Tag: Groundhog’s Day

Turtle Back Zoo                                                                         500 Northfield Avenue                                                            West Orange, NJ 07052

Turtle Back Zoo 500 Northfield Avenue West Orange, NJ 07052

Turtle Back Zoo

500 Northfield Avenue

West Orange, NJ 07052

(973) 731-5800



Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:


The entrance to Turtle Back Zoo

I have been coming to the Turtle Back Zoo since I was in elementary school when we used to come here on field trips. I remember as a child having lunch on the lawn with my class and feeding the animals. That was back in the 1970’s with the old zoo set up. I had read that the zoo was falling apart by 1995 and they were ready to close it down. Like anything else, these zoos and parks need an update every few years to keep them relevant.

The directions on where to go when you enter the zoo

In 2000, as master plan was started in what direction the zoo wanted to go and in the next twenty years, I have seen the results of that hard work. You have many nicer displays, some still being too small for the respective animals, but a more realistic environment created for them. Back in 2016 when I joined the board of another zoo, I visited the Turtle Back Zoo for the first time since 1976. I visited a much improved and engaging zoo with nice displays and more diverse animals.

The new zoo set up has a good flow

On Groundhog’s Day, I went to see the small festival that the zoo was running that ended up being a ten-minute talk with an audience of the staff, volunteers and local politicians. I thought the zoo could do so much more to build on the reputation of this event. They introduced the new groundhog, Miss ‘Edwina of Essex’, who replaced ‘Essex Ed’. They said he had retired to Florida (I was not sure if he died or was somewhere else that day). Still, it was a cute little event with the groundhog trying to walk off and escape and a weather prediction of an early spring.

Groundhog’s Day Celebration 2023:

Miss ‘Edwina of Essex’ will be the star of Groundhog’s Day festivities in the future

The indoor set up for Groundhog’s Day at the Turtle Back Zoo in 2023

Read my blog on MywalkinManhattan.com” Day “Two Hundred and Sixteen: Meeting ‘Edwina from Essex’ at the Turtleback Zoo-Happy Groundhog’s Day”:


Edwina and her trainer

After the event was over, I got a chance to walk around the zoo for an hour and even though it was the middle of the winter, there was a lot going on at the zoo. I spent the next hour or so walking the exhibits and watching the feedings. Being the middle of the winter with snow all around, a lot of the displays were closed, and the animals were inside as it was too cold for them.

The flowers that line the paths of the zoo from the old days

I started the tour of the zoo at the Flamingo pool. Watching these graceful animals communicate in their own language amongst themselves was interesting. The flamingos looked at us humans with amusement almost as if they were cracking a joke at our expense. They walked around their pool in groups, and it was fascinating to see how they moved in cliques. Some stayed at one part of the display while others moved around conversing about something.

The flamingos sleeping on this cold morning

The flamingos carried on a nice conversation at our expense

I visited the Petting Zoo that was pretty much closed, but the animals were out having their afternoon meal. I swear the rams and sheep looked at me like an alien from Outer Space. I have never gotten such an inquisitive look from another animal before. They all just stared at me and stopped eating. I guess they had not seen a visitor in a long time with the exception of the staff with the weather being what it has been.

The goats gave me the strangest looks that afternoon

The lions and giraffes were all inside warming up as this weather was not something they are used to, and I will have to revisit these exhibits in warmer weather. The Penguin House was a lot of fun to visit. The penguins are so engaging and had just finished their feeding time. They looked like they were ready to play.

The pelicans were swimming around in the Penguin tanks

Penguins’ dove and swam all around me, looking at me through the glass and trying to communicate with a lot of chirping. They looked so happy to see another person beside the trainers. As I followed them as they swam around the tank, they looked to me like they were trying to show me their swimming skills. I felt like they were trying to befriend me as some sort of strange new penguin. They are really used to seeing humans and find ways to engage with us.

The penguins at the Turtle Back Zoo are so friendly

I got to watch the sea lion feeding and watch the seals and otters swim around their tanks. The otters, which are an outdoor animal looked so cold that they swam for a bit after their feeding and then raced inside their burros to get out of the weather.

