News Column

Minnesota Zoo breaks ground on nature-based outdoor play area

July 9, 2014

By Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

July 09--Growing up in the metro's western suburbs, Melissa Lindsay remembers her summers as magical.

"It was magical because of the time we spent exploring the natural world," said Lindsay, executive director of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Apple Valley zoological gardens. "Fifty years later, today's kids spend less than half the time their parents did outdoors."

To replace some of that lost magic, Minnesota Zoo supporters broke ground Tuesday on a 30,000-square-foot nature-based outdoor play area. The $1.2 million project is the next step in the reinvention of the zoo's Crossroads Park.

The privately funded play area will include climbing boulders, caves, slides and tree-top towers. The zoo plans to open the Hanifl Family Wild Woods in 2015.

"It's phenomenal," said Suzanne Hanifl, one of the donors for whom the play area is named. "I hope it will help children experience nature and learn to preserve it."

The more children enjoy the natural world, the more likely they are to support conservation efforts that are at the core of the zoo's mission, Lindsay said.

"It is really about how we connect kids with nature," she said.

The state-owned facility has spent years raising private funds and lobbying for taxpayer money to improve existing exhibits and build new attractions. Last month, the zoo opened its privately funded Conservation Carousel, which is adjacent to the Wild Woods park.

The zoo also received $12 million in the state Legislature's most recent capital projects bonding bill. About $3 million of that money will be used to complete renovations to Discovery Bay, where Hawaiian monk seals are expected to be displayed next year.

Another $5 million of state funding will be used to continue renovations at the zoo's main building, including improvements to the existing snow monkey exhibit. The rest of the bonding money will be used for various maintenance projects.

In 2012, the zoo wrapped up a six-year "Heart of the Zoo" fundraising campaign that brought in $76 million for projects such as the overhaul of the Minnesota Trail and construction of Russia'sGrizzly Coast. In that campaign, $46 million came from taxpayers and $30 million came from donations from individuals, charitable groups and corporations.

In late 2012, the zoo's board approved a master plan that included a list of ambitious new projects, including play spaces and new animal exhibits. Zoo leaders are now working to determine which of those projects to focus on.

Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at


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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

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