Join the youth-led march at the zoo! Sunday, March 1 @ 12noon. Family friendly!

Essex County, NJ

Opposing the Expansion of Turtle Back Zoo into South Mountain Reservation

Opposing the Expansion of Turtle Back Zoo into South Mountain Reservation

Opposing the Expansion of Turtle Back Zoo into South Mountain ReservationOpposing the Expansion of Turtle Back Zoo into South Mountain ReservationOpposing the Expansion of Turtle Back Zoo into South Mountain Reservation

We oppose the county spending $8.6 million in taxpayer money to further expand the Turtle Back Zoo & destroy the reservation.


The Latest


2 Days Until the Rally !

We’re days away from our FIRST event as a coalition:

A youth-led Rally to Save the Reservation! 

This is what we’ve been working towards: A grassroots, public demonstration in opposition to the county’s planned amphitheater and destruction of natural habitat.

Voices from our most eloquent & compelling spokespeople 

for our future: Our children!

*This is NOT an anti-zoo rally*


FREE Parking on Cherry Lane (Where the meadow used to be)


Feb 27: South Orange Env Commission Acts

On the evening of February 27, 2020 the South Orange Environmental Commission unanimously passed a strong resolution against the county's $8.6 million amphitheater project.  They join Millburn's Environmental Commission is passing such a resolution. 

Send a BIG thank you to Commission Chairperson, Bill Haskins:  


Amphitheater Moving Too Fast

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the Board of Chosen Freeholder's met to authorize:

1.  Spending $406,000 dollars of open space & recreation funds to improve the Zoo train station platform; and

2.  Awarding an $811,000 dollar contract to Tsivicos Enterprises, Inc to improve the Zoo train station platform.

Residents spoke in opposition to the county's planned amphitheater.  The Coalition SMR provided the Freeholders with a copy of NJ State Executive Order #215 of 1989 which clearly states the requirement of State agencies (such as Essex County) to have completed an  environmental impact assessment prior to developing the amphitheater plan.


Freeholder States Environmental Impact Study will be Done AFTER the Amphitheater is Built

On February 4, 2020, Freeholder Leonard Luciano explained to the Millburn Town Committee that Essex County will complete an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) after the amphitheater project is complete. According to NJ State Executive Order #215, that would be illegal. 

[See 3-min video HERE.]

[View Executive Order HERE]

image10 Article, Feb 22, 2020

Residents through Essex County have been contacting their local papers and online news sites.  This opinion piece "Don’t fall for Essex County’s greenwash of habitat destruction at Turtle Back Zoo,"  is written by Coalition SMR's very own Joyce Rudin.  

Be sure to write your local editors, too!


Feb 11: Millburn Enviro Commission Acts

On the evening of February 11, 2020 the Millburn Environmental Commission unanimously passed a strong resolution to halt the county's $8.6 million amphitheater project based on detrimental environmental impacts.  This will be submitted to the council for a vote.  (Date of vote to be determined. Your voice at that future meeting will be essential.)

Be sure to send a BIG thank you to Commission members:

Millburn Env Commission Chairperson Priya Patel,

Millburn Township Committee Liaison Tara Prupis,

Ways to Get Involved

Join Us!

Join Us!

Your neighbors are most likely not aware of the county's plans to spend $8.6 million dollars of their county and state tax dollars on an unnecessary animal performance stage at the Turtle Back Zoo.  Let them know.  Are there better uses for millions of dollars to improve Essex County?  Clean water, storm debris clean-up, trail maintenance, bike lanes, climate change education programs in schools, erosion relief?

Share your talents & join the Coalition!

View our Turtle Back Zoo Amphitheater FAQ Sheet below.

Sign Up Genius

Show Up!

Mention the word "Freeholder," and most Essex County residents will appear confused!  Freeholders are elected officials representing the Essex County townships.  They decide how to spend millions of our taxpayer dollars each year, including the $600,000 plans designed by one of the County Executives major campaign contributors.  The Freeholders are supposed to represent you, not their wealthy donors.  Let your elected officials know WE ALREADY HAVE A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR  EDUCATION CENTER AT THE ZOO to teach about conservation and climate change!

Join us in speaking publicly at Freeholder meetings & other public forums.  The Sign-up Genius button is below. 

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Too Big

Sign the Petition!

Join fellow residents & organizations as we work to STOP the construction of this Disneyesque entertainment amphitheater. 

More lost pristine forested land.

More lost natural habitat. 

More noise. 

More traffic. 

More stormwater run-off issues.

More bright night skies.

More pollution.

More taxpayer money.

A "Conservation Pavillion" with NO environmental impact study!

The Turtle Back Zoo is big enough. 900,000 visitors each year is enough. 

A township of 47,000 residents simply can't support additional attractions.


Contribute Now to help save Historic South Mountain Reservation

Asking for money is no fun.  The fact is, hiring professionals to help educate our elected &  appointed officials is expensive.  Legal professionals, purchasing ad space, printing eco-friendly all takes moolah.

We have teamed-up with a number of local organizations, including Our Green West Orange, which means your donation is tax deductible.  By hitting the donate button, you will help your fellow resident volunteers keep up the good fight, while fighting climate change and supporting TRUE conservation education - Thank You!

Our Coalition Partners

SOMA (South Orange Maplewood) Action
The Sierra Club
Essex Rising
Newark water coalition logo
Our Revolution Essex NJ Logo
350 new jersey rockland logo
Our Green West Orange Logo
Arbor Day Foundation Logo
Montclair High School Young Democratic Socialists
Columbia High School Environmental Club
Columbia High School Students for Social Justice
The League of Humane Voters
West Orange Young Democrats
West Orange African Heritage Organization
Coalition for animals logo
NY/NJ Baykeeper: Protect, Preserve, Restore
Friends of Liberty logo

Documents of Interest

County Opens Bids for Faulty Amphitheater

Essex County New Jersey Office of Purchasing Open Bid Amphitheater at Turtle Back Zoo

Despite the county only submitting a draft Master Plan, and not including all townships directly impacted by the proposed project in the planning process, and not conducting an environmental impact study, Essex County opens their million dollar amphitheater project up to bidding under the guise of "Conservation Pavillion."  [PDF below]

Olmsted Foundation Submits Letter to County


Yes, the very same Olmsteds who designed Central Park!  The Olmsted Foundation submits a letter to Essex County to "go slow" and to "include input from concerned citizens and professionals."  They remind us that South Mountain Reservation is part of the first county park system in America. The Olmsteds were ahead of the game when it comes to conservation, and fighting climate change.

Turtle Back Zoo Master Plan DRAFT

Master Plan of Turtle Back Zoo Bird's Eye view

The county provided a Master Plan to West Orange Township Planning Board after months of both residents and township officials requesting the promised plan be made available.  Below is PDF of this plan, for your downloading pleasure, which includes convenient words like, "Conservation" and "Education."

Taxpayers Buy $600,000 Amphitheater Plan

Stack of logs cut, with hands holding wads of money

Lights!   Sound!  Cages!  Tranqulizers!  Kindergarteners are now ready to learn about conservation while seated in groups of 500, in an entertainment Pavillion that was home to 135 mature trees, and home to native species plants and animals.  From here, they can use the planned "rustic toilets"  and head to the gift shoppe to forget about climate change and buy stuff!  [See the Zoo's PDF diagram below]

Citizens File OPRA Requests for Info on Turtle Back Zoo

Filing Open Public Records requests (OPRA) is an important step in understanding the current state of South Mountain Reservation. OPRA records can reveal the impact  that proposed projects can have on climate change.  This information also helps us understand the workings of Essex County so we as residents can be prepared for future projects.  

Below are responses to our OPRA requests, which demonstrate a clear lack of transparency in sharing information regarding public matters.  To file your own Essex County OPRA request, click HERE.

South Mountain Conservancy Submits Letter to County

A sample of some of SMC's recommendations for the County:

  • Suspend any zoo expansion until a comprehensive and independent traffic study, as recommended by the master plan, with the input from West Orange, demonstrates minimal or manageable impact of current usage and planned growth.
  • Provide an estimated cost of the pavilion.
  • Tabulate the costs and benefits to the community from the commercial development in the South Mountain Recreational Complex (present and anticipated).
  • Expand the planned 2:1 replacement of trees in any future development. 
  • Reduce by one-quarter the size of the special event parking in order to reconstruct the natural amphitheater along Cherry Lane north of the Oakdale Parking area.

...while we think that the County’s announcement of public hearings on the master plan is excellent, the process from the start should have included stakeholders, both West Orange and the Conservancy. That was not the case. Too much money and precious land is at stake for this to have been developed in a vacuum.