I stopped into to the Sea Turtle Recovery Building to see what the zoo was doing to help the turtles with their health and how the recovery was done. Separate tanks where the turtles are monitored for their therapy are on display and you can see the different stages they go through before being released into the wild.

The display sign by the tanks

The Sea Turtles in the rehabilitation center

The Big Cat Country exhibition had the poor cougars and mountain lions walking around in circles in the snow looking like they were not too sure what to do next. They did not look that happy to be outside, but I am sure being cooped up was not good for them either.

The Cheetah looked so cold that day

The Train Ride through the park was closed for the season as was the carousel and the restaurant. Those will have to be revisited in the Spring. I revisited the Reptile House one more time before I left for the day.

The giant turtle in the Reptile House

There is a variety of snakes, lizards and other wild creatures on display here and it the one exhibit where the animals seemed happy in their environment as they had plenty of room to move around and stretch. I swear that those snakes know that you are there. They just stare at you when you walk by looking like they are plotting to get out of the glass displays.

The giant lizard in the Reptile House

I will visit again in the Spring and talk about the comparisons with the weather and how it affects the animal’s behavior. They are no different than us with adapting to the change of the seasons. Many of these animals come from environments where this type of cold is not what they are used to and it is hard for them.

The Puff Fish in the Fish Tanks in the Touch Tank Display

There will be a lot more to see in the warm weather when I return.

The Bear Statute by the Bear Den

The History of Turtle Back Zoo:

(From the Zoo’s Website)

The Turtle Back Zoo came into conception in 1962 when the Essex County Parks Commission President, William Wachenfeld, awarded a $400,000 contract to Max Drill Inc. to build a 15.5-acre zoo in the South Mountain Reservation Park. It was designed to be a seasonable park for children.

The Turtle Back Zoo logo

Designer Tjark Reiss was hired to design the park and he created exhibits based on Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery rhyme themes and other children’s stories. There were to be farm animals and an antique train ride that took visitors on a mile round trip ride through the zoo’s surrounding woodlands.

The Turtle Back Zoo opened June 3rd, 1963, with a collection of 140 animals of 40 species. The zoo took its name from a rock formation located on the mountain side east of the zoo. The Lenape Indians called this formation Turtle Back Rock. The pattern on the rocks created by large basaltic crystals makes it appear that you are standing on the back of an enormous tortoise.

In 1973, the zoo’s animal collection had grown to 850 animals of 275 species. In 1975, a Zoological Society was established to promote the zoo and provide funding support through memberships and other fund-raising efforts. The first board meeting took place in September of 1975. In 1978, the Board of Commissioners that directly administered the park was replaced with Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs under the direction of the County Executive.

The Children’s Statute by the entrance of the zoo

In 1995, the zoo fell into disrepair and the zoo was almost shut down in 1995 (Wiki).

In 2000, the zoo completed a new master plan with accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association as its major focus. The zoo started to replace the antiquated 1960’s style cages with larger, more naturalistic habitats for its animals. In 2005, the zoo completed a new 1.8-million-dollar Essex County Animal Hospital at the Turtle Back Zoo to serve the zoo’s animal residents and serve as a animal quarantine facility for the growing animal collection.

That year the zoo demolished the original administration building and education center and replaced them with a new 11,000 square foot complex that included a walk-through gift shop, a new visitor friendly entrance and exit, a 4,000 square foot reptile center, administration offices a new group entrance and two classrooms opening to an auditorium. A new picnic pavilion and an animal themed playground were opening in 2006.

In September of 2006, the Turtle Back Zoo was granted accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. This distinct honor places the Turtle Back Zoo amongst the elite zoos and aquariums of the United States and means that the zoo adheres to the highest standards of zoos in the country.

The Touch Tanks with stingrays in them

Come to the Zoo on Groundhog’s Day to meet “Edwina of Essex”

Edwina of Essex County on Groundhog’s Day 2023

Day Thirty-Seven: Happy Groundhog’s Day in Punxsutawney, PA                                        February 2nd, 2016

Day Thirty-Seven: Happy Groundhog’s Day in Punxsutawney, PA February 2nd, 2016

One thing you should add to your bucket list is visiting Punxsutawney to see the groundhog ceremony once. It is an experience. I visited in 2015 when it was 54 degrees so that was great. I visited Staten Island Chuck the last two years at the Staten Island Zoo.

