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Mountain Lions, Coyotes and Bears!

Zoo officials hopeful for new exhibits

From the Times-Standard Feb. 17, 2017 by Manny Araujo:

Officials with the Sequoia Park Zoo said they would only raise ticket prices significantly after it completed development of two new attractions at the zoo: a canopy walk in the redwoods and a native predators exhibit of mountain lions, coyotes and bears.

The zoo’s foundation director Julie Benbow said the new attractions were expected to increase attendance at the park by as much as 40 percent once they are built, turning the zoo into a primary destination for visitors in the area and helping attract tourism dollars around the county.

“This is where you’re going to start when you want to have a redwood adventure — the Sequoia Park Zoo,” Benbow said.

In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, the zoo had about 1.8 million visitors, according to Benbow. If it the zoo can raise enough funds to pay for the expansion, she expects tourism could provide a “significant” boost to the local economy.

Benbow said the effect would be to put more “heads in beds” at Humboldt County hotels.

Gretchen Ziegler, zoo manager, said the canopy walk would allow visitors to walk on a platform that is as high as 100 feet off the ground at some points.

The platform connects to several redwood trees just west of the zoo’s Asian Forests exhibit, according to early diagrams of the project.

Ziegler said visitors will be welcome to examine the trees from high above at their own leisure.

According to Benbow, similar walks in Vancouver, British Columbia, and upstate New York helped provide inspiration for the idea but a canopy walk specifically in a redwood forest is unheard of in the Northern Hemisphere.

“If you wanted to visit the redwoods, you’d normally think you’d have to travel to as far as Orick or Richardson Grove, we never thought of coming to the redwoods right behind us,” Benbow said.

Ziegler added the canopy walk would be accessible with a general admission ticket.

The expansion to the natural predators exhibit would come at the same time at the canopy walk, according to the Benbow and Ziegler. Visitors will get to see exhibit of mountain lions, coyotes and bears from a “boardwalk style” path that leads up to the canopy walk.

Ziegler said to help pay for the cost of the exhibits, the zoo might increase ticket prices at the park by as high as $14.95 for county residents and $19.95 for tourists. The zoo’s officials are also developing a plan to create a new marketing campaign to attract more tourists from as far as possible.

The zoo would continue programs that offer free entrance into the park, according to Benbow. Currently about 68 organizations, such as the Department of Health & Human Services and CASA of Humboldt receive free tickets into the zoo, according to the park’s records.

“We’re always going to find ways to help anyone who can’t pay for a visit to the zoo find a way,” Benbow said. “It’s still going to be a community zoo.”