West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Zoological Society of New Jersey today held the first annual Mini Golf Classic to support the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo’s Education Center. The fundraiser was hosted at the Essex County miniGOLF Safari at the Essex County South Mountain Recreational Complex in West Orange, and raised over $100,000.

The Mini Golf Classic was a family-friendly event, with several activities to entertain both children and adults. Adult and child teams competed in the mini golf tournament with awards for best scores and performances. The event also included a family carnival, live music, special contests and a raffle drawing where guests bid on the chance to name a pony, create zoo art with an animal, and various other prizes. Meanwhile, some of the Zoo’s animals also attended the event – and cheered on the humans. All proceeds will benefit the educational programs at Turtle Back Zoo.

 “The opening of our Zoo Education Center gave us the facilities and space to expand our educational programming and outreach to assist in our mission of raising awareness about the importance of conservation and environmental protection,” DiVincenzo said. “We were pleased to partner with the Zoological Society to present this unique, fun-filled fundraising event that the entire family could enjoy,” he added.

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 The Education Center opened in July 2014. The 12,000-square-foot building provides four additional classrooms for educational programming and summer camps, exhibit areas in addition to an open-air space on the second floor than can be used as an outdoor classroom. The building was funded through a partnership between Essex County and the Zoological Society of New Jersey, a non-profit committed to science, education and wildlife conservation, and private donors.

 “The zoo’s ability to provide an accessible and unique outdoor recreation experience has made it one of New Jersey’s top attractions. We’re proud to support the facility’s efforts to both entertain and educate families and schoolchildren on the importance of wildlife education and conservation,” said Zoological Society of New Jersey Board of Trustees President John Doeffinger.

 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 688m359 in 2014 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 five 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. It also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine in each of the last four years and received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com the last three years.

 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 constructing a new Education Building; 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.