Is that the distant thunder of a herd of elephants stampeding down Northfield Avenue in West Orange? No, it’s actually the final construction sounds of an African-themed miniature golf course near the Turtle Back Zoo, which will open this Thursday, September 16, complete with a restaurant and paddle boats.
I suppose West Orange needs a miniature golf course. We don’t have one. We do have five golf courses ranging in size and price, but they are all for big people with bigger wallets than most of the town’s residents.
At $4.8 million, I guess the mini-golf course is a steal, though I wouldn’t know. How much do plastic animals modeled after animals from the continent of Africa cost these days? The county is even promising that there will be a two-story replica of Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m sure this will be an accurate depiction of the world’s 4th tallest mountain, but I’d much rather meet the person who would find this tiny scaled model the least bit interesting.
And the planned restaurant? I’m thinking it’ll be something like an African-themed Applebee’s, or perhaps a sub-Saharan Subway. This should be exciting.
And perhaps equally as exciting as mini-golf diners swallowing down their African-themed food, are the planned paddle boats on the protected reservoir. Let me guess: African-themed paddle boats? What is the cost of insuring paddle boats on a reservoir? Is it less than the daily clean-up of all the dropped elephant-themed straw cups and snack wrappers?
I think what really has me worried is the not-so miniature problems this miniature golf complex presents: increased traffic, added safety concerns for this already dangerous intersection, more asphalt, pavers and pollution, the loss of open space, the overall use of this space, and the political back-patting this again encourages.
I know, I know. This project has been (apparently) supported by the South Mountain Conservancy, and the Essex County Environmental Commission, but that doesn’t make it right. What should be done with open space? Should it be bagged and tagged? Recently I found out that the Garden State is #1 in the nation in regards to losing farmland to development. I don’t think this is something to celebrate.
When I look around West Orange, I see changes that mean more asphalt and cement, and less forest and grass. The historic Essex House and dozens of trees on its property are slated for destruction so our town can welcome a new strip mall. We’re losing the magnificent McClellan Old Growth Forest and its Olmsted history along Prospect Avenue. This land, which began as a 44+ acre forest, will become a 5-acre buffer zone between neighbors’ backyards and Seton Hall Preparatory School’s private sports fields, once the school gets permission to bring in it’s backhoes and logging trucks.
The town’s golf courses always seem to be felling trees to make room for golfer’s changing needs. There is a big, open hole on Main Street from the failed re-development project. But where does the money come from? It seems a bit perverse that in the case of the miniature golf safari, the county (again, apparently) used open space money to destroy open space. Is that even fair?
“What can I do?” residents exclaim, as their town and county work against their best interests. The saying I often hear is, “Eh, it is what it is.” What does that even mean? It’s more like, “It is what it shouldn’t be.” And no, it really isn’t about the tax revenues. We’re screwed way beyond mini-golf salvation.
So, I’ll catch my cultural fix eating African food at Odabro in Orange or Mesob in Montclair. I’ll hold off on County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. teaching my children about Africa through plastic models and brightly colored golf balls. I don’t mind saving the mini-golfing for those rare vacations out of town or in my own backyard — sometimes it’s a zoo at home already.
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