To the Editor:

A fellow Millburn resident alerted me that there is an ordinance coming before the Essex County Board of Freeholders tomorrow evening to authorize $21,000,000 in funding – half matching grant, half Open Space funds – for two projects, including a new bear exhibit at the Turtle Back Zoo.  To me the expenditure is not the main issue, though I would rather see Open Space funds, especially at this point in our continued overdevelopment, used exclusively to preserve land in its natural state, or to improve potentially unsafe areas like the structures over and around Campbells Pond.  And I will leave the pros and cons of keeping animals in any type of “zoo,” to others.  

I love the zoo and its iconic train, and so does my grandson, as did my children before him. However, I have become very concerned that too much of a good thing is very soon going to compromise recreation in the whole of our beautiful and precious South Mountain Reservation, roil its traffic, and irretrievably spoil its natural qualities and availability to all County residents. It never was meant to be, and should not become, a stampeded "Bronx Zoo" or destination venue, and there will be no turning back as it approaches that scale.  Turtle Back has become justifiably popular, as evidenced by the need for yet another parking garage which, even on existing zoo land, means more impermeable surface, more auto emissions in the reservation, and even more traffic and more crowds. It’s wonderful that so many like the zoo, and that we who live locally can share it with them, but if we continue to build more attractions and more parking garages and even more roads, take up more space and take down more trees, either inside or out of the zoo proper, we are changing the nature of both the zoo and the preserve it inhabits, in a way that is not recoverable.

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If there is any lesson in where we find ourselves in a time of climate change and extreme weather brought on by our own “achievements” and abilities, it is that these become indulgences when we don’t realize when to stop, and this is definitely one of those instances.

Please consider attending the public hearing for this project tomorrow, Wednesday, April 10, at 7PM to voice your concerns to the decision makers.  It will be held at the Bloomfield Town Hall, 1 Municipal Plaza, Bloomfield, and will be near the top of the evening’s agenda.

Phil Kirsch