Taking the Jungle out of the Habitat

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    WEST MILFORD-The circus is coming to town! A century ago, that was a cry heard in towns large and small throughout the nation. As our country evolved and matured, television arrived and soon circuses were faced with widespread competition from various sources, including the new medium of television. Entertainment could be had on myriad shows. Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour provided competition among amateurs who could sing, dance, or even play the spoons. Circus clowns competed for laughs with Red Skelton and Milton Berle. Ringling Brothers jugglers and center-ring performers faced competition from jugglers, wire acts and other entertainers brought into American homes courtesy of the Ed Sullivan Show. In the second-half of the 20th Century, circuses faced even stiffer competition from destination-oriented entertainment sites. Disneyland, Jungle Habitat and Six Flags locations sprang up. Jungle Habitat flourished in northern West Milford until 1976. Faced with stiff competition from the Great Adventure operation in Jackson, Jungle Habitat sought permission to expand operations here, only to be rebuffed by local officials of the era. Denied an opportunity to grow, the company simply crated its wild animals, shut its doors and departed the township, leaving a large hilly tract for the town manage, sans the former tax base. The tract has, somewhat derisively, become known as the "redevelopment zone." Various schemes were advanced to convert the land into a productive tax base, but development interests faced opposition from various factions including environmentalists. All the while, the former "Jungle Habitat" reverted to its descriptive term, becoming second-growth woodlands festooned with underbrush and paved parking lots with four-foot tall weeds. Little was left to mark the site entrance, off Airport Road, except for the utility poles used to construct a wooden archway over the paved entrance road-a road so overgrown with brush it was barely visible as one followed the curving road to the adjacent Greenwood Lake Airport. But kids will be kids, and kids like circuses. The result: The circus is coming to town! Specifically, one of the last of the famous circuses that used to criss-cross the nation, Cole Brothers Circus. Once known as the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus, that merged operation is no longer. But, like the Phoenix, Cole Brothers Circus, sans famous animal trainer Clyde Beatty and his operation, has arisen from the ashes of circuses everywhere, and will set up its ‘Big Top' in a Jungle Habitat parking lot for performances on Sept. 8-9. And it's all thanks to a group of kids: Cub Scout Pack 9, and a group of motivated pack parents and friends.