Good year so far for zoo, museum and golf course
By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – Things are looking up for Brown County destinations, including the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park, the Neville Public Museum and the Brown County Golf Course, after weathering tough times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park saw a significant revenue and attendance decrease with 130,454 guests for the entire year.
“This did cause a significant loss of revenue and we are slowly making inroads into that loss this year,” Zoo Spokesperson Barbara Basten said.
Basten said thankfully, the community seems excited to visit the zoo again, and attendance numbers so far this year are proof.
“Our numbers look better than last year since we were closed from mid-March through early June reopening in early June,” she said.
As of the end of June 2021, the zoo saw slightly more than 114,000 guests.
Basten said that’s an increase of about 23,000 guests compared to the end of June 2019.
However, the zoo is struggling with the same challenge as many other businesses – a lack of staff.
“With the staffing challenges, we have had to revert back to closing at 6 p.m. during the summer months, allowing us the ability to provide a higher quality experience for guests while they are here,” she said.
Basten said this allows the carousel to run more, the Mayan Restaurant to remain open longer and reopens the giraffe feeding experiences.
“Being able to feed a giraffe for only $1 is such a great experience, and our guests and volunteers and the giraffes are so happy to return to the fun,” she said. “If you have never fed a giraffe, you would be amazed at how beautiful they are up close and how long and colorful their tongue is.”
Neville Public Museum
The Neville Public Museum is also seeing a spark in attendance after a significant deficit in 2020.
Executive Director Beth Kowalski-Lemke said the renovation of the Generations Gallery, coupled with the pandemic, was a one-two punch.
“We did have about a $42,000 shortfall for 2020 due to being closed and then just the renovation, and not opening until August of last year,” Kowalski-Lemke said.
The price of admission has gone up to $9 for adults, and $6 for children (ages 6-15).
“We did do a fee increase between the fiscal year 2020 and 2021 because when I ran budgetary numbers for 2021 based on what was happening with Midwest museums and the American Alliance of Museums, we knew that attendance was still going to be difficult in 2021,” she said. “Most of our counterparts weren’t open in the larger cities. I figured we were going to be about 65-70% of 2019’s attendance. That’s the only thing I really had to base something on.”
On average, Kowalski-Lemke said 150 people a day currently visit the Neville Public Museum, which is open Tuesday-Sunday.
“It started in June when school was released,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in attendance, which has been helpful in revenue in a way that I wasn’t quite predicting a year ago because we just didn’t know. I’m quite happy about that.”
The trend seems to be nationwide.
Kowalski-Lemke said nationally, museums are seeing 72.2% of attendance come back from 2019.
“We’re averaging 74% from January through June,” she said. “I’m pleased with that because we’re right where the industry is at this point. Do we all wish it was better? Absolutely.”
Kowalski-Lemke said she is confident about the future, due in part to the general mood of the public.
“People are now feeling a little more comfortable in the sense of wanting to get out, and with every exhibition being open you can still navigate it very easily and have that really cool experience,” she said.
Kowalski-Lemke said it also helps to have content that appeals to a wide audience.
“I think we hit a really sweet spot because we have something for everyone right now,” she said. “We have ‘Spectacular Science’ on the first floor, and that is being responded to well, as well as ‘Beauty of the Beast,’ which is an internally-created art exhibit, and people are fascinated by the amount of art that we have out, that is all animal art. Then the signature piece is a traveling exhibition, ‘Savage Ancient Seas,’ which looks at that late Cretaceous marine life world and just is a stunning traveling exhibition that has never been in the Midwest.”
Recently, the museum was recognized by the Wisconsin Historical Society with the 2021 Museum Exhibit Award for its newly renovated Generations Gallery.
The near 8,000-square-foot exhibit encompasses a vast collection of themes and stories of the people of Northeast Wisconsin.
Brown County Golf Course
Brown County Golf Course Superintendent Scott Anthes also said 2021 is proving to be a good year so far.
“Interest is coming back, and it is not just here,” Anthes said. “The National Golf Foundation is reporting a big spike in golf, and that’s great.”
But, he said comparing attendance numbers and revenue to those of last year, or even 2019, is a difficult task.
“They are up, but last year we were under pretty heavy restrictions,” Anthes said. “Last year, we couldn’t open right away, and when we did open, we had so many restrictions in place. So it’s a little bit different than this year. And not to say we aren’t having a good year and numbers aren’t up, because we are and they are, but comparing it to last year is tough.”
He said the same can be said when comparing numbers to 2019.
“Again, that is tough, too, because in 2019 it rained a lot so numbers were down that year due to rain,” he said.
Looking at just the numbers, Anthes said through July 2021, the course had approximately 22,000 rounds – compared to around 17,500 in 2020 and 16,500 in 2019.
He said typically the course sees anywhere from 30,000 to 35,000 rounds from late April through mid-November.
Anthes said the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in staff seeing a lot of new faces utilizing the course, along with course regulars.
He said a majority of the play at the course is senior play.
“It is just one thing seniors can come out and do,” he said. “It is low-impact on your body, walking is good for you. And they get to just be social.”
Athens said the course has returned to all pre-COVID-19 policies, including cart usage.
Press Times Correspondent Donna Schuld contributed to this story.