He’s No Fan: African-Themed Mini-Golf in West Orange

Loren Svetvilas, a West Orange resident, has been active in the fight against Seton Hall Prep’s plans to build playing fields in the old-growth forest along Prospect Street in West Orange.

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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11 COMMENTS

  1. While I am a fan Joey D., I am also not a fan of theme parks such as this one. Also, as a West Orange resident, there are bigger fish to fry in town. For example, in the last month or so, there were TWO water main breaks on my street alone. Yes, they were fixed in record times and the workers were very considerate of the neighbors but TWO breaks in one month? What does this tell you about the pipes underground? The whole infrastructure is old and is probably in need of replacement. No one wants to repave the street (which needs it) because they know they might have to dig it up again.

    I would also rather see the money for a theme park go to sprucing up the tired-looking Pleasantdale area. Other than the wonderful Mark & Julie’s ice cream parlor and the kosher deli, it’s not really a draw. Fast food joints, cell phone stores, nail salons, but not much else. And, unlike Montclair, it’s not a walk-friendly town.

  2. p.s.

    I’ll bet more people will play mini golf there daily than post comments anymore on the new and improved baristanet…

  3. I hope Seton Hall Prep finally wins the right to build on their property. Calling that a magnificent old growth forest is like calling a junk yard dog a show dog. That is an eyesore and i think the preps gesture of preserving over 12 acres of this ‘forest land’ is more then enough and should appease those that are blocking their right to build on their own land. Go Pony Pirates !!!!

  4. I don’t get it. So, the author is saying (a) despite the skating rink, zoo, and many nearby restaurants, this mini-golf course and restaurant will somehow cause impossible traffic on Northfield Avenue (given, I guess, the public’s voracious demand for mini-golf); (b) although the author has never seen the plans, he knows that the new business will probably be schlocky, like an “African Applebees”; and (c) even though preservation groups endorse the plan, they are wrong – it is environmentally unsound somehow.

    Does anyone edit this stuff?

  5. I think the author of this “article” is Mathilda’s soul-mate.

    I would congratulate the couple on their soon-to-be-found happiness. But, I doubt Mathilda would want to increase her carbon footprint by going out on dates or (in the long run) adding to the over-population problem.

  6. There is an old saying that states “If you don’t use it – you’ll lose it”.

    I know that corner very very well as I give of my time at St. Barnabas’ Hospital, just up the road a mile.
    That corner, as it was 4 months ago, was totally SUPER UNDER USED. If a driver glances over that way, at the lush grass field, of 4 months ago, he or she would never see a human being there. It is large and inviting, yet a person could NEVER be seen there. No children, no adults, no dogs, Nada !!!

    So, it was not being used for decades, so they made this there. For those who have not seen it ~ do not form an opinion! It’s very nicely done, and I cannot fault it. I just would like an accouning exactly where the money trail goes, OTHER than the day-to day hard working employees, that will make it work! “OTHER” being the key word!!!!!!!!.

  7. As I posted on Abby’s “rave review” of the safari park:

    I encourage every West Orange resident to visit this new Safari Golf extravaganza. When you do, keep in mind that here’s what West Orange residents got:

    1. No say in when or how this was going to be developed
    2. No town revenue from this new business to help with our current fiscal crisis
    3. No assistance in traffic management on this busy intersection
    4. A new financial responsibility to maintain the safety of this area, including the use of our police to respond to any traffic accidents due to this project
    5. An added eye sore in the form of a theme park, complete with waving inflatables and D&D style flags waving 24/7
    6. A mini-golf safari which is probably 80% asphalt parking

    Also keep in mind that our “beloved” County Executive wants to add the restaurant where that quaint little house is on the reservoir, and convert a preserved field across the street into a concrete parking garage.

    All in the name of mini-golf. Very sub-par, with no Mulligan’s allowed.

  8. Our County Exec is a man on a mission. He’s armed with a budget and friends. A dangerous combo for a politician.

Comments are closed.