WEST ORANGE, NJ — Renovations to the Prairie Dog Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo are officially complete and the interactive attraction has been reopened to the public.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., who announced the project’s completion this week, renovations were made in order to enhance visitors’ viewing perspective.

“We are always looking for ways to improve the experience our visitors have at Turtle Back Zoo,” said DiVincenzo. “The new glass walls at the Prairie Dog Exhibit allow our visitors to get even closer to watch the animals and provide an unobstructed view of them in a natural habitat-themed space.”

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As one of many recent upgrades to the Turtle Back Zoo, the Prairie Dog Exhibit received a comprehensive facelift, which included replacing all the concrete walkways around the exhibit; installing new six-foot-high glass walls around the animal area to provide unobstructed views of the prairie area; new split-wood fencing around the perimeter of the exhibit; and a small sitting area for children.

In addition, the tunnels, which children can crawl through and imitate a ground hog popping up from his burrow, were cleaned and repainted.

“Joe DiVincenzo is always thinking of ways to make the zoo better, so I’m always happy to be here,” said Freeholder Patricia Sebold.

“I like this exhibit. The improvements lets children get closer and see the prairie dogs better,” said Freeholder Leonard Luciano.

Under an existing contract, French & Parrello from Wall designed the upgrades and Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $400,817 to perform the construction work. The Department of Public Works (DPW) monitored the project and answered questions to avoid delays.

Funding was provided through a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. The construction started in the spring and took about four months to complete.

“Prairie dogs are iconic American animals that define our move west,” said Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer. “The changes made to update this exhibit create great opportunities for the public to view these animals up close.”

The ongoing development of natural habitat exhibits is intended to transform the Turtle Back Zoo into a destination. In each of the last 11 years, new annual attendance records have been established.

Last year, the Zoo welcomed 755,239 visitors—the first time in the Zoo’s history that the 700,000 mark was eclipsed.

Turtle Back Zoo recently earned its second five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which sets the gold standard for animal care and management, has been named best zoo in the state by NJ Monthly magazine four times, and received TripAdvisor.com’s Certificate of Excellence the past three years. 

Turtle Back Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Regular admission is $11 for children and senior citizens, $14 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo.