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Essex County prides itself on the Turtle Back Zoo, while many West Orange residents say enough is enough. Traffic, parking, pedestrian safety, animals that don't thrive in NJ climates... West Orange is not Orlando, and residents don't want a Disney in their back yard.
Help give the Zoo animals a voice, and lend a hand to West Orange residents, friends, and family. Please consider signing the TBZ Petition. Thank you!
As reported by a West Orange resident, and member of OGWO:"The Turtle Back Zoo wants to build a five-story parking deck on the site of the train station and move the train station nearby. 75 trees will come down and 130 trees are to be planted.It was a fiery evening of questioning the Zoo’s engineers and landscape architect. Even the PB weighed in, especially Lee Klein a traffic engineer on the PB. Everyone was incredulous that there was no traffic study to justify the parking deck and the egress and exit off of Northfield Ave!Harvey Grossman [WO Public Advocate] also brought up an important matter: the fire codes suggested by our Fire Department were not being adhered to. Imagine a fire breaking out in the train depot or parking area? He vigorously reprimanded them. It was heartwarming.Why is this important? It is a quality of life issue for WO residents who don’t want our corner of the reservation made into Disneyland. We also don’t want elephants and grizzly bears brought in. How could we sleep at night, knowing they were locked into pens?We need the zoo to stop driving attendance.As one resident asked, “What is the capacity of the area? If you are in a restaurant there is a sign on the wall that states the capacity allowed…..”She added that it took her an hour to drive from the Millburn Diner to her home in West Orange on a Saturday morning.
Human activities that rely on animals can become desperate operations, often defended and obscured by those who make their living from them. Thus the drive for more and bigger animals and more crowds, to prove how great the humans are.At 10:45 the PB proposed a resolution asking the Zoo for: A traffic study, a green wall to hide the monstrosity, upgrade to the fire prevention plan and a landscape plan.The County can decide to comply or not."
Anthony Puglisi (County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo's spokesperson) presented the latest news about the Turtle Back Zoo's expansion. He answered questions sent to him by former Councilman Joseph Krakoviak. (From traffic, environmental impacts, and noise, to costs, safety, and transparency.)
Essex County is spending millions to upgrade the Turtle Back Zoo.
Location: Turtle Back Zoo Education Center, 560 Northfield Ave., W.O.
OGWO states: "The Zoo is now on the verge of becoming both a nuisance and a danger. With 900,000 annual visitors in 2017, the traffic is now noticeable.
Trees have been planted to replace those that have been cut down for zoo expansion, but they are too close together. One cannot replace a forest ecosystem with trees scattered in traffic areas. The South Mountain reservation was not meant to be developed, it is a reserve.
We are also concerned about the potential for accidents to both pedestrians, visitors, and to the animals themselves. Limited sidewalk and parking options for visitors, poor shuttle service, loss of parking spaces for entrance expansion, seating for persons with disabilities, traffic entanglements on a busy and major thoroughfare, loss of trees and reservation land, and so many rare animals out of their native environments and in the hands of accident-prone humans.
We need to focus on protected land for animals to run free and live normal lives, not be traded, transported or exhibited to the public.
Please consider attending Freeholder meetings to share your thoughts on the Zoo's expansion, attend Town Council Meetings to share your concerns during public comment, write the County Executive, and sign the petition stating that the ZOO IS BIG ENOUGH.
WO does not need $900,000 spent on flamingos - we need $900,000 spent on safety and protection of our natural environment!"
South Mountain Reservation, a 2,110 acre woodland replete with waterfalls, forests, picnic and recreation areas and a rich biome was designated at the end of the 19th century. It is a locale of many historically important sites dating back to the American Revolution.
The reservation was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and other famous preserved lands. South Mountain has been enjoyed by generations of residents and abuts on six different towns. A small zoo, the Turtle Back Zoo was designed as part of the Reservation on just 15.5 acres and intended as a children’s petting zoo with a fairy tale theme for local children. The environmental impact of the original zoo was deliberately limited and included a small train that ran through a part of the reservation.
Since 2003, County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo has used questionable means to clearcut 10 acres of the reservation to dramatically expand the zoo, installing amusement-park style attractions such as a carousel, zip lines, mini-golf, a restaurant, paddle boats and parking structures. He has also added exotic animals, including many for whom the climate of New Jersey is inappropriate and hazardous resulting in maltreatment and deaths. In 2017, a giraffe died of a toothache. This summer, a beloved lion died.
The county has claimed that the zoo plays an important role in conservation of animal species and the education of the public on the importance of conservation. The very fact that so much damage has been caused to preserved land with more to come belies this specious claim. That the Zoo would tout the importance of the environment and its inhabitants, while refusing requests to complete an environmental impact study is unacceptable..
Since the Turtle Back Zoo began its expansion & marketing campaign, human and vehicle traffic to the zoo has increased dramatically and profits have vanished into the coffers of the county rather than being used to increase conservation or benefit the local communities in any way. (Driving along Northfield Avenue on any given "beautiful day" or during the Zoo's holiday light show is proof enough why the County is reluctant to share traffic or crash data.)
Now, the county is set on more destruction paid for by millions of your tax dollars. An additional 135 trees are to be clear-cut to make way for a 500 seat “Conservation Pavillon”. (A genius marketing ploy for such a destructive project…)
The county argues that the pavilion is necessary to accommodate the supposed educational needs of school and private groups visiting the zoo. In reality, the proposed pavilion more closely resembles a circus with entertainment-oriented gigantic LED lighting, screens and a sound system that will further damage and degrade the environment. Neighboring residents, whose lifestyle has already been negatively impact, are concerned about the effect of more noise, light, air pollution, congestion and crowds.
In addition, the pavilion’s proposed crate-style animal cages (fitted with slamming guillotine gates) highlight that the planned animal demonstrations are really entertainment-oriented performances with wild animals being subjected to stress and cruelty rather than cared for and nurtured. This is in violation of the newly enacted “Nosey Law,” signed by Governor Murphy to prohibit the use of exotic animals in traveling circus acts. According to the Zoo's written description, there are plans in place to rent out the pavilion for private functions and performances at “premium prices,” further damaging the natural environment.
Finally, the entire planning process has taken place without any regard to the master development plans of surrounding townships, and was created by planners who are unlicensed in New Jersey.
The “Conservation Pavillon” is anything but. If the county’s plans are allowed to go through, then not only will irreparable damage have been done to one of Essex County’s last natural spaces, but a path will have been paved for further encroachment and destruction. As a result of the clear-cutting that has already happened, local roads are repeatedly flooded. Further clear-cutting will cause even more damage. Educating children about conservation should not be done at the expense of animals and the environment. We know better, please help educate our elected and appointed officials to know better, too.