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Zoo opens for 90th year

April 4, 2018 GMT

MICHIGAN CITY — Several families braved the cold on Sunday to attend the season opener for the Washington Park Zoo, which celebrates its 90th year in 2018.

Amanda Ramos of Crown Point said she brought her children as a means of starting a new family tradition.

“My little one wakes up asking to go see the animals, and this is such a nice zoo,” she said. “The kids can walk the whole thing in about an hour; and it’s just beautiful how it sits here in the dunes.”

Nine-year-old Katey Sigle had fun running from exhibit to exhibit Sunday. She said, “I like seeing how the animals react in their habitats when people are around.”

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Nearby at the bear exhibit, 11-year-old Katie Bellah and 10-year-old twin sisters Baylie and Rylie Dilts laughed as they interacted with a large brown bear. The girls would put their faces and hands on the window, and the bear would lick the glass and playfully paw at them.

Zoo Director Jamie Huss said, “They’ve been missing the public. I don’t think people realize that the animals miss them when they aren’t here.”

Huss said she’s loved the zoo, which is home to between 85 and 100 species, since she was 8 years old, and is amazed at all the changes she’s seen there since then.

“There’s always something new at the zoo,” she said.

One thing patrons are bound to notice, even prior to entering the front gate, is the new stop sign in the crosswalk, which depicts an almost-lifelike lion, sure to inspire drivers to make a complete stop to allow pedestrians to cross.

Another lion will make an appearance at the zoo later this spring, when an old-fashioned fountain shaped like a lion head is installed. Huss said it’s reminiscent of the lion head fountain that used to be at the zoo before it was removed in 1992. The new one is sponsored by the Michiana Lions Club, and will be dedicated on June 16 at the zoo’s “Going Wild” 90th anniversary celebration.

“That’s our big birthday bash,” said Huss, “where all the animals will get to open birthday boxes filled with treats, and the first 100 kids will be able to build and take home their own birdhouses. We’ll have cupcakes and games and activities and vendors, so it will be a fun event.”

Some other things zoo patrons can look forward to in this milestone year include:

• Zoobilee, a Washington Park Zoo Society event at Artspace on April 28 that will raise funds for the animals’ vet bills.

• Daily giveaways for the 90th person to visit the zoo. This will begin May 26 and go through September.

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* The after-hours, adults-only Brew at the Zoo on June 9, which will feature beers, wines and food from regional establishments.

• Zoo-B-Q on Aug. 25, where patrons can talk to the zookeepers after hours, view the new deer barn scheduled to open in the next few weeks and brush up on some zoo history.

• A new baby zebu (mini cow) on the way.

• The renovation of the Rotary Castle, which Huss hopes will be complete this summer.

“It’s one of our WPA (Works Progress Administration) buildings, so we’re really happy about this. We’re hoping the reconstruction will be done by Zoo-B-Q,” Huss said.

In addition to the Rotary Castle, Monkey Island, the observation tower, the greenhouse, and various pathways and benches commissioned by the WPA during the Great Depression, Washington Park Zoo is home to 11 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s an honor to have been here for 90 years,” Huss said.