Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the Brandywine Zoo is the first of many new improvements slated for the Wilmington attraction.
Zoo Director Gene Peacock said revamping the rear section of the zoo will make the otter and eagle exhibits more accessible.
“This is a way to make it more stroller-friendly, as well as ADA accessible, so it’ll be a series of boardwalks and ramps to bring people up to a really good viewing level and just to make it a better experience for our zoo visitors overall,” Peacock said.
As it is now, the area has two sets of stairs leading up to a bridge to see the otters; the ground leading to the exhibits is also uneven.
“It’s the last place in the zoo that’s not accessible to the handicapped,” said Mike Allen, executive director of the Delaware Zoological Society, the nonprofit volunteer organization that manages the state-owned zoo. “The zoo is 110 years old so there’s just a lot of structural needs that we have. It’s not just this set of ramps, basically the entire zoo needs to be redone.”
Peacock said not only will visitors have better views of the animals, but the renovation will also give the zoo more usable flat space for after-hours special events.
At a cost of $100,000, zoo officials won’t have to spend a dime improving Eagle Ridge. Five Delaware state representatives each contributed $20,000 of community transportation funds towards the renovation. Money from the discretionary fund can be spent on things like road or sidewalk improvements.
Rep. Charles Potter, D-Wilmington North, was one of the state lawmakers who contributed.
“I’m born and raised here, I’ve been in this zoo so many times I just can’t tell you,” said Potter, as he recalled fond memories of coming to zoo when he was young. “I want other people to be able to experience the same thing and when you come here it’s still an adventure.”
“And then we had a member of the board that’s an architect that did the design work gratis for us,” Peacock said of Bob Grove, who serves as board treasurer of the DZS. “It literally is a way to improve things at the zoo and it doesn’t cost us anything out of our budget.”
Zoo officials said the project will be finished by March, when the zoo kicks off its busy season in the spring. Brand new reptile exhibits in the windows of the zoo’s administration building will also debut in March.
“This is really one of the first things we’re doing that shows we’re starting to update the zoo,” Peacock said.
Last year, zoo officials announced a multi-million dollar redesign, which included a new immersing rain forest exhibit. At the time, Bill Montgomery was head of the DZS. He predicted the rain forest exhibit would be complete in 3 or 4 years. Allen did not have a time line, but said the $10 million makeover is still very much in the planning phase.
“It’s a long-term thing that’s not going to happen in 6, or 8 or 12 months. It’s going to take a big commitment from a lot of people to get there.” Allen said. “But I think people are starting to realize that good things are happening at the zoo and that if people invest in it, it’s not only going to be good for the community and the children from an education point of view, but it’s also a good economic development thing.”