By Kat Halfman
SUAMICO – The NEW Zoo and Adventure Park will soon offer visitors a different view of many of its animals – from 20 feet in the air.
Gary Ehrbar, president of NEW Zoological Society Board of Directors, kicked off a June 2 press conference officially breaking ground for the new canopy tour with a warm welcome.
“I think we’re really fortunate to live in a community where donors give back to the community – they gave to this project (the canopy tour) and obviously they give back to the zoo, so thank you all very much for that,” he said.
Nathaniel Wagner, the adventure park supervisor, will also be in charge of the zoo’s new canopy tour.
He said when the tour is completed in mid-July, there will be a total of 10, 8-foot by 8-foot platforms, lofted between 16-20 feet above the ground, with 17 connecting bridges and five additional platforms specially dedicated to education.
Wagner said guests will purchase tickets in the same area they would for the adventure park, and then begin their journey above the Brown County Reforestation Camp.
From there, the canopy walk will pass over and around some animal exhibits – stretching almost a half-mile through the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park.
There will also be additional enclosure space added – chutes built by Northeast Wisconsin Technical College – so snow leopards and snow monkeys can walk alongside the guests.
“What’s really unique about this canopy tour is the ability to get face-to-face with some of the animals that are going to be up high with people,” Angela Kawski-Kroening, education coordinator at NEW Zoo, said. “It allows guests to connect with those animals in a whole new way.”
She said the main goal of the new canopy walk experience is to connect with and educate guests, as well as to provide an engaging new experience.
“It’s not often that a zoo of our size is surrounded by nature the way we are,” Kawski-Kroening said.
Education and history
Kawski-Kroening said the tour will include two different series of educational graphics for guests to follow.
The first series, she said, is nature-inspired, and features information about plants and animals native to the area.
Kawski-Kroening said the signs will encourage readers to look at what’s around them, and fully immerse themselves in the tour.
The second series of graphics, she said, is based on the zoo’s history, and will share the story of how it came to be.
“I hope everyone doesn’t mind me speaking for them and saying that we’re all really proud of our story,” Kawski-Kroening said.
She said the NEW Zoo started 70 years ago as nothing more than a dream thought up by Harry Barth, who envisioned a space surrounded by nature that people could come from all over the community to enjoy.
Unfortunately, Kawski-Kroening said Barth passed away shortly after the Reforestation Camp came to be, but his wife Arelia took the reins and rallied the community to see the camp become something even greater.
Kawski-Kroening said the historical graphics aim to help visitors connect with the zoo in a new way, by seeing how it began and how it has changed and grown over the years.
It will also share a sneak peek of the vision the NEW Zoo has for its future – Ehrbar hinted at two new projects coming to the zoo the community should keep an eye and ear out for.
Kawski-Kroening said the canopy tour will be a family-friendly experience with something for the little ones and the adults, too.
She said the canopy tour will not be wheelchair or stroller accessible.
Kawski-Kroening said the canopy tour wouldn’t have been possible without donor support.
“We’re so excited to share these stories with our guests,” she said. “We’re grateful for the help we received from Insight Creative, as well as Skyline, as they really helped us with the design of these graphics. Of course, there are many other sponsors and donors that have helped us as well.”
Ehrbar echoed the appreciation.
“None of this would be possible without them,” he said.
Wagner said the partnership between the NEW Zoo and the Zoological society made it possible for many of the zoo’s attractions to be built through donations.
Though the zoo is county-owned, it doesn’t receive any tax funding, so it relies on the generosity of donors.