03 Feb ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO THANKS COMMUNITY FOR GENEROUS CONTRIBUTIONS MADE DURING ANNUAL ESSEX COUNTY HOLIDAY LIGHTS SPECTACULAR More than 18 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 81,798 people visited the 10th Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo and more than 18 tons of non-perishable food, clothing and toys were collected for those in need. Both the attendance and amount of items collected were the second most in the event’s 10-year history.

“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 81,798 visitors at the Holiday Lights Spectacular was the second largest attendance figure for the event, behind the 131,594 people who came in 2015. The 18 tons of items collected also was the second most in history, again behind the 25 tons collected in 2015. This past winter, 36,435 pounds – more than 18 tons – of non-perishable food was collected for the Community FoodBank of NJ. In addition, 3,600 new toys and 4,600 winter coats were collected. These items were donated to Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, Beula Bible Cathedral in Newark, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office Toy Drive, Foster and Adoptive Family Services in Monmouth Junction, Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel in Newark, Ivy Hill Elementary School Kid’s Closet in Newark, Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter, Late Bloomer Project, Inc. in Newark, Milagros Angels in Newarki, NJPAC Toy and Coat Drive to benefit La Casa De Don Pedro in Newark, Oasis-A Haven for Women and Children, the East Orange YMCA, The Unforgotten Haven in Blackwood and Willing Heart Community Center in Newark. This was the seventh year that visitors were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations collected over the years have amounted to over 67 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. Scheduled to open in 2017 is a lion and hyena exhibit, a new condor exhibit and upgrades to the viewing areas of the wolf and Scottish Highland Cow exhibits. 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 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.