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 and clicking on the link to the Purchasing Portal or by directly visiting the Essex County Purchasing Portal at 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.