This is a press release from Essex County. Press releases are official statements that have not been independently verified.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced a long-term partnership agreement with Investors Bank to become the official sponsor of the miniature train ride at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. In addition, the County Executive announced that improvements to make the Turtle Back Junction train station more handicap accessible have been completed.
“I am so pleased to join with Kevin Cummings and Investors Bank to announce another great partnership at Turtle Back Zoo. Investors first became part of our Zoo family when they sponsored our Prehistoric Playground. Supporting the train will be an extension of their commitment to Turtle Back and a continuing example of their commitment to the community. I want to thank Kevin for his friendship and support,” DiVincenzo said. “The miniature train has been our most popular attractions and the improvements we made will make it more accessible so everyone can enjoy it,” he added.
“Turtle Back Zoo is something we all can be proud of, and the train ride is a fantastic attraction for families. Under Joe’s leadership, the zoo has become a special place and real jewel for New Jersey. Frist and foremost, Investors is a community bank and, now more than ever, we are committed to partnering with our communities to pull us through these difficult times,” Investors Bank Chairman and CEO Kevin Cummings said.
“Investors Bank has been a great partner with Essex County on projects such as this but also in other areas of our community. I also commend our County Executive for another successful project and congratulate him on his vision for the zoo,” Freeholder President Brendan Gill said.
“The train ride is probably our most popular attraction and I want to thank Joe DiVincenzo for enhancing access so all families can enjoy it. I also want to thank Kevin Cummings and Investors Bank. This is just another example of how they are helping the Zoo and giving back to the community,” Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said.
The entrance pathway to Turtle Back Junction sponsored by Investors Bank was transformed into an entry plaza to make the train station platform more accessible. The open area makes the area more handicap accessible and easier to navigate for adults pushing strollers. A trellis was constructed to provide shade.
The Essex County Department of Public Works designed the improvements to the train station and monitored the project to ensure delays were avoided. Tsivicos Enterprises from Neptune was awarded a publicly-bid contract for $811,000 to perform the construction work. Funding was provided through the Capital Budget and a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Work started in February and was completed in three months.
Turtle Back Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $17 for adults, $14 for senior citizens over 62 and children ages 2 to 12, and free for children under 2. To promote social distancing, tickets must be purchased in advance at turtlebackzoo.com/admission-hours/. For more information, visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo or call 973-731-5800.
The miniature train ride remained relatively unchanged since the zoo opened in 1963 until last year when the route of the tracks was realigned to accommodate a third on-site parking deck and a new train maintenance building. The new building provides a more efficient environment to work on the train engines and cars when they need to be repaired or require routine maintenance. A below-ground mechanics well allows employees to work underneath the train with the engine being lifted or removed and transported to another site. This feature reduces the amount of time it takes to repair an engine and keep the trains running on schedule.
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has roared back to life from the verge of closure by a previous administration. Attendance reached an all-time high of 907,522 in 2017 and the zoo has operated as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last eleven years. In addition, Turtle Back is accredited by American Humane, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of American, a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education. It also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine four times and received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com three times.
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 the African Adventure with four Masai giraffes, lions and hyenas, and South African Penguins; the Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit; Leopard Exhibit; a new Educational Building; the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; 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, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy, Matrix Development Group, the family of Ronald Mount 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.