Potawatomi adding animals, interactive activities

Published 9:18 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

Submitted photo.

Submitted photo.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For many, zip-lining is enough to make stomachs drop and adrenaline rise. Add a dozen or so alligators underneath for effect, and you’ve got a thrill ride most would consider a distant adventure.

Soon enough, though, that experience won’t be so far away. In fact, tourists will soon be able to find such an adventure right in the heart of South Bend.

Gator zip-lining is just one anticipated attraction set for the city’s Potawatomi Zoo in its $37 million extreme makeover.

The master plan, which was released last week, illustrates a comprehensive 15- to 20-year strategy to enhance guest experiences, improve the site and facilities, and strengthen the zoo’s stature in its educational mission.

“There will be so many opportunities to interact with animals,” said Marcy Dean, executive director of Potawatomi Zoo. “We expect these changes to really bring out the emotion of those who come to visit.”

Introduced in phases, the long-term project introduces a variety of interactive exhibits, including educational-themed play areas for children and animal-feeding and enrichment demonstrations for the entire family.

Of course, zoo officials plan to expand its exhibits, welcoming even more guests from the animal kingdom.

Giraffes and penguins are slated newcomers to the wildlife roster and part of the feeding experience, and guests will also be able to feed the existing bison.

The plan is largely built around a cross-continental theme. The North America Experience will introduce bears to Potawatomi Zoo — either grizzly or black — along with wolves and cougars.

The African Experience is considered a crucial economic driver for the zoo with goals to highlight the ever-popular lions, the new giraffes, and an improved view of the chimpanzee exhibit, to name a few.

The Asian Experience design rests in the heart of the park, showcasing a new and improved tiger complex, which will please patrons after the loss of the zoo’s white Bengal tiger, Ivory, earlier this year.

“We’ve listened to what our patrons say and want in putting this design together,” said George Horn, president of the Potawatomi Zoological Society. “Visitors can expect to see something new every year.”

“Quick success” projects include a new in-house prairie dog exhibit, a new bison and eagle habitat, and temporary giraffe feeding. “High priority” projects reside in renovation of the zoo’s entrance, parking, and relocation of the education offices and gift shop.

While the timeline on phase layout isn’t specific, the first phase focuses on an improved alligator exhibit (with zip-line Alligator Adventure) and an endangered-species carousel, while phase two incorporates a children’s zoo and educational plaza. Phase three reveals the North America Experience, a new restaurant, and corporate picnic area.

“Future” phases consist of the bulk of blueprints and $26 million of planned cost with Asia and Africa, flamingo and penguin remodels, as well as a new administration building.

“A great city deserves a great zoo,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “I applaud every part of this project.”

In playful talk between Dean and Buttigieg of who will ride the first zip-line, Mayor Buttigieg added, “Zip-lining over the alligator pits does sound pretty fun.”