Turtle Back Zoo opens Amazing Asia Exhibit dedicated to Louis LaSalle

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County officially opened the new Louis LaSalle Amazing Asia Exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo on Thursday, Sept. 8. The new exhibit is dedicated to Louis LaSalle, the longtime president of the Essex County Parks Foundation, in recognition of his long-standing advocacy for Turtle Back Zoo and the Essex County Parks System. The Amazing Asia Exhibit provides modern accommodations for red pandas, clouded leopards, a slow loris, a knobbed hornbill and Vietnamese pond turtles.

“Lou LaSalle was first pressed into service with the Essex County Parks Foundation when it was founded 27 years ago and has served as the chairman since its inception. Lou epitomizes community service in the numerous roles he has with the Parks Foundation, RWJBarnabas, area chambers of commerce and other local organizations,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said. “He is deserving of this honor because of his commitment to help us revitalize Turtle Back Zoo and support the Essex County Parks System.

“We want to make sure that Turtle Back Zoo provides the most supportive environment for our animals and the best learning experience for our visitors. Updating the Amazing Asia Exhibit will help us meet updated guidelines from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, enhance animal care and provide better viewing areas for the public,” DiVincenzo continued.

“This is a meaningful and tremendous honor to me,” LaSalle said, thanking everyone who spoke glowingly about him on Sept. 8. He mentioned that he first met DiVincenzo almost 40 years ago when they both served on an advisory committee for the Essex County Parks Commission, now the parks department. “I want to thank you, Joe, for your exemplary leadership and giving me the opportunity to serve the people of Essex.”

“Lou is as dedicated to the community today as he has been for the past 35 years,” RWJBarnabas Health chief operating officer Barry Ostrowsky said. “When we look at this tremendous investment to create this new exhibit, it is consistent with what Lou has been about his entire life and that is giving back to the community.”

LaSalle was named chairperson of the Essex County Parks Centennial Committee in 1994. After the 100th-anniversary celebration concluded, LaSalle remained in the leadership role when the organization transitioned into the Essex County Parks Foundation to provide ongoing support to the county parks system. As chairperson, he has overseen fundraising initiatives to support education, enrichment and recreation programs offered in the parks system, revitalization of recreation facilities, and preservation of open space.

Professionally, LaSalle joined St. Barnabas Medical Center, now Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, in Livingston as vice president for external affairs in 1990. His role and responsibilities grew as the hospital expanded and the health care system transformed into RWJBarnabas Health. He retired from RWJBarnabas in May 2021 and now holds the title of senior vice president emeritus. LaSalle also volunteers his time with numerous community organizations, including the American Heart Association, with which he has been affiliated for 57 years.

With the exception of the turtles, the animals in the Amazing Asia Exhibit are mostly arboreal, meaning they spend their time in the trees. The exhibit is designed to meet the animals’ needs to climb and run, with the height of the exhibit playing an important role in its success. The outdoor section of the exhibit is 20 feet in height while the indoor section is 12 feet in height. The animal area will feature a waterfall, pool, fresh water drinking area that is separate from the pool, climbing structures and a grassy area.

“We are all really proud of the Amazing Asia Exhibit because it highlights the importance of biodiversity not only within the environment but also connects with cultures. We hope this will inspire environmental awareness among our visitors and help us highlight our mission of promoting education, conservation and understanding,” zoo Director Jillian Fazio said.

French and Parrello, from Wall, received a professional services contract for $248,000 to design the exhibit. APS Contractors, from Paterson, were awarded a publicly bid contract for $3,735,725 to perform the construction work. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the contract to ensure delays were avoided. The exhibit was funded with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, and through the Essex County capital budget.