Zoo To Stay Its Same Size; Exhibits Will Be Upgraded, Not Rebuilt

DULUTH, Minn.- Back in 2016, plans were made to shrink the footprint of the Lake Superior Zoo from 20 acres to just 10.

Now, a vote from city council is changing that.

After the destruction of the 2012 flash flood, the 2016 plan called for many of the damaged buildings to be demolished and rebuilt.

But the replacement of the Grand Avenue and railroad culverts downstream from Kingsbury Creek, lowered the floodplain, making those plans unnecessary.

“I think as we dug into the details of that plan and what it actually meant, and what it was going to cost, it was really the cost that made it prohibitive to proceed with that plan,” said the Zoo’s executive director, Erik Simonson.

The cost, at the time, was about $15 million.

Today that would be upward of $28 million.

Now, the first phase of the plans would cost only $4 million, some much-needed relief for the already struggling zoo.

“I think he made some very hard decisions that involved staff reductions when he came in to put it on a sustainable path forward financially,” said City Councilor Arik Forsman. “Shared last night that they’re operating at a sort of a break even standpoint.”

“I really think that they’re taking a hard look at how the zoo can financially get over that hump that I think it’s been struggling with for a while.”

That first phase includes turning the Polar Shores exhibit into a new Bear Country exhibit, which would house bears and river otters.

The bear and puma exhibit across the creek will also be rehabilitated and upgraded, among others.

It is worth noting that the council voted 7–1 in favor of the zoo’s new plan.  The vote against came Em Westerlund who raised concerns about the zoo’s larger animals being kept in cages.

Simonson says  the zoo’s new Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation with shift focus toward conservation, and making those habitats more like the animals’ natural environment.


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