State asks for residents' input on defunct Jungle Habitat park

Website opens to collect survey responses about what to with property


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  • Photo by Ann GenaderAssociate Director of New Jersey Park Services John Trontis and Superintendent of Ringwood State Park Eric Pain (in uniform) are seen at the West Milford Municipal Building on Tuesday as they speak with members of the public about the future of the former Jungle Habitat property.



By Ann Genader

— The State of New Jersey officials were in West Milford on Tuesday to hear ideas from the public about what they think the future of the former Jungle Habitat theme park property should be.

The park, now owned by the state, opened in 1972 and closed in 1976.

The initially profitable Warner Brothers business brought 500,000 paid visitors in the drive-through safari section where 1,500 wild animals roam free, according to historical reports.

It also caused major traffic tie-ups that were annoying to residents.

The business began to decline because they didn't change attractions or add new ones. In 1975, owners of the park proposed a $20-million-expansion with a large wooden roller coaster and other attractions.

But, the park was abruptly closed by the owners, who left town after major opposition to the expansion came from residents who were fed up with the traffic and noise.

Still hot topicThe park continues to be a topic of conversation today. Gwen Sikora, who has a popular website dedicated to Jungle Habitat, was among those at the meeting Tuesday.

The state of New Jersey purchased the 800-acre tract of property in 1988 for $1,450,000. It is now under management of Ringwood State Park.

Associate Director of New Jersey Park Services John Trontis and Superintendent of Ringwood State Park Eric Pain, represented New Jersey at the meeting in West Milford. They emphasized that the state is sincerely interested in hearing the public’s ideas and will consider them in making their decisions about the future name and use of the park.

SurveyMonkey open to publicThey ask that people go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GKVJDHR to participate in a survey in what is one of the area’s most sensitive issues. Responders are asked to suggest a new name for the facility. The Jungle Habitat name can no longer be used because it is copyrighted by Warner Brothers, Trontis said.

Responders to the survey can also add suggestions for the park that would most improve the property. The state promises a response.

“We really want your input,” Trontis told those at this week’s meeting in the municipal building. “This meeting is designed for us to hear from stakeholders. This is really what we want to do.”

Mayor Bettina Bieri urged communitywide participation in the survey. She and Township Administrator Antoinette Battaglia asked that the local school district become involved and that children participate and provide their suggestions.

“I very much appreciate the state’s inclusive process whereby our residents and stakeholders could provide input on not only the name, but more importantly, the future uses of the Jungle Habitat property,” said the mayor after the meeting. “Hopefully our residents will provide their suggestions and comments.

"Once the Park Division tabulates the results, more stakeholders meetings will take place before any decisions are finalized. This open dialogue and exchange of information is an unprecedented yet invaluable process.”

Trontis said access to the park has already improved after the removal of the archway, which was made of telephone poles.

Parking increasedOriginally, there was only parking at the entrance area for 20 cars and parked cars would spill into the roadway. The change has increased the parking area to accommodate 60 or more cars.

A few pieces of the old structure were saved, including a section of the archway for interpretive display.

The state plans to work with event promoters, existing and new, to find special events at the park.

Trontis said that in recent years there was an effort to create an off road motor vehicle area at the site, but that received a lot of opposition and is unlikely.

He said numerous communications from residents when that proposal was received a few years ago brought concerns about noise and environmental pollution.

The state will conduct a feasibility study next. Trontis said it will incorporate stakeholder comments, show visual depictions, give cost estimates and determine funding sources.

He said this project is in the preliminary steps of deciding the future of the property. Without funding appropriated, the study cannot move ahead. Getting the input from residents now is an important step in moving forward, Trontis said.

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