04 Jan ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO THANKS COMMUNITY FOR GENEROUS CONTRIBUTIONS MADE DURING ANNUAL ESSEX COUNTY HOLIDAY LIGHTS SPECTACULAR Almost 25 Tons of Non-Perishable Food, Toys and Winter Coats Are Collected to Assist the Needy Record 755,239 Visitors Came to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in 2015


West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that a record number 131,594 people visited and almost 25 tons of non-perishable food, clothing and toys were collected for those in need during the 9th Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo. In addition, the Executive announced that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo welcomed 755,239 visitors in 2015, which set a new annual attendance record for the 11th consecutive year.

“It is humbling to see the large number of items dropped off at the Holiday Lights Spectacular to assist the less fortunate. 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 we thank our visitors for their extraordinary generosity to help the less fortunate,” he noted.

The 131,594 visitors at the Holiday Lights Spectacular this winter was almost doubled the previous record of 66,460 visitors welcomed in 2014. New records also were set in the amount of items collected to assist the less fortunate. There were 49,078 pounds – almost 25 tons – of non-perishable food collected for the Community FoodBank of NJ. In addition, 15,480 new toys and 6,280 winter coats were collected and donated to Beula Bible Cathedral from Newark, Circle of Love Childcare from West Orange, Foster & Adoptive Family Services from Monmouth Junction, Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel from Newark, Ivy Hill Elementary School Kid’s Closet from Newark, Jersey Battered Women’s Services, Oasis – A Haven for Women & Children, St. John’s Soup Kitchen from Newark, East Orange YMCA, Red Cross chapters in Montclair and Fairfield, True Word Church from Newark and Willing Heart Community Center from Newark. This was the sixth year that visitors were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations collected over the years has amounted to over 37 tons of non-perishable food, 36,030 toys and 13,368 winter coats.

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 giraffes, 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, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.

11th Consecutive Annual Attendance Record Set

County Executive DiVincenzo announced that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo welcomed 755,239 visitors in 2015, which set a new annual attendance record for the 11th consecutive year. This was the first time in the Zoo’s history that attendance topped the 700,000 mark.

“We are extremely humbled by the record number of people who keep coming each year to experience Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. It is very gratifying to see the excitement of children running from exhibit to exhibit to get an up close look at our animals and to think that how we are influencing our next generation of environmental stewards,” DiVincenzo said. “We truly thank the schools, organizations, families, children and others who choose Turtle Back as their destination. Their support is the reason for our continued success and we look forward to seeing the crowds grow in the future,” he added.

The 2015 attendance of 755,239 is 66,880 more visitors to Turtle Back than in 2014 when 688,359 people passed through its gates. The Zoo reached the 700,000 mark for the first time in its history on Sunday, December 13th when the Owens family from Plainfield – Willie and Tana and their children Nazir, 10, Allysa, 5, and Chanel, 3 – came to see the Holiday Lights Spectacular. Breaking the 750,000 attendance milestone was celebrated on Wednesday, December 30th when Nutley residents Melissa and Carlos Zuniga and their two daughters, 3-year-old Gabriella and 5-month-old Arianna, came to see the Holiday Lights display.

Recent exhibits and upgraded facilities added at Turtle Back continually attract visitors. Scheduled to open in 2015 is a new African exhibit featuring giraffes, a covered arena for pony rides and an expanded café building to accommodate the growing crowds. In 2014, a new 12,000-square-foot Education Building with four classrooms was opened and enabled educational, summer camps and special programming to be expanded. In 2013, the Sea Lion Sound exhibit with sea lions, sting rays and sharks opened to commemorate the Zoo’s 50th anniversary. There is also the Treetop Adventure Course, 19-hole miniGOLF Safari and Paddle Boating on the Orange Reservoir that attracts visitors to the area.

The year before DiVincenzo took office, in 2002, attendance was 168,739. It climbed to 211,449 in 2005, 340,356 in 2007, 420,276 in 2008 and broke the half million mark for the first time with 511,655 in 2010.

Other highlights for 2015 included Turtle Back Zoo being named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine for the fourth time and receiving a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com for the third consecutive year.

Turtle Back Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Regular admission is $9 for children and senior citizens, $11 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.

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 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; 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 (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.