Thomas Edison is arguably one of the greatest inventors of all time. Each time you flip on a light switch, you benefit from his creativity and genius. Taking a trip to the movies? Edison was responsible for the modern day development of recorded sound and eventually moving images. In fact, Edison and his staff made one of the first motion pictures ever.
Where did he invent all of these items, earning more than 1,000 patents in his lifetime? In West Orange, New Jersey, only 30 minutes from most parts of Bergen County.
For many years, his laboratory was closed to the public as renovations and needed upgrades stretched out far longer than planned. The National Park Service has recently reopened this facility and it is definitely worth the trip.
Folks who traveled to Edison's lab in years past will be happy to learn that the renovations included restoring the second and third floors of the lab for public use -- those floors were previously off limits. Now visitors can explore nearly 20,000 square feet of laboratory space.
The chemistry lab is also now open to the public but the NPS suggests you call ahead to find out what times rangers will be doing guided tours of that building.
There are some guided tours done by park rangers but debuting in January 2012 is a self-guided audio tour that will be well worth it. The entrance fee is $7 but kids under 16 are admitted for free. The audio tour will cost $5. Don't forget to bring cash or check as the facility is currently unable to process credit cards.
The best part for kids is the Junior Ranger Program. At most parks in the National Park Service system, kids can participate in this free program. They are given a book or pamphlet about the park they are visiting and if they complete the activities within the book, they are given a Junior Ranger badge.
My family has done the Junior Ranger program at Alcatraz, Muir National Woods and in Puerto Rico at the San Juan National Historic Site. If you have children in a range of ages and interests, this can be a fun way to keep them all engaged while you all take the tour.
While at the lab, you can get a car pass to visit Glenmont which is Edison's home nearby. You can only get the access pass at the lab so be sure to stop there first. A cellphone tour can be taken of the home and its grounds and kids can earn the Junior Ranger badge with a stop at this beautiful 29-room mansion.
Entrance to the park is free on January 14 through January 16 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day.
Take the trip, you'll be glad you did: this is an American treasure close to home.
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