Essex County's Turtle Back Zoo in the South Mountain Recreation Complex will be illuminated this holiday season with more than 100,000 lights and 50 Winter Wonderland figures starting Friday Nov 25.
The Holiday Lights Spectacular is now in its fifth year and will be free for the second year in a row.
"Given the difficult economic times we are experiencing, we are offering free admission to make this exciting attraction available to everyone," Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said in a statement. "Turtle Back Zoo will be turned into a Winter Wonderland, with extraordinary seasonal lighting exhibits and costumed characters. Stroll the landscaped paths of our zoo and admire the illuminated images of everything from toy soldiers to penguins."
The event will feature illuminated figures of animals, holiday scenes and stars. Many exhibits at the zoo will remain open including the Essex Farm, Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve, Tropical Currents Aquarium and the Reptile Building.
The zoo's director, Dr. Jeremy Goodman said many of the animals are more active in the cold weather.
In lieu of admission, the zoo will collect non-perishable food items; new, unwrapped toys and new or gently used winter coats. The donations will be given to organizations that help the underprivileged. DiVincenzo said almost six tons of food and 100 coats were collected last year and donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and about 1,500 new toys were collected for Toys for Tots and the Make A Wish Foundation.
The holiday lights are sponsored by Covanta Energy, PSE&G, McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.
"Helping the community is what this event is all about. The free admission makes the Holiday Lights available to everyone and the donated food, toys and clothing helps those in need," PSE&G Director of External Affairs Art Guida said.
Holiday Lights Spectacular will run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 25 - 26, Dec. 2 - 4 and 9 - 11 and daily from Dec. 17 - Jan. 1. The event will be closed Dec. 24 and 25.
The Essex County West Caldwell Tech student choir will have a special performance on Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. Photographs with Santa Claus will be taken at the zoo every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Friday, Dec. 23.