People Flock To Turtle Back Zoo For Open House

By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Thousands of people fled towards the gates of Turtle Back Zoo, West Orange, on Sat., June 4, for the 14th Annual Essex County Open House.

There was live music, clowns, carnival games, treasure chests, giveaways, prize wheels and trivia tests, providing exciting entertainment for children as their parents gathered around more than 10 information tables that provided information about public awareness programs and services provided by Essex County. Directors and employees were on hand to answer questions. It was a great way for Essex County residents to meet the people who work for their county.

The Open House included free admission to the zoo, which features: a mini-golf safari miniature golf course, sea lions, sting rays and sharks in a touch tank, a state-of-the-art reptile and education building, jaguars, snow leopards, Gibbon apes, wolves, otters, alligators, reptiles, and bears. There is also a beautiful gift shop.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., said, “We’ve done this for fourteen years. We’re here to socialize and network for Essex County. And it’s an opportunity to see the zoo for free.” According to DiVincenzo, last year there were 16,000 people in attendance. He said, “We’re hoping to hit 20,000 today.”

This event was formerly held at a small setting in the Hall of Records, according to Anthony Puglisi, Public Information director. But the zoo can accommodate a lot more people.

Puglisi said, “Not many people know about what the county government does and how it affects their life. It’s informational and we try to make it fun.”

Claudette Hampton, case manager and nurse at Essex County Special Child Health Services said, “We’re here to education the public about community health and special child services. And [for the public to] know about various resources in Essex County.”

Other Essex County tables exhibits included: Paper Mill Playhouse, Family Wrap, New Jersey’s Early Intervention System, Essex County Juvenile Detention Center, New Jersey Mental Health Cares, OACANP (The Oranges ACA Navigator Project), and Essex County Vocational Technical Schools.

Attendees were able to enjoy the new giraffe exhibit which just opened up, as well as the recently opened bison exhibit with a new viewing area to get up close and look into. Puglisi said, “Before there was a split rail fence. You couldn’t get close to the animals.”

The prairie dog exhibit will also be upgraded. Puglisi said, “We’re changing the way the public views so you get more of a clear picture; before it was a high glass wall.” A lion exhibit is also in the works.

In addition to the new animal exhibits and developments, the café expanded to two stories, which triples the capacity of what it was before. “It will help with crowds,” said Puglisi. “Improvements enhance the area for the public.”

According to DiVincenzo, “NJ Monthly” magazine named Turtle Back Zoo the best zoo in New Jersey the last four years. And the zoo has always been awarded with a Certificate of Excellence in the last three years.

For more information on Essex County, visit

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