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River otters coming to Ochsner Park Zoo

Baraboo Zoo Ochsner Park and Zoo

The Baraboo, Wisconsin zoo has