14 Sep ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO ANNOUNCES PLANS TO MODERNIZE ENTRANCE TO ESSEX COUNTY TURTLE BACK ZOO Additional Admission Points will Reduce Lines; Reconfiguration will Enhance Safety for Visitors
West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Friday, September 14th that a project to reconfigure and modernize the entrance of Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has been started. The new design will create additional entrance points so larger crowds can be accommodated and long lines of visitors waiting to enter can be handled more efficiently.
“We are always looking for ways to improve Turtle Back Zoo and enhance the experience that our visitors have. Visitors get their first impression of the Zoo at the entrance gates and, because of the large turnout that Turtle Back attracts, the lines of people waiting to enter can be very long at times,” DiVincenzo said. “This new design will help make the admission process go smoother, help us better handle large crowds and create a safer area for people to congregate and gather as they enter,” he added.
The proposed improvements were welcomed by elected officials and zoo staff.
“When you come here and see the volume of children coming with their families or coming with groups on buses, the improvements that are being made will create a better flow of traffic and safer atmosphere. It is evident we needed a different to upgrade our facility to handle the crowds,” NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.
“I have been coming to Turtle Back Zoo since it opened and it’s amazing to see what the zoo has become because of Joe DiVincenzo,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “Everything that is happening at Turtle Back is because of the vision of our County Executive. We are proud of the zoo and these improvements will enhance the aesthetics and safety,” Freeholder Len Luciano said.
“The County Executive is at it again – always looking to improve things. Turtle Back is already one of the jewels of Essex County and this will make it even better,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.
“To witness how the facility has developed through the years and how it has become a superlative destination is amazing,” Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne said.
“The entrance is really the face of the zoo and sets the mood for visitors when they arrive. This will help us handle the crowds and create a good first impression for our visitors,” Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said.
“Attendance at the Zoo has increased every year and the changes will help us accommodate the many people who come here,” said Adam Kerins, Executive Director of the Zoological Society of New Jersey.
The two iconic castle-like towers will remain part of the entrance, however the admission booths and roofline above the booths will be removed. Five new stand-alone booths – which increases the number of admission lines from four to 13 – will be erected in a semi-circle in front of the towers. To the left of the entranceway, an addition will be constructed to provide expanded accommodations for group sales and group check-in.
The brick patio in front of the towers, where visitors typically line up while waiting to enter Turtle Back, will be enlarged and extended into the parking area. The increased space will enhance pedestrian safety because, instead of the lines extending into the parking area (which they currently do), there will be sufficient room for patrons to gather on the patio. As a result of the enlarged entrance patio, motorists will make a slight right turn when entering the surface parking area in front of the zoo.
A digital message board to promote events, animal education programs and other activities will be installed near the entrance. The area will be extensively landscaped, there will be benches for seating, and the patio will be accented with brick pavers.
Comito Associates from Newark was awarded a $295,000 contract to design the new entrance. The John O’Hara Company, Inc. from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $5,324,000 to perform the construction work. The Essex County Department of Public Works will monitor the project to answer questions and ensure delays are avoided. The improvements are being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the NJ Green Acres program. Work started on September 4th and is scheduled to be completed by February 2019.
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has roared back to life from the verge of closure by a previous administration. Attendance reached an all-time high of 907,522 in 2017 and the zoo has operated as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last ten years. In addition, Turtle Back is accredited by American Humane, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of American, a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education. It also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine four times and received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com three times.
The Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years. For more information, call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo.
Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo
Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $75 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the African Adventure with four Masai giraffes, lions and hyenas, and South African Penguins; the Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit; Leopard Exhibit; a new Educational Building; the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked 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 Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy, Matrix Development Group, the family of Ronald Mount 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 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, four off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.