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Zoo holds grand reopening for visitors

About 250 people signed up to visit the Spring River Zoo on Saturday, its grand reopening after closing in March due to the pandemic. The zoo has a new mountain lion exhibit, a few new animals and many changes to signage, landscaping and other physical features. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Spring River Zoo has reopened to visitors for weekend hours after 10 months of closure due to the pandemic.

Since March, the zoo has been open only for private parties or tours. During its downtime, city staff and volunteers invested money and time for upgrades. A new mountain lion exhibit was built with the help of private donations. New awnings, benches, signage and landscaping were installed, and restroom renovations and the remodeling of offices and a meeting room occurred. A baby elk, a couple of wallabies and a beaver also joined the animal lineup.

The Davis family and Chris Ness were among the people who said they were eager to return.

“We were sad it had been closed,” said Ness, “but glad to see it reopen with all the improvements and after all the hard work. This is one of the highlights of Roswell for us.”

The zoo at 1306 E. College Blvd. will be open to the public for free Fridays to Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., until Feb. 28. Admission will be charged most days starting in March. The adjacent Spring River Park will remain free to the public.

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Reservations and COVID-19 safe practices by visitors will be required and can be made at www.roswell-nm.gov/1498/reserve-your-ticket or by choosing the “visit” menu on www.springriverzoo.com. During the current restrictions by the New Mexico Department of Health, the zoo’s visitor capacity is about 50 people per hour.

“We are now a real tourist attraction,” said Juanita Jennings, city director of public affairs.

She explained that the city added a guest experience unit to the zoo to supplement the zoo curating and animal care-taking staff. The guest experience staff also will work at the city’s Visitors Center.

Jennings said that guest experience meant paying attention to the appearances of the grounds and the facilities, upgrading the event room available for parties, improving the concession areas and introducing a gift kiosk, but it also has included customer service training staff, including how to assist visitors during emergencies.

While Jennings and her staff began work in October, reopening day involved hundreds of hours of work by city staff and volunteers to paint fences, lay gravel and rocks, and clean up the grounds, she said.

Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.