South Mountain Recreation Complex

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Entrance of 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, United States. The complex is managed as part of the Essex County Park System. Activities at the complex include a zoo, ice skating/hockey rinks, a safari-theme miniature golf course, a forest adventure park, a restaurant, paddle boats, a nautical theme playground, and a 1.75 miles (2.82 km) walking loop around the Orange Reservoir.


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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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[4] and the opening of the restaurant.[5] This phase of the project received both praise[6] and criticism. The main critics were some of the 2011 Freeholder candidates and a union organization.[7] 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.[8][9]

The final phase of the redevelopment efforts was a construction of a boat launching facility which would allow boating at the Orange Reservoir. The project also called for a construction of a running path along the reservoir. However, the project was on hold as the county had not negotiated the purchase of the reservoir and its surrounding lands from the City of Orange.[10] There were also 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[11] and West Orange's claim of unpaid property tax.[12] Eventually, the county was able to reach an agreement to lease the reservoir from the City of Orange until 2032.[13]


Essex County Paddle Boats

The complex offers the following recreational activities:[14]

  • 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 athe Big Cat Country, a reptile center, a train ride, a carousel, 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;[15] Essex Skating Club, a figure skating club with award-winning skaters and teams;[16] and a home rink of Garden State Speedskating, a speed skating club sanctioned by US Speedskating.[17]
  • 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.[18]
  • McLoone's Boathouse is a 240 seat American cuisine restaurant on the banks of the Orange Reservoir.
  • Paddle Boating and Picnic Pavilion is located on the Orange Reservoir with swan paddle boats for rent.[19]
  • Regatta Playground is a nautical theme playground for children.[20]
  • Orange Reservoir Walkway is a 1.75 miles (2.82 km) loop around the Orange Reservoir.[13]


  1. ^ McGreevey announces over 5,700 Park and Ride spaces for NJ,Office of the Governor of NJ, June 11, 2003 - accessed December 27, 2011
  2. ^ Essex to develop miniature golf course along Orange Reservoir, The Star-Ledger, January 26, 2010 - accessed December 27, 2011
  3. ^ Turtle Back Zoo mini-golf course is latest West Orange rebranding effort, The Star-Ledger , September 16, 2010 - accessed December 27, 2011
  4. ^ Big Cat Country Exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo Now Open, Verona - Cedar Grove Patch, November 7, 2011 - accessed December 27, 2011
  5. ^ McLoone’s Brings Lakeside Dining to Essex County, Baristanet, October 19, 2011 - accessed December 27, 2011
  6. ^ McLoone's Restaurant, State of NJ - accessed December 31, 2011
  7. ^ West Orange's McLoone's Boathouse, leased from Essex County, to open this week, The Star-Ledger, October 23, 2011 - accessed December 27, 2011
  8. ^ Freeholder Candidates Spar Over County-Funded Restaurant in West Orange, West Orange Patch, October 11, 2011 - accessed December 27, 2011
  9. ^ Rogers Believes Reducing Taxes 'Number One Issue', Montclair Patch, November 2, 2011 - accessed December 27, 2011
  10. ^ Orange rejects Essex County's offer to buy city's reservoir for $700K,The Star-Ledger, March 20, 2011 - accessed December 31, 2011
  11. ^ Orange seeks $1M in lawsuit alleging Essex County has encroached on Orange Reservoir with train ride,The Star-Ledger, April 6, 2011 - accessed December 31, 2011
  12. ^ Orange Reservoir Surrounded by Pending Litigation,Millburn Patch, December 14, 2011 - accessed December 31, 2011
  13. ^ a b "Orange Reservoir Walkway and Pedestrian Bridges Installed by The Shauger Group". Patch. 9 May 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  14. ^ Great New Jersey Staycation Destination – The South Mountain Recreation Complex – A Visit To The Turtle Back Zoo And Essex County miniGOLF Safari, The Alternative Press, August 24, 2011 - accessed December 27, 2011
  15. ^ NJ Devils Youth - accessed December 31, 2011
  16. ^ About ESC, ESC - accessed December 31, 2011
  17. ^ "USS Sanctioned Club Directory". US Speedskating. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  18. ^ Turtle Back debuts Treetop Adventure Course,The Observer, September 28, 2011 - accessed December 31, 2011
  19. ^ "Paddle Boating and Picnic Pavilion" (PDF). Essex County. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "Regatta Playground - Essex County Parks & Playgrounds". Jersey Family Fun. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 

Coordinates: 40°46′10″N 74°16′54″W / 40.76956°N 74.281741°W / 40.76956; -74.281741