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News

Too Much To Bear? $16M Turtle Back Zoo Grant Causes Controversy

Thousands of people have signed a petition opposing a $16 million state grant to build a grizzly bear exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange as well as $5 million in funds to repair some ballfields in Glen Ridge.
Thousands of people have signed a petition opposing a $16 million state grant to build a grizzly bear exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange as well as $5 million in funds to repair some ballfields in Glen Ridge. Photo Credit: Turtle Back Zoo

Thousands of people have signed a petition opposing a $16 million state grant to build a grizzly bear exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange as well as $5 million in funds to repair some ballfields in Glen Ridge.

“I object to the New Jersey taxpayer-funded Green Acres program granting The Turtle Back Zoo Entertainment Complex $16 million for a Grizzly Bear Exhibit and $5 million to renovate baseball fields in Brookdale Park in Glen Ridge,” the petition, addressed to administrators with the Green Acres program and elected officials, states.

Although the petitioners mention both projects, they focus most of their attention on the proposed bear exhibit, alleging that it would be cruel to keep the animals at the zoo and that tree-cutting to accommodate zoo improvements has gotten out of hand.

The petitioners also focused much of their outrage on quality of life problems they say are caused by the zoo and the hundreds of thousands of visitors it draws each year. In 2017, the zoo set another attendance record when more than 900,000 people came to visit, according to figures provided by Essex County.

On April 23, the petition states, school buses traveling through town were delayed because of a huge influx of weekday visitors.

“The traffic is unendurable for the residents who live on the surrounding streets of the Zoo. Some wait forty minutes to drive past the Zoo. The Zoo is insensitive to the residents of West Orange by continuing to drive attendance and traffic.”

In February, the county announced plans to construct a parking deck that officials say will help ease traffic congestion on Northfield Avenue. It will be the third parking deck at the facility and will be big enough for about 500 vehicles.

In a statement, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo defended the construction of the new exhibit but also said planners will take the concerns of area residents into account.

“We are always looking to create new exhibits that will continually improve our visitors’ experience at Turtle Back Zoo and encourage them to come back again and again. We believe a new bear exhibit will generate excitement and help raise awareness about our conservation and education initiatives. We currently are at the very beginning of the design and planning phase and will work diligently to address any concerns shared by the public.”

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