West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Monday, December 21st that more than 17.5 tons of non-perishable food – 35,952 pounds – was collected during the first three weeks of the Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo. That amount has already exceeded the record 16.6 tons of food collected during all of last year’s Holiday Lights Spectacular.

“Each winter we present the Holiday Lights Spectacular with free admission as a way of saying thank you to our visitors and giving back to the community, and all we ask is that they donate items to help the less fortunate. The generosity of the visitors coming to the zoo has been overwhelming and will go a long way to making a difference this holiday season,” DiVincenzo said.

The 17.5 tons of food collected has been donated to the Community FoodBank of NJ. In addition, 8,000 new toys and 200 winter coats have been distributed to the following organizations: St. John’s Soup Kitchen in Newark, Circle of Love Childcare, East Orange YMCA, Oasis – A Haven for Women and Children in Paterson, True Word Church, Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel in Newark, the Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter and the Essex County Sheriff’s Toy Drive. In 2014, there was 16.6 tons of non-perishable food collected along with 7,780 toys and 3,671 coats.

There is still time to see the Holiday Lights Spectacular, which continues as follows:

Dates:             Monday, December 21st to Sunday, January 3rd

                                    (Closed on December 24th and 25th)

Times:                       5 to 9 p.m. nightly

Place:             Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex

                                    Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

                                    560 Northfield Avenue

                                    West Orange, NJ

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 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.

Regular hours for Turtle Back Zoo are daily from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Regular admission during the day is $10 for children and senior citizens, $13 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

 Currently under construction is the Giraffe Exhibit, which will feature Masai and Reticulated giraffes. The habitat created for the giraffes will resemble three acres of the African Savannah and will have multiple viewing areas for the public, including areas where the public can view the giraffes feeding. A climate-controlled barn approximately 200-by-100-feet in size to house the giraffes during the winter will be attached to the exhibit. To make the exhibit visitor-friendly during the winter months, closed circuit cameras will be installed in the barn so the giraffes can be viewed on a video screen in the Zoo Café. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016. Also underway is the construction of a new two-story cafeteria building, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.

Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 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 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 (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.