Monthly Archives: September 2013

New Education Center coming to Turtle Back Zoo




12,000-Square-Foot Facility will Provide Additional Classroom Space

and New Entrance into Zoo


West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. was joined by Governor Chris Christie at the groundbreaking of the new Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Education Building on Thursday, September 12th. The new, 12,000-square-foot building provides four additional classrooms for educational programming and summer camps, exhibit areas and a second entrance to the Zoo for groups arriving by bus or individuals who park in the Park N Ride.


“There is no doubt that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has become a major destination. We have been named the best Zoo in New Jersey for the last three years and are on pace to surpass 600,000 in annual attendance for the first time ever. This is phenomenal growth that has made us look at how we can expand the zoo so everyone continues to have a great experience,” DiVincenzo said. “This facility will assist us greatly in furthering our mission of promoting conservation and awareness about animals and the environment, as well as providing an improved experience for our visitors. It also will serve as a second entrance to the zoo, providing those arriving by bus a safer and more efficient entry into our facility,” he noted.


“Today’s groundbreaking marks the latest expansion for Turtle Back Zoo and another opportunity for New Jerseyans to enjoy the upgraded facilities and programs available at the Zoo,” said Governor Chris Christie, who served as the Honorary Chairman of the Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which raised money for the capital campaign to construct the new education building. “I have many fond memories of visiting Turtle Back Zoo as a child and I thank County Executive DiVincenzo for his leadership and efforts to ensure that many more generations of New Jersey residents, especially children and students, are able to create their own memories visiting the Zoo,” he added.


This 12,000-square-foot, two-story facility will be developed in the eastern section of the zoo near the Treetop Adventure Course and Endangered Species Carousel. The first floor will have four classrooms with moveable walls, enabling the size of the rooms to be changed, along with a large lobby, six exhibit areas, animal holding areas and storage rooms. The second floor is half the size of the first floor and will have office space for the Zoo Director, Animal Curator and a conference/break room. A large portion of the second floor will be an open-air space that can be used as an outdoor classroom. The second floor will have the Treetop Adventure Course as its view.


Educational programming for the new building is being underwritten with a 10-year grant from Millburn resident Marc E. Berson, Chairman of The Fidelco Group. “Our family is proud to be a part of the incredible change and growth to The Turtle Back Zoo, a major destination in Essex County that was scheduled to be shut down not long ago. Boating, mini golf, climbing, skating, sea lions and now the expansion of education with a phenomenal new facility is truly government at its best,” said Kerri H. Berson from The Fidelco Group. “We truly support The Educational Center Programming – a place to foster education of such important topics of conservation and awareness of animals, plants and the environment for those from the suburbs and cities alike in our great State,” she added.


In addition to providing space for educational programs, the new building will serve as a second entrance for groups arriving by bus. The second point of entry will relieve congestion at the original entrance. Since the new building will be constructed on the old bus parking area, a new bus parking area was created at the Oakdale section in South Mountain Reservation across the street from the paddle boating and picnic area at the Orange Reservoir.


“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Turtle Back Zoo, it is exciting to see it growing and getting better every day,” Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. “We are pleased that our Governor is again supporting another project at the Zoo, and we are proud to partner with the County Executive to create recreation and education facilities to benefit the development of our young people,” she added.


“Quite simply, Turtle Back has a mission to promote education, conservation and recreation. This new facility will allow us to jump start our education program because it gives us the ability to introduce more programs at the site,” Acting Zoo Director Brint Spencer said. “In addition to the additional classrooms, there is three times as much space for animal holding areas, which will give us the opportunity to present new programs and highlight more diverse animals,” he added.


USA Architects from Newark received a professional services contract for $276,976 to design the building. Bismark Construction Corp. from Newark was awarded a publicly bid contract for $7,553,000 to perform the construction. The Essex County Department of Public Works will work with the contractors to address questions and keep the project on schedule. The project is being paid for with grants from the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, a loan from the Essex County Improvement Authority’s Pooled Government Loan Program and funds from the Essex County Capital Budget. The Zoological Society will repay the ECIA PGLP with annual contributions over the next five years. The Education Center is anticipated to be open by the fall of 2014.


In the past 10 years, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has roared back to life from the verge of closure by a previous administration. Attendance at this beloved destination has increased from 168,739 in 2002 to 560,402 in 2012 and revenue topped $4 million for the first time in 2012. This has enabled the Zoo to operate as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last four years. In addition, Turtle Back earned its second five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2011, a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education.


Current hours for the Zoo are Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years. For more information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit


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.

Upcoming Events

  • February 20, 2017See the Seas Mini-Camp, Parts I and II
  • February 25, 2017 11:00 amSeasonal Job Fair
  • February 25, 2017 2:00 pmSOLD OUT - Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • February 26, 2017 2:00 pmMembers Only- Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • March 4, 2017 12:00 pmSummer Camp Open House
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