05 Feb ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO THANKS COMMUNITY FOR GENEROUS CONTRIBUTIONS MADE DURING ANNUAL ESSEX COUNTY HOLIDAY LIGHTS SPECTACULAR More than 13.5 Tons of Non-Perishable Food, Toys and Winter Coats Are Collected to Assist the Needy

West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that 88,397 people visited the 12th Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo and more than 13.5 tons of non-perishable food, clothing and toys were collected for those in need.

“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.

This past winter, 27,170 pounds – more than 13.5 tons – of non-perishable food was collected for the Community FoodBank of NJ. In addition, 129 bags of new toys and 170 bags of winter coats and clothing were collected. These items were donated to Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office Toy Drive, United Vailsburg Services in Newark, Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel in Newark, Ivy Hill Elementary School Kid’s Closet in Newark, Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter, Milagro Angel in Newark and the NJPAC Toy and Coat Drive to benefit La Casa de Don Pedro in Newark. This was the 10th year that visitors were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations collected over the years have amounted to over 91.5 tons of non-perishable food, 339,630 toys and 17,968 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 one million 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.

Recent exhibits and upgraded facilities added at Turtle Back continually attract visitors. Current project underway include the modernization of the main entrance, development of a new train maintenance facility and construction of a new parking deck. In 2018, a South African Penguin Exhibit and Flamingo Exhibit were opened. In 2017, the lion and hyena exhibit, a new condor exhibit and upgrades to the viewing areas of the wolf and Scottish Highland Cow exhibits were completed. In 2016, the African Adventure exhibit featuring giraffes, a covered arena for pony rides and an expanded café building to accommodate the growing crowds were opened. 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.

Turtle Back Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Winter admission rates available through March 31st are $10 for children and senior citizens, $12 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 $75 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing a new Educational Building, the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the African Adventure Exhibit with Masai Giraffes, Lions, Hyenas and Penguins; a Flamingo Exhibit; 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; building the Savanna Café 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 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.