WEST ORANGE, NJ — The third parking deck at the Turtle Back Zoo and Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex, creating space for about 500 additional vehicles, was officially opened this week with a celebratory ribbon cutting. According to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, the new deck will provide much-needed additional parking to accommodate guests.

DiVincenzo, who has spearheaded more than $100 million in upgrades to the zoo since taking office in 2003, said that introducing new animal habitat exhibits and visitor amenities has it one of the most popular destinations in New Jersey. With the record numbers of visitors who continue to come, he stated that the two existing parking garages “were no longer sufficient to meet [the] demand for parking.”

“Building a third deck will provide us with additional on-site parking and help alleviate congestion caused by patrons looking for a place to park," he said.

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The third parking deck been developed where the zoo's maintenance and storage facilities were located. The first floor of the parking garage has been designed and outfitted as a new indoor maintenance and storage area.

According to the county, the Turtle Back Zoo has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors annually and helped establish new annual attendance records in 14 of the last 15 years. Two on-site parking garages were built in 2004 and 2015, but additional parking was still needed.

"As Turtle Back Zoo has grown in popularity, a by-product has been the lack of parking spaces," said Adam Kerins, Zoological Society of NJ Executive Director. “Today, that problem is being addressed with this new deck.”

Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, a resident of neighboring Livingston, agreed, stating that the parking deck is “a great addition to Turtle Back Zoo” that not provides additional parking, but also “improves the maintenance area."

To accommodate the third on-site parking deck, several-hundred feet of track from the Turtle Back Zoo miniature train ride needed to be relocated and a new maintenance building needed to be constructed. These changes were completed in the spring of 2019, which allowed the construction of the deck to proceed.

According to the county, freezer space for animal food has been doubled in size and there are also electric charging stations for golf carts and other equipment used by zoo staff as well as locker rooms for staff. The county further explained that the covered facility will make operations more efficient and provide better working conditions and cleaner storage areas.

Construction on the parking deck started in February and was completed in about 10 months.

Comito Associates from Newark received a $498,725 professional services contract to design the parking deck and services for the train maintenance building. DMD Contracting from Wayne was awarded a publicly bid $14.5 million contract to build the parking deck, according to the county.

The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project to ensure delays were avoided, and funding for the parking deck came from the Essex County Operating Budget.

Pictured with the county executive (center) at the ribbon cutting ceremony (from left) are:

  • Deputy Parks Director Kate Hartwyk;
  • Parks Director Dan Salvante;
  • Deputy Essex County Chief of Staff William Payne;
  • Essex County Chief of Staff Phil Alagia;
  • Essex County Freeholders Len Luciano and Patricia Sebold,
  • Architect Greg Comito of Comito and Associates; and
  • Members of the Turtle Back Zoo and construction staffs.

The public is currently encouraged to visit the annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at the Turtle Back Zoo, where free admission will be offered from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. until Tuesday, Dec. 31. The display will be closed on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. CLICK HERE to learn more about this annual event.

The zoo is also open seven days a week beginning at 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Current winter admission is $12 for adults, $10 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years.

For more information, visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo or call 973-731-5800.