Knowing Your Neighbors: Lake Superior Zoo

DULUTH, Minn. — It has been part of our community for almost 100 years, and it has rebounded from some big challenges over the years.

But it has come roaring back. We’re talking about the Lake Superior Zoo.

“We get a lot of positive feedback. We’re having homeschoolers coming back. We had our summer schools full every summer. We have our zoo camp. We have so many exciting things like Red Panda coming next year, so it’s really positive feedback, so that feels good. You know the Zoo went through a difficult time, and we’re happy to close that chapter and move forward into the future,” said Haley Hedstrom, CEO of the zoo.

The zoo has weathered some storms, literally. Real storms of rain and flooding, financial storms and then medical storms in the form of COVID. But they bounced back last year setting an all-time attendance record of 106,000 visitors.

“The support from the community, especially since the pandemic has been amazing. We love to be able to welcome so many people here to the zoo. Whether it be on field trips, on general visitors, tourists. We had 85 percent of our visitors were tourists last year actually, which was awesome, crazy at the same time, but it’s so important to have community support for a non-profit that cares for over three hundred animals. And we’re just so thankful and grateful to our community members for giving us that needed support,” said Hedstrom.

The community is supporting the 19th oldest zoo in the United States. It’s one of 3 Minnesota Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It has also found a unique role in highlighting certain vulnerable species and trying to inspire action toward conservation.

Hedstrom said, “It’s really important for us to accomplish our mission in conservation. And ensuring that these species like Taj the Tiger, or the goral that you just saw are here for years to come. And you know the end game of that program is to someday hopefully have not only the genetic viability, in that species, but as well as the habitats out in the wild so that we can re-release. We’re not quite there with many of these species, because their habitats are going away due to reforestation, and other things so that we’re hoping that by holding these species and breeding them in zoos, and accredited aquariums across the United States and the world, that we can hopefully re-introduce those back into the wild.”

As the Lake Superior Zoo looks forward to next year’s 100th anniversary, it knows that the animals are counting on the team here. The team knows it’s relying on this special community and place.

“We’re actually lucky to have this size of zoo. We’ve got sixteen plus acres here. A really unique topography with Kingsbury creek running through and all the greenery trees. We’re really lucky and it’s really something special for the community to be able to utilize as their space and learning environment for learning more about animals and conservation,” said Hedstrom.

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