New, 500-car parking deck opens at Turtle Back Zoo

Photo Courtesy of Glen Frieson
Essex County and Turtle Back Zoo officials gathered with construction staff on Dec. 16 to open the new, 500-car parking deck at the zoo.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — A new, 500-car parking deck opened at Turtle Back Zoo on Monday, Dec. 16. This is the third parking deck to be erected on site and will provide additional parking to accommodate guests coming to the zoo and other attractions at theSouth Mountain Recreation Complex.

“Introducing new animal habitat exhibits and visitor amenities has made Turtle Back Zoo one of the most popular destinations in New Jersey,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said. “With the record numbers of visitors who continue to come, the two garages we have were no longer sufficient to meet our 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.”

“This is a great addition to Turtle Back Zoo. Not only does it provide additional park space but it improves the maintenance area,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. 

“This is the largest county facility in West Essex and we like what is happening here,” Freeholder Len Luciano said.

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

The popularity of 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. The third parking deck has been developed where the zoo’s maintenance and storage facilities were previously located. The first floor of the parking garage has been designed and outfitted as a new indoor maintenance and storage area. The freezer space for animal food has been doubled in size, there are electric charging stations for golf carts and other equipment used by zoo staff, and locker rooms for staff. The covered facility is anticipated to 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 approximately 10 months.

To accommodate the third on-side 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, which allowed the construction of the deck to proceed.

Comito Associates from Newark received a $498,725 professional services contract to design the parking deck and the train maintenance building. DMD Contracting from Wayne was awarded a publicly bid $14.5 million contract to build the parking deck. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project to ensure delays were avoided. Funding for the parking deck came from the Essex County operating budget.