Flood-damaged Duluth zoo plans to reopen on FridayTwenty-three days after an overflowing Kingsbury Creek damaged the Lake Superior Zoo, the zoo will re-open to the public on Friday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The walk in front of the deer yard will be closed, and the barnyard depleted. Polar Shores will be vacant.
But 23 days after unprecedented rain and an overflowing Kingsbury Creek heavily damaged the Lake Superior Zoo, the zoo will re-open to the public on Friday.
“That’s the plan,” said Keely Johnson, the zoo’s director of marketing and public relations, on Friday. “We’re pretty confident.”
And although Berlin the polar bear and seals Vivian and Feisty are still in St. Paul, the majority of the zoo’s 483 animals will be in place, ready to see and be seen. The flood didn’t touch the zoo’s main building, primate center and Australia exhibit, said Peter Pruett, director of animal management.
The barnyard exhibit will be open, but animals will be sparse. The flood killed 11 of the animals housed there, leaving a miniature horse named Darla, and two Shetland sheep that were saved because they were in quarantine when it hit.
“There are plans to get more animals,” Johnson said. But once acquired, they have to be quarantined for 30 days before being released to public areas, she added.
The flood destroyed the pavement in front of the deer yard, and it will have to be repaved before the public can return to that area, Johnson said.
The fate of Polar Shores, the area that housed the polar bear and the seals, is unknown, Johnson said. But at best, animals won’t be exhibited there within the next year. The seals and the bear escaped the exhibit in the early morning hours of June 20. A passer-by found one of the seals on Grand Avenue, which runs just beyond the zoo’s perimeter fence. Zoo officials found the bear outside the exhibit and tranquilized it with a dart to the rump. They are being housed at St. Paul’s Como Zoo.
Pruett said he thinks visitors will return to the zoo, even with some popular animals missing.
“It’s a complete experience. It’s not necessarily just focusing on the animals,” Pruett said, citing the zoo’s spacious grounds, its beautiful landscape and attractions such as zookeeper talks. “This really is a family experience.”
Polar Shores still is being evaluated, Pruett said. A couple of sinkholes were found near the outside of the otter exhibit, but it’s still not known if there’s significant damage underneath the Polar Shores building.
Though the exhibit isn’t part of the zoo’s 20-year master plan, Pruett said a master plan is a “living document” that’s subject to change.
“We were forced into a quicker decision because of the flood and the damage done,” Pruett said. “We can’t sit back. We’ve got to look at the future and make some really good, strong decisions quickly.”
From the day of the flood, zoo personnel and volunteers have worked to re-open it as quickly as possible. Three hundred volunteers shoveled mud, cut up fallen trees and removed debris on the weekend after the flood. Executive Director Sam Maida expressed hopes then that the zoo could be open as soon as the Fourth of July.
“That was before we assessed all the damages,” Johnson said.
But all that’s left to do before Friday is to make sure paths are clear of sediment and to plant grass and other vegetation in exposed areas, Johnson said.
Then she hopes the zoo can get back to the business of being a zoo.
“We’re ready to move forward,” Johnson said. “Although we realize it’s not going to be normal for a long time yet, I think people are ready to go back to their routines and do what we do best: care for our animals and be a resource for the community.”