Visiting Punxsutawney, PA for Groundhog’s Day is an experience.


I was working on a new project for the Lodi Memorial Library to have a Groundhog’s Day celebration but try to find a groundhog in New Jersey. No zoo or natural group had one so we revamped the event for the first day of Spring and will have a rabbit (See Lodi Larry comes to the Library Day: Day Forty MywalkinManhattan). When the event fell through and all this talk of Groundhog’s Day I decided to go to the source and off I went to celebrate Groundhog’s Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney is about five hours from my house so it was not the quickest trip but it is all straight highway down Route 80 until you get to Route 219 and then a turn off onto Route 119 South where you twist and turn until you get to Punxsutawney, a sleepy little former coal mining and coke town.

punsutawney, pa


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Day One Hundred and Thirty One: Meeting Staten Island Chuck at the Staten Island Zoo on Groundhog’s Day                                        February 2nd, 2019 (Revisited February 2nd, 2020)

Day One Hundred and Thirty One: Meeting Staten Island Chuck at the Staten Island Zoo on Groundhog’s Day February 2nd, 2019 (Revisited February 2nd, 2020)

Happy Groundhog’s Day from the Staten Island Zoo! I went to see Staten Island Chuck predict an early Spring. Check out my blog on the Staten Island Zoo on VisitingaMuseum.com.

Staten Island Chuck makes his prediction every February 2nd.

Staten Island Chuck stuffed toy


I had planned to go out to Punxsutawney, PA again for Groundhog’s Day but the weather really turned this year. There was an Arctic Vortex (or whatever they are calling it this week) and the weather plunged in Pennsylvania. It was going to be 20 degrees on Groundhog’s Day (that meant 0 degrees that night) and raining when I would drive home on Sunday and I thought that would be over doing it for me.

I later saw that it did go up to 38 degrees that day in Punxsutawney, higher than expected but the overnight Friday night into Saturday was 4 degrees and sorry but the thought of standing in Gobbler’s Knob for five and a half hours in that weather was too much. I did that in 2016 in 30 degrees and that was bad enough. I will wait until next year.

I then remembered that we have…

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The Staten Island Zoo                                                               614 Broadway                                                                      Staten Island, NY 10310

The Staten Island Zoo 614 Broadway Staten Island, NY 10310

The Staten Island Zoo

614 Broadway

Staten Island, NY  10310

(718) 442-3100

Staten Island Zoo

Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-4:45pm

Fee: Adults $10.00 (15 and older)/Seniors (60 and over) $7.00/Children (3-14) $6.00

My review on TripAdvisor:


I wanted to celebrate Groundhog’s Day this year and had fully planned to go to Punxsutaway, PA to see the Groundhog’s Day festival again (see Day Thirty-Seven of ‘MywalkinManhattan’) but a ‘Arctic Vortex’ swept all over the Midwest with its fringes reaching the middle of Pennsylvania. It would be 30 degrees on Groundhog’s Day with a temperature of 4 degrees that night. The thought of sitting in Gobbler’s Knob in almost 0 weather had no appeal to me and I changed my plans.

I had remembered that there was a festival on Staten Island at the Staten Island Zoo with ‘Staten Island Chuck’ on Groundhog’s Day so off I went early the next morning to see the groundhog see his shadow.

The Staten Island Zoo had a fun and engaging Groundhog’s Day ceremony (see Day One Hundred and Thirty One of ‘MywalkinManhattan’) with a musical concert with the students of P.S. 29 and a private band who made up a song to go with the festival. At 8:00am, they presented Staten Chuck to the audience and he told us that there would be an early spring (its still freezing out!).

After the ceremony was over, the Zoo gave us plenty of time to explore the park before it opened to the public. With it being so cold outside, a lot of the outdoor animals were not in their pens outside but I was able to most of the exhibits.

State Island Zoo

Map of the Staten Island Zoo

I was able to visit all the inside exhibitions which was nice because the crowds began to thin as the morning went on. It is a nice sized zoo with a lot of indoor exhibitions for a rainy or cold day.

I visited the Birds of Prey exhibit which contains many types of birds in their simulated natural habitat. There were some interesting colorful birds that the zoo keepers took out so that we could see them up close.

There was a Fox exhibition where the small furry creatures were crawling and climbing all over the rocks and formations. They just stared at me looking at them leading me to believe that they were used to humans looking at them.

Staten Island Zoo IV

I walked through the African, Tropical Forest and the Aquarium which were located towards the front of the zoo.  I walked through the aquarium which is small but still nice and you are able to see many types of fish and plant life. In the African exhibition, I loved looking at the bearded monkeys who just looked back at me and then it was off to the reptile wing to look at snakes, turtles and frogs.

s.Staten Island Zoo III

I went outside later in the morning and looked at the horses (who looked freezing) and the kangaroos, who looked at me like they wanted to run back inside (it was about 35 degrees at that point). The emus looked at me with desperation as well like ‘at least he is going to feed us’ look.  None of the outdoor animals looked comfortable in this weather. Even Staten Island Chuck was inside because his keeper said that it was too cold even for him to be outside.

Ground Hogs Day Staten Island

Groundhog’s Day 2020

The one thing about the Staten Island Zoo is that it is compact and you can see the whole zoo in one afternoon. There is also plenty of parking behind the zoo in the park. The Zoo also has a nice gift shop, where a ‘Staten Island Chuck’ stuffed animal will cost you $20.00 ( in 2020 I bought the little stuffed animal. It is really cute). There is also a restaurant with stand kid fare like chicken fingers and burgers in the afternoon hours. There selection of doughnuts are really good. For a dollar, it is worth the trip.

Ground Hogs Day Staten Island II

Staten Island Chuck

The Zoo I would think would be more fun in the warmer months but with the indoor exhibitions, there is lots to see and do at the Staten Island Zoo.

Staten Island Chuck 2019 II

At least Spring is on its way!

The Groundhog Day ceremony in 2020!

Watch the video on the event right before the country’s shutdown:

Check out my blog on ‘Visiting the Staten Island Zoo for the Groundhog’s Celebration Day One Hundred and Thirty-One’:


After visiting the zoo, take time to walk through the park and then walk down Forest Avenue to visit the shops and restaurants. Don’t miss Bruno’s and Moretti’s Bakery’s for a snack.

Ground Hogs Day Staten Island III

Very clever cartoon when the Mayor dropped the Groundhog.

The stuffed Staten Island Chuck toy is so cool!

The History of the Staten Island Zoo:

In August 1933, the Staten Island Zoological Society was created and the park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. On March 25, 1935, the Egbert-Robillard Bill was passed by the New York State Senate to have the city provide maintenance for the zoo. Two months later on May 7, 1935, the Governor of New York signed an agreement to allocate public fund for the zoo to cover operational and maintenance costs while the exhibits, animal care and educational programs were to be maintained by the Staten Island Zoological Society. With the land now owned by the city and a program to convert the 8 acre estate into a zoo. The zoo opened to the public on June 10, 1936 and was considered the first U.S. “educational zoo”. (Wiki)

Staten Island Zoological Society:

Unlike all the other zoos in New York City, which are operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Staten Island Zoo is operated by the Staten Island Zoological Society which was created in August 1933 under the organization of Harold O’Connel. Local legend maintains that the society was partially formed from the Staten Island Reptile Club, which was located nearby on Britton  Street and Broadway. Although no written documentation exists regarding the merger it would  explain the newly formed Staten Zoological Society’s affinity for reptiles and why the zoo was (and still is) known for its extensive reptile collection. Just short of one year after its organization on July 24, 1934, the Staten Island  Zoological Society was officially incorporated. (Wiki)

The zoo is home to Staten Island Chuck, a groundhog who is the official Groundhog Day forecaster for New York City and Grandpa, a black-handed Spider Monkey, who made local newspapers when he accurately ‘predicted’ the outcome of six out of nine matches during the U.S. Open Tennis Championship. (Wiki)

Staten Island Chuck Festival 2019