Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Has Another Record Year
Wednesday, January 4, 2012 • 5:03pm
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that a record 52,878 visitors enjoyed the 5th Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo and displayed “extraordinary generosity” in the large amount of non-perishable food, toys and winter coats donated. During the six-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, visitors to the Holiday Lights Spectacular were given free admission and asked to make a donation that would benefit several organizations dedicated to help the less fortunate.
The 52,878 visitors at the Holiday Lights Spectacular this winter established a new attendance record, surpassing last year’s attendance of 31,614. In addition, there were 13,505 pounds of food – over 6.5 tons – of non-perishable food collected for the Community FoodBank of NJ, 4,820 toys collected for Toys for Tots and the Jersey Battered Women’s Services, and 1,440 winter coats collected for Jersey Cares. This was the second consecutive year that visitors were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations exceeded last year’s amount collected as follows: 11,490 pounds of food, 1,506 toys and 109 winter coats.
“I can honestly say that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has the nicest, most charitable and generous patrons. What we collected surpasses all my expectations. These donations show the generous spirit and caring that exists in our community and certainly helped make a difference during the holiday season to those who need assistance,” DiVincenzo said. “We offered free admission to the Holiday Lights as a way to give back to our residents and make the event available to everyone, and our visitors responded with extraordinary generosity to help the less fortunate,” he noted.
About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures lit up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. Over 100,000 lights illuminated figures of bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes.
The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular was sponsored by Covanta Energy, PSE&G, McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.
Essex County also had another record year at Turtle Back Zoo. In 2011, there were 525,507 visitors – the second consecutive year that attendance surpassed the half million mark and the seventh consecutive year that a new annual attendance record was set – and about $3.5 million in revenue – the eight consecutive year that a new annual revenue record was set. In addition, it was the fourth consecutive year that Turtle Back Zoo operated as a self-sufficient facility, meaning the amount of revenue collected exceeded operating expenses. Last year’s achievements included 511,655 visitors and $3.1 million in revenue.
Several new attractions contributed to the continued success of Turtle Back Zoo. In June, three giant tortoises – two Aldabra and one Galapagos – debuted at Turtle Back as part of the South American Animal Exhibit. This is the first time that the endangered Galapagos tortoise, named for the Galapagos Islands off South America, has called Turtle Back home, and the first time since the 1990s that the Zoo has had Aldabra tortoises among its residents. The Essex County Treetop Adventure Course opened in September and features 22-aerial obstacles situated in the treetops surrounding the zoo. The first of its kind in New Jersey, the course has rope bridges, zip lines and other climbing features built into the trees. In October, the Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex welcomed the addition of McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant, with views overlooking Essex County South Mountain Reservation and the Orange Reservoir. The restaurant helps stabilize the Complex because all of its revenue supports Turtle Back Zoo. Also opening in October was the Big Cat Country Exhibit featuring Jaguars and Cougars and the addition of Snow Leopards in the Asian Exhibit area.
The excitement of new animal exhibits continues in 2012 when construction begins on a new Sea Lion and Sting Ray Exhibit. This exhibit is scheduled to open in 2013 to coincide with Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th anniversary. It will be the largest aquatic-themed exhibit at the facility.
Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo
In September 2011, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo received its second consecutive five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and is among only 221 facilities worldwide that are accredited. Earning accreditation is a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education.
Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the Treetop Adventure Course with 22 aerial obstacle features and two zip lines; the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the Big Cat Country Exhibit with Jaguars and Cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with Gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Prudential Financial, Inc., Wachovia Bank (Wells Fargo), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.
The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 20 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, miniature golf course, Treetop Adventure Course, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.