Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that 42,601 people visited and over 5.5 tons of non-perishable food, clothing and toys were collected for those in need during the 7th Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo.
During the six-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, visitors to the Holiday Lights Spectacular were given free admission and asked to make a donation that would benefit several organizations dedicated to helping the less fortunate.
“It is wonderful to see the large amount of items dropped off during the Holiday Lights Spectacular to assist the less fortunate," DiVincenzo said. "These donations show the generous spirit and caring that exists in our community and certainly helped make a difference during the holiday season to those who need assistance. We offered free admission to the Holiday Lights as a way to give back to our residents and make the event available to everyone, and our visitors responded with extraordinary generosity to help the less fortunate."
The 42,601 visitors at the Holiday Lights Spectacular this winter was the second highest attendance record for the winter attraction, coming in behind the 2011 attendance of 52,878. In addition, there were 9,619 pounds of food – about 5.5 tons – of non-perishable food collected for the Community FoodBank of NJ, 5,984 toys collected for the Jersey Battered Women’s Services and 1,778 winter coats donated to the Red Cross chapters in Montclair and Fairfield. The amount of toys and winter coats collected in 2013 almost equaled the amount of toys and winter coats collected in the three previous years.
This was the fourth consecutive year that visitors were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations over the past three years amount to over 21 tons of non-perishable food, 12,770 toys and 3,417 winter coats.
About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures lit up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. Over 100,000 lights illuminated figures of bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes. The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular was sponsored by Covanta Energy, PSE&G, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.
Essex County also had another record year at Turtle Back Zoo. In 2013, there were 621,818 visitors – the first time in zoo history that annual attendance eclipsed the 600,000 mark, the fourth consecutive year that attendance surpassed the half million mark and the ninth consecutive year that a new annual attendance record was set. In addition, the $5.1 million in revenue collected in 2013 was the 10th consecutive year that a new annual revenue record was set. In addition, it was the sixth consecutive year that Turtle Back Zoo operated as a self-sufficient facility, meaning the amount of revenue collected exceeded operating expenses.
DiVincenzo stated that new attractions at Turtle Back Zoo produce revenue. These include nominal fees to ride the endangered species-themed carousel, to take a Pony Ride, purchase feed sticks for the Outback Adventure Aviary, purchase commemorative photographs by the Turtle Back Zoo miniature train ride, play at the miniGOLF Safari and climb through the trees in the Treetop Adventure Course. The zoo also receives revenue from McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant.
2014 looks to be another exciting year as a new Education Building and second entrance are scheduled to open.