities, a greenhouse and gardens, and a forested interpretive trail. For the first time in 10 years, Essex County communities will have a place to study nature.
In May of 2005 the new Essex County Environmental Center was dedicated and opened. This state-of-the-art facility was constructed as an environmentally sensitive building using natural and recycled materials, innovative energy saving technologies, and topped by a “green roof” for the purpose storm-water management, among other things.
The Center offers hands-on curriculum, and cutting edge programs and workshops for all ages. It stands some hundred feet from Garibaldi Hall, and the two buildings are connected via trails. Both buildings, including the surrounding grounds, are part of the Environmental Center campus and are ideal for outdoor nature exploration and hands-on educational activities.