Home News COVID-19 Situation Zoo set to reopen with new animals, exhibits

Zoo set to reopen with new animals, exhibits

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Zookeeper Amy Youngren, left, and Jim Burress, director of the city of Roswell special services and parks, talk to Bret, the Spring River Zoo’s mountain lion, Tuesday afternoon inside the new mountain lion exhibit. The zoo will have a grand reopening Jan. 16 with special events and new animals after being closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Juno Ogle Photo)

Nearly 10 months to the day after it was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Roswell’s Spring River Zoo will reopen with fanfare, new animals and new exhibits — and no admission fee, at least for the first month and a half.

The zoo, 1306 E. College Blvd., will have a grand reopening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 16. Although admission will be free, the city is requiring visitors to sign up to regulate the number of visitors in the zoo at one time in accordance with public health orders. After the grand reopening, reservations will be required. To sign up, go to roswell-nm.gov/1498/Reserve-Your-Ticket.

Within a half-hour of the city announcing the zoo’s reopening Tuesday morning, 75 people had signed up to visit, Juanita Jennings, public affairs director for the city, said.

Billed as the “Passport to Adventure,” the reopening will include a scavenger hunt with zoo-themed prize packages, a “pop-up” gift shop featuring new zoo merchandise and a food truck.

Entrance to the zoo will be off the East College Boulevard parking lot. The parking lot off North Atkinson is no longer accessible to the public.

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Following the grand reopening, the zoo will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Prescheduled private tours will be given between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursdays.

Admission fees, approved by the Roswell City Council in December, will go into effect March 1. For those 16 and older, admission will be $5 for Roswell residents and $10 for nonresidents. Children ages 4 to 15 will be charged $2.50 for Roswell residents and $3.50 for nonresidents. Students, adults 60 and older, military veterans and active military will be admitted for $3.

Free admission will be offered to members of Friends of Spring River Zoo. Free days for Roswell residents will be on the first Saturday of each month.

The adjacent Spring River Park will be free of admission charges.

Zoo staff, along with staff from other city departments, have been working during the closure to make sure visitors have a new experience, said Jim Burress, special services and parks director. Much of the work, from setting up new fencing to landscaping, has been done by zoo staff or staff from the parks, water and streets departments, Burress said. Gravel and soil came from other city departments, and even city firefighters helped place new materials in the eagle cage, Burress said.

The zoo’s five zookeepers will be joined by a part-time customer service staff who will be trained to check in visitors, book tours and private parties, sell merchandise and concessions, and answer visitor questions. On Tuesday, they will join the zookeepers for training on the use of new radios and communication codes, as well as how to handle situations such as a medical emergency with a visitor, lost children or even an escaped animal.

On Friday, the zoo staff and volunteers from other city departments will do some cleanup at the zoo to help prepare for the opening. The public can also volunteer to help clean up the zoo on Saturday by signing up at surveymonkey.com/r/zoocleanupvolunteer.

Jim Burress, director of special services and parks for the city of Roswell, talks about further plans for the Spring River Zoo outside what will now be the entrance to the zoo. Admission fees for the zoo will not start until March, according to a press release from the city. (Juno Ogle Photo)

Burress said the goal with the new features and staff is to give visitors a better experience than what the zoo offered before, especially with the new fees in place. The fees are part of a cost-recovery plan the city set in 2019 for its quality of life services such as the zoo and Roswell Museum and Art Center. The goal this year is for the zoo to generate revenue equal to 5% of its operational costs, or about $25,000. The goal will gradually increase to 45% in 2023.

“We did a lot of work since COVID. We have to be more conservative with our budgets because the quality of life departments run off gross receipts (taxes) or lodgers tax and obviously things have changed. So our business model has to be different,” Burress said.

“If you’re going to do that, we’re going to make sure our customers, which are the people who live here, are being taken care of a little differently than they used to be,” he said.

That means more transparency, having staff to answer visitors’ questions and more interactivity.

“There’s a lot of exciting things going on here at the zoo,” Burress said.

The biggest change the public will see is the new mountain lion exhibit. Bret the mountain lion moved into the enclosure and building in November and has been pretty happy, zookeepers said.

The enclosure features grass — which Bret had never walked on — and a climbing area with boulders that were moved from another part of the zoo and the trunk of a dead tree that was relocated from a city park, Burress said.

The building features metal cages that give zookeepers easy access to Bret or another animal if needed for veterinary exams. It also has a large window for public viewing.

New exhibits and animals ready for the opening include a pair of wallabies named Cashew and Macadamia, an elk calf named Alexis born at the zoo this summer and a beaver, one of a pair the zoo received from the Pittsburg Zoo in Pennsylvania. The second beaver escaped in October and has not yet been found.

Improvements to the elk enclosure will be the zoo’s next big project, Burress said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.