WEST ORANGE, NJ – A little bit of rain didn’t stop families from attending the first annual Mini Golf Classic at the Turtle Back Zoo on June 20, which raised monies for educational programs at the zoo. Before the event, over $100,000 was raised, and guests had the opportunity to make on-site donations on Saturday.

On Saturday, generations of families came out to support the Turtle Back Zoo and Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. noted that the zoo is important to all young people in Essex County.

“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,” said DiVincenzo.

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Under the leadership of event chair, Kerri Berson Levine, DiVincenzo Jr. and the Zoological Society of New Jersey, a day of mini golf was planned for families with children of all ages.

For Levine, the past eight or nine months have been spent planning a sponsored day filled with mini golf, video games, carnival games, face painters, magicians and food trucks.

“I grew up in Essex County,” said Levine, who said she was proud that her hard work, time, and commitment paid off.

As a child who spent many days at the zoo, Levine said that she “holds a special place” for the Turtle Back Zoo.

Many of the participants in the Mini Golf Classic also recounted going to the zoo as a child, and said they are now getting to share their memories with their children.

This was the case for Peter Pannucci and his daughter Alexa. Peter said he remembers getting to go to the zoo as a child and riding on top of a giant turtle.

“It’s for a great cause, I’ve gone here since I was a child,” said Peter.

Alexa said she came out to play because “it’s fun” and that she was excited to play at the Essex County Mini Golf Safari for the first time.

While families were lining up to get on the course, there were many attractions for those not playing mini golf too. Carnival games and sand art stations were set up around the parking lot, along with food trucks and a decorate-your-own cupcake station.

Zoo employees were also at the event ready to introduce reptiles and birds to those attending. Many took the opportunity to take pictures of the animals on display.

In addition to animals and games, guests were also able to make animal masks and decorate their own golf balls.

For many guests, including Jake and Jennifer Buurma of Montclair, attending this event was very important.

“We want to be able to support with social outreach,” said Jennifer. “The Zoo’s a very important landmark for Essex County.”

Today, the zoo encompasses zoo grounds, a miniature golf course, and the Education Center. The addition of the Education Center at the zoo in 2014 has proven to be a key asset to the Essex County Park System, according to DiVincenzo.

“We were pleased to partner with the Zoological Society to present this unique, fun-filled fundraising event that the entire family could enjoy,” said DiVincenzo, who made time to play his own round of mini golf.

Another thing the entire family will soon be able to enjoy will be the new giraffe exhibit that is coming soon to the zoo.

In addition, this summer there will be “Family Nights” and Zoo-Vies. Click HERE for information.

To "like" TAP into West Orange and see more photos from the event, click HERE for the photo album.