Essex County News

South Mountain Recreation Complex Opens Paddle Boating and Picnic Pavilion; Turtle Back Zoo Receives 2013 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor

The walkway leading to a seating area and paddle boats. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
The paddle boats (shaped like swans) await visitors at the dock. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
The entrance to the Paddle Boating and Picnic Pavilion from the Parking lot on Cherry Lane. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, Chief of Staff Phil Alagia, and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Freeholders Len Luciano, Brendan Gill and Blonnie Watson. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
From West Orange: Sal Anderton, Mayor Rob Parisi and Councilwoman Patty Spango. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ - It's been a big week for the South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange.  The long-awaited Paddle Boating and Picnic Pavilion opened for business on Cherry Lane on July 19, and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo announced on July 18 that Turtle Back Zoo has received a Certificate of Excellence for 2013 from TripAdvisor, placing the Zoo in their top ten percent of rated businesses.

The beautifully landscaped area on Cherry Lane features paddle boats, a pavilion, walking paths and parking across the street.  The public will be able to rent paddle boats seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Rates are $14 for a two-person boat for a half hour and $18 for a four-person boat for a half hour.

“The Orange Reservoir is a spectacular and unmatched natural setting that is totally unexpected in Essex County. The opening of the picnic pavilion and introduction of paddle boats into the water will provide the public with new opportunities to enjoy the amazing vistas, beautiful waterway and magnificent open space,” DiVincenzo said. “With Turtle Back Zoo, miniGOLF Safari, Boathouse Restaurant, Codey Arena and the revamped Treetop Adventure Course soon to open nearby, the Reservoir is an ideal extension to our popular South Mountain Recreation Complex.  It will be a place where families and people of all ages will come to escape the hustle and bustle of their busy lives.” 

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Also present was Mayor Dwayne Warren of Orange, who negotiated a 20-year, 1.6 million dollar lease with the county in October of 2012.  Orange will lease the Reservoir property to the county, and the county will be responsible for all maintenance and development costs.

“We want to thank the County Executive for being an open partner with the Township of Orange. We appreciate the attention and resources you have given to us,” Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren said. Orange will be hosting a senior citizen picnic in August at the Pavilion.

Several other Essex County elected officials were present to express their enthusiasm over the project's completion and offer thanks to the county, builders, and administrators that made it possible.

“What a perfect setting this will be for a wedding or a birthday party, and the many other possibilities for family and community get-togethers this has. What’s also important is how close and easily accessible this is for the public,” NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.

“I want to thank Joe DiVincenzo for his vision. When he brings projects like these to the Board of Freeholders, he has a first-class plan that is well-thought out, funded and will have great benefits for the community,” Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. “We also appreciate our partnership with the City of Orange. It shows what can be accomplished when we work together.”  Also representing the Board were Freeholders Leonard Luciano and Brendan Gill.

“This is another great project by Joe DiVincenzo,” said West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi. “West Orange and Essex County are forever intertwined because of the facilities they have in our township. The upgrades that he has made at the South Mountain Recreation Complex have enhanced our community.”  Also representing West Orange was Councilwoman Patty Spango, who thanked the county for 'putting West Orange on the map."

To complete the project, a 30-by-60 foot open air pavilion was constructed; a floating dock was built to accommodate the paddle boats; restrooms and a boat rental booth were installed; and the partking lot across the street was reconstructed.

Anthony Pugliese, publicist for Joe DiVincenzo, stated that "The project was designed by French & Perrello Associates from Wall under an existing engineering contract. Shauger Property Services from East Orange received a publicly bid contract for $2,371,458 to perform the construction work. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project so delays were avoided. Grants from the NJ Green Acres Program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund funded the improvements"

The last phase of development calls for the installation of bridges to link the reservation to the new area.

On July 18, Joe DiVincenzo also announced that Turtle Back Zoo had received a Certificateof Excellence from TripAdvisor, one of the largest internet travel sites.  The certification, a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating, honors excellence in hospitality by the visitors themselves.  This places the Zoo in TripAdvisor's Top Ten Percent of Businesses worldwide.

“The TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence is the best kind of recognition to receive because it comes directly from our visitors’ comments and shows how memorable a time they have at the Zoo. This outpouring of support demonstrates that Turtle Back is a beloved institution and we thank our visitors for their kind words,” DiVincenzo said. “The Zoo is a special place where an afternoon wildlife adventure can raise awareness about the importance of animals and conservation while creating family memories that will last a lifetime,” he noted.

For more information on the Paddle Boating and Picnic Pavilion, go to

For more information on Turtle Back Zoo, go to






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