Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota

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Zoo Plans

On June 20th, 2012, A raging Kingsbury Creek flooded the Lake Superior Zoo causing unprecedented damage to buildings and grounds, as well as the loss of many beloved zoo animals.  No one could have predicted that a swath of heavy rainfall would linger over the Twin Ports area that night and produce seven to ten inches of rain.  Flash flooding, from Carlton County through the Duluth area and into Douglas County and Bayfield County in Wisconsin, took its toll on roads and bridges and caused severe damage to property throughout our region.  The zoo was in the path of destruction.

The torrent of floodwater from the almost 6,000 acres of watershed from Kingsbury Creek deposited tons of sand, silt and debris in the low-lying areas of the zoo property, including the, train depot/playground area. 

Polar Shores and the barnyard saw significant flooding; four feet in the barnyard and fourteen feet at Polar Shores.  Fourteen animals lost their lives including six sheep, four goats, a donkey, a turkey vulture, a raven and a snowy owl.  The waters were high enough that the harbor seals, Vivian and Feisty, and polar bear, Berlin, were able to exit their habitats.  The harbor seals were found outside of the zoo property, probably by the flood waters pushing them through a culvert; the polar bear remained on zoo property near her exhibit and was tranquilized and moved to safety.  Zoo staff were able to rescue the foxes and otters as the water receded.  

Summer, 2012
Great progress has been made and our visitors are certain to notice a number of significant changes from a year ago.  Here are a few: The zoo’s barnyard features many new animals and a contact yard, allowing our guests to get “up close and personal” with the animals.  Volunteers are on hand to answer questions and provide supervision for the encounters.  “Darla”, the miniature horse and the lone barnyard flood survivor has been joined by: “Lynnard” the llama; five new sheep (three baby doll named Lucky, Robert and Clark Kent and two Shetland named Ruby and Wendy); eight new goats (two pygmy named Mugsy and Spats, three alpine/nubian named Sparkle, Ace and Dunsten and three pygora named Flynn, Dante and Drew) and “Harry” the miniature jack donkey.

Perhaps the biggest animal news at the zoo has been the recent births of two Angolan Colobus monkeys.  (Please see the accompanying story)

Additional new animals include:  an American crow, two Burrowing owls, two hedgehogs, a green tree python, ball python, ghost phase corn snake, milk snake, degu, large-spotted genet, two Chinese goral, a snow leopard, cedar waxwing, gray tree frog, pine grosbeak, American robin, and sixteen chickens of various unusual breeds.  A second American Crow and ten salamanders will also soon be on display.

A new Zoo Train depot building, replacing the one that was swept away in the flood, is completed.  The Zoo Train has been a favorite amenity and has provided our guests with thousands of fun and informative rides this summer. 

The zoo’s pathways are all repaired, allowing our guests to navigate the grounds easily once again.

Construction began in August on the historic Works Progress Administration (WPA) pavilion. This building is 70+ years old and has been used by the public for public events, picnics, school programs and family gatherings.  It will be repurposed and transformed into a three season gathering space for groups, education, picnics, special events and shelter from rain.  We are excited to once again host company picnics, community groups and classes and we hope the zoo becomes a destination wedding location.  Renovations are expected to be completed in late October, 2013. (photo)

There are two other recent projects that our guests may not notice but are significant.  A large walk-in freezer has been installed at the zoo’s Animal Care Center.  This means we will be able to receive large shipments on-site, saving us both time and money.  In addition, construction on a new lift station will begin shortly.  The City of Duluth obtained the funding that makes this important project possible.

2013 and Beyond – We’re Looking Ahead
There are at least two things that are likely to stand out for our visitors as reminders of the flood- Kingsbury Creek and the Polar Shores Exhibit.

Large rocks and boulders left by the flood have significantly altered Kingsbury Creek.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the City of Duluth are working together to remove the sediment deposited by the flood and to restore the south section of Kingsbury Creek.  Plans include removing Raven Island, the dam, rechanneling the creek up to the WPA exhibit near the playground, and restoring native vegetation along its banks.  Weather permitting, parts of these projects will begin in early November and are expected to be complete by the summer/fall of 2014.  

The zoo’s longer-range plans include restoring the section of land between the creek and the bank (called the riparian zone) to its original habitat. This area contains native plants and trees and is good habitat for insects, reptiles, fish, and birds.  Who knows?  Maybe someday fishing will once again be great in this section of the creek. Restoring Kingsbury Creek is good for all the native insects and animals, St. Louis Bay, Lake Superior and zoo!

The second obvious reminder of the flood is the empty Polar Shores exhibit.  At this time, the zoo’s leaders are in the process of determining how to best utilize Polar Shores.  The facility is obviously an important asset to both the zoo and the community.

This past year the zoo, in partnership with the City, has worked to find funding through flood relief and legislative means to build new and/or renovate Polar Shores. At this time these avenues have all closed.  We are still working with the City and are planning on further exploring our options for funding in both the private/public sector.  

Zoo Plans

This is an exciting time for everyone involved with the Lake Superior Zoo! A new Master Plan was established in 2010 and will provide a vision for the future.

The Master Plan was partially funded the Minnesota State Legislature's Legacy Amendment Arts and Culture Heritage Fund. The zoo commissioned Studio Hanson/Roberts, Zoological Planning & Design Consultants, to develop a new Master Plan and related business plan for our zoo!

This included a thorough facility assessment and meetings with staff and community members to gather ideas and input for the collaborative process.  Thanks to the Master Plan and the hard work and dedication of zoo staff, volunteers and members of the community, the Lake Superior Zoo regained accreditation from the Association of Zoo and Aquariums in September 2011. 


Current Projects:

Pavilion Renovation Project
The Pavilion will be preserved for education and renewed community connections at the zoo!

The Lake Superior Zoological Society is renovating the historic bluestone Pavilion and will repurpose it for education programming and community events.  The Pavilion is a magnificent, blue-stone, open-air structure that has served our community well for more than 80 years.  Our goal is to develop a three-season multi-use facility for zoo and community programs.  Once renovated, it will be a special place where memories, leaning and the community come together. 

Education: The 2,400 sq. ft. of multi-use space will allow zoo environmental education, summer camps and Zoo Snooze overnight programs to grow.  The Pavilion will be available for use by visiting schools and groups, providing them with a gathering place for lessons, meetings, a picnic lunch and shelter from the weather. 

Community:  The Pavilion will be available to our community for use as a venue for cultural programs, special events, corporate meetings and workshops, and private party rentals.  We envision theatre, music and dance performances, as well as exclusive parties and wedding receptions ~ the Pavilion will provide an exceptional place for special gatherings.

Historical Significance:  The Lake Superior Zoo has served our region since 1923 as a community attraction and educational resource.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built many of the zoo buildings, bridges, animal habitats and the Pavilion during the 1930s.  Since that time, the Pavilion has been the hub for public events, zoo picnics, school programs and family gatherings. 

Commitment:  Funding commitments have been received from the Minnesota State Legislature’s Legacy Amendment Fund and other generous donors.  Additional funds are needed to complete the project.

Support:  Gifts in honor or memory of a loved one are appropriate.  For more information about this, or to discuss a pledge of support, please contact Dawn Mackety, P.h.D. by phone at 218-730-4500, ext. 203 or by email at   Online donations by credit or check card through GiveMN will help us complete the project.  Thank you! 

Click here to help furnish our renovated pavilion!