South Mountain Recreation Complex
The South Mountain Recreation Complex is a 36-acre recreation facility in Essex County located within the boundaries of the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey, USA. The complex is managed as part of the Essex County Park System. Activities at the complex include a zoo, ice skating/hockey rings, a safari-theme miniature golf course, a forest adventure park and a restaurant.
Prior to the formation of the South Mountain Recreation Complex, the north-western portion of the South Mountain Reservation had been home of the Turtle Back Zoo, the Richard J. Codey Arena and a park and ride facility.
In January 2010, the county announced the redevelopment plan for the undeveloped area near the arena to add a restaurant, mini-golf course and paddle-boat launching point, calling it the Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. The complex was later referred as South Mountain Recreation Complex.
The first phase of the redevelopment was completed in September 2010 with the opening of the golf course.
The second phase of the project was completed in 2011 with the creation of Treetop Adventure, the expansion of the zoo called Big Cat Country Exhibit and the opening of the restaurant. This phase of the project received both praise and criticism. The main critics were some of the 2011 Freeholder candidates and a union organization. The critics objected the use of county tax money on an investment to open a restaurant at the complex and the selection process of the restaurant.
The final phase of the redevelopment efforts will include a construction of a boat launching facility which will allow boating at the Orange Reservoir. The project also calls for a construction of a running path along the reservoir. However, the project is on hold as the county has not negotiated the purchase of the reservoir and its surrounding lands from the City of Orange. There have also been other obstacles on county's attempts to purchase or lease the property including a lawsuit from the City of Orange on the damage claim due to the county's zoo operation and West Orange's claim of unpaid property tax.
The complex offers the following recreational activities:
- Turtle Back Zoo is an 18 acre zoo with exhibits based on animal habitats such as Australian, South American and Southeast Asian exhibits. Other exhibits include the Big Cat Country, a reptile center and a gibbon habitat.
- Richard J. Codey Arena is an ice hockey and ice skating arena with two NHL-sized skating rinks. The arena is the former practice facility of New Jersey Devils. It is the home of New Jersey Daredevils, a special needs hockey team; NJ Devils Youth Hockey Club; and Essex Skating Club, a figure skating club with award-winning skaters and teams.
- Safari-theme miniature golf is managed as part of the Turtle Back Zoo but has a separate entrance and admissions. The course has 19 holes with life-sized animal statues around and within the course.
- Essex County Treetop Adventure Course is a forest adventure park with 22 stations of rope bridges, zip lines, zigzag boards and logs and other obstacles with an average total time to complete the course of 90 minutes. The park is managed as part of the Turtle Back Zoo but has a separate entrance and admissions.
- McLoone's Boathouse is a 240 seat American cuisine restaurant on the banks of the Orange Reservoir.
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