WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Owens family from Plainfield was recognized on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, for being the 700,000th visitors to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo during 2015. This is the first time attendance has exceeded the 700,000 mark and the 11th consecutive year that a new annual attendance record has been set at the zoo. Just two weeks later, the Zuniga family from Nutley was recognized on Dec. 30, 2015, for being the 750,000th visitors to the zoo. All in all, the zoo had 755,239 visitors in 2015.
“We have made tremendous improvements to Turtle Back Zoo and the large turnout of visitors each year shows how popular our zoo has become. Introducing new natural habitat exhibits like the Sea Lion Sound with sea lions, stingrays and sharks, along with our carousel, treetop adventure course, miniGOLF Safari and train ride attractions make coming to Turtle Back Zoo a fun, learning adventure for children and families,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said in a release.
At 6:38 p.m., Tana and Willie Owens and their children — Nazir, 10; Allysa, 5; and Chanel, 3 — walked through the entrance to help Turtle Back Zoo reach a new attendance milestone.
“We saw information for the holiday lights and Turtle Back Zoo on Facebook and thought it would be a good activity for our children. We are always looking for new experiences for them,” Tana Owens said in the release, adding that the last time she had been to Turtle Back was in grade school on a class trip and was eager to see how it had changed.
In recognition of the milestone, DiVincenzo presented the Owens family with a gift basket filled with toys, stuffed animals and merchandise from Turtle Back Zoo, along with a one-year membership to the Zoological Society of New Jersey. Melissa and Carlos Zuniga and their two daughters, 3-year-old Gabriella and 5-month-old Arianna, were presented with a large stuffed bear, a gift basket and a one-year membership to the Zoological Society of New Jersey.
The previous attendance record was 688,359 set last year. A new annual attendance record has been set every year since 2005. The 500,000 milestone was first reached in 2010 and 600,000 was first reached in 2013.
Correction: This story originally stated that the distinguished visitors were granted memberships to the Essex County Zoological Society. It is in fact the Zoological Society of New Jersey, as a good reader pointed out to us, and the above article has been changed to reflect this.