West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced renovations to the Prairie Dog Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo are complete and that interactive attraction is reopened to the public. The renovations were made to enhance visitors’ viewing perspective.

“We are always looking for ways to improve the experience our visitors have at Turtle Back Zoo. The new glass walls at the Prairie Dog Exhibit allow our visitors to get even closer to watch the animals and provide an unobstructed view of them in a natural habitat-themed space,” DiVincenzo said.

The Prairie Dog Exhibit received a comprehensive facelift, which included replacing all the concrete walkways around the exhibit, installing new six-foot high glass walls around the animal area to provide unobstructed views of the prairie area, new split-wood fencing around the perimeter of the exhibit and a small sitting area for children. In addition, the tunnels in which children can crawl through and imitate a ground hog popping up from his burrow were cleaned and repainted.

“Joe DiVincenzo is always thinking of ways to make the Zoo better, so I’m always happy to be here,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “I like this exhibit. The improvements lets children get closer and see the prairie dogs better,” Freeholder Leonard Luciano said.

“Prairie dogs are iconic American animals that define our move west. The changes made to update this exhibit create great opportunities for the public to view these animals up close,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said.

French & Parrello from Wall, N.J., designed the upgrades under an existing contract. Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $400,817 to perform the construction work. The Department of Public Works monitored the project and answered questions to avoid delays. Funding was provided through a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. The construction started in the spring and took about four months to complete.

The ongoing development of natural habitat exhibits has transformed Turtle Back Zoo into a destination. In each of the last 11 years, new annual attendance records have been established. Last year, the Zoo welcomed 755,239 visitors – the first time in the Zoo’s history that the 700,000 mark was eclipsed.

Turtle Back Zoo recently earned its second five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which sets the gold standard for animal care and management, has been named best zoo in the state by NJ Monthly magazine four times, and received TripAdvisor.com’s Certificate of Excellence the past three years.

 Turtle Back Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Regular admission is $11 for children and senior citizens, $14 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please 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 $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the African Adventure Exhibit with four Masai Giraffes; 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 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; developing a two-story Savanna Café to provide additional seating for visitors, 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 (Wachovia Bank), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy 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 22 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, three 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.