ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO UNVEILS PLANS TO EXPAND RECREATION OPPORTUNITIES AT ESSEX COUNTY SOUTH MOUNTAIN RECREATION COMPLEX WITH MINIATURE GOLF COURSE,
RESTAURANT AND PARKING FACILITY
West Orange, NJ - Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. outlined plans to expand recreation opportunities in Essex County South Mountain Reservation on Monday, January 25th. The initiative calls for developing an African continent-themed miniature golf course, lake view restaurant and surface parking lot on County-owned property at the corner of Northfield Avenue and Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange. The new complex will be part of the newly-named "Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex," which will also include Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, Essex County Richard J. Codey Arena and the Essex County Park N Ride.
"The County-owned property at the intersection of Northfield Avenue and Pleasant Valley Way has tremendous potential because of its prime location in South Mountain Reservation and its easy access from major highways. Our proposal will provide family-friendly and affordable entertainment facilities to compliment Turtle Back Zoo and Codey Arena," DiVincenzo said. "Developing the corner property will further transform our complex into a recreation destination," he added.
The miniature golf course, designed in the shape of the African continent, features areas representing three habitats: the African Congo, the Sahara Desert and the African Grasslands. There are a total of 21 holes, and each hole highlights a natural feature or animal found on the continent. Some of the holes are Quick Sand, The Pyramids of Gisa, Rhino Run, Shark Frenzy, Mount Kilimanjaro, Elephant Tusk, Up the Congo River without a Paddle, and The Oasis. The entrance will resemble an African hut and include a ticket counter, rental area for golf clubs and balls, concession area, restrooms and storage. A nearby picnic area will have tables with umbrellas.
The proposed 12,000-square-foot restaurant will be family-oriented. The Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs and the Essex County Improvement Authority are currently soliciting proposals from vendors who would develop and operate the restaurant. Interested vendors can obtain copies of the Request for Information by visiting the Essex County web site www.essexcountynj.org and clicking on the link to the Purchasing Portal or by directly visiting the Essex County Purchasing Portal at http://purchasing.essexcountynj.org. Proposals must be submitted by Monday, February 1, 2010 at 3 p.m.
The 300-car parking lot is designed to resemble a park and will be enhanced with beautiful landscaping. The parking will be for patrons visiting the miniature golf course and restaurant, but will also provide overflow parking for visitors to Turtle Back Zoo and Codey Arena. Shuttle buses will be used to transport patrons from the new parking lot to the Zoo and Arena. Wrought iron fencing and a sidewalk will be installed around the outside of the new recreation area.
DiVincenzo noted that negotiations with the City of Orange to obtain access to the nearby Orange Reservoir for boating are still ongoing, which would be added when an agreement is reached. The miniature golf course, restaurant and parking area are all located on County-owned land.
The new 36-acre complex will be named "Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex," and includes Turtle Back Zoo, Richard J. Codey Arena, the three-story Park N Ride facility, the miniature golf course, restaurant and 300-space surface parking lot. The County Executive noted that new signage to "brand" the complex is being designed and will be instituted at the site later this year.
Work on the miniature golf course and surface parking area is anticipated to begin in the spring 2010. A vendor to operate the restaurant will be chosen before construction of the restaurant will begin. The development will be funded through the Essex County Improvement Authority's Pooled Government Loan Program and the Essex County Capital Budget.
Revitalizing the Essex County South Mountain Complex and Reservation
Since taking office, the DiVincenzo administration has made over $20 million worth of improvements to Turtle Back Zoo, introduced new natural habitat exhibits and developed new amenities such as the Carousel. The upgrades have been funded with grants received from the NJ Green Acres program, donations from corporations or philanthropic organizations. The Zoo earned accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and, in each of the last four years, new attendance records have been set and the facility is on pace to welcome over 450,000 visitors in 2009. For the second consecutive year Turtle Back will be a self-sustaining facility, meaning the amount of revenue it creates will exceed its operating budget. Traditionally, admission fees make up just 30 percent of zoo revenues.
Codey Arena also has received a major, $12 million renovation, the first major improvements in the arena's history, in September 2005. The improvements transformed the building into a premiere ice skating facility and made it able to accommodate other events, such as concerts, boxing events and carnivals. The project was funded, in part, with grants from the State of New Jersey, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund and the Casino Reinvestment Development Corporation. It was the first time Essex County received a CRDA grant.
The Essex County South Mountain Park N Ride was opened in 2004 and accommodates 477 vehicles. The facility provides safe and convenient parking for commuters traveling to New York City as well as much-needed parking for special events at the Arena and Turtle Back Zoo. It was funded with a grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
The proposal to develop the former archery field is the latest project being undertaken by the DiVincenzo administration to enhance South Mountain Reservation.
Working with the South Mountain Conservancy, a project to accelerate the regrowth of the forest understory in South Mountain Reservation was completed earlier this year. A total of 42 enclosures were constructed to protect the more than 10,000 native plant species that were reintroduced to the Reservation. The planting is part of an ongoing initiative to reverse damage at the Reservation caused by years of neglect and overbrowsing by deer.
In 2005, a series of improvements were made to repair hiking trails, address erosion problems and improve access to the reservation. In 2006, Essex County and the Conservancy developed a Master Plan that provides a comprehensive overview of South Mountain Reservation and recommends a series of upgrades be made to maintain and revitalize the area. The 2-acre South Mountain Dog Park was opened in July 2006 and has become a popular attraction on Crest Drive. These projects were funded with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.
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 20 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Essex County's South Mountain Reservation covers 2,047.14 acres and is located in West Orange, Maplewood and South Orange. It is the largest reservation in Essex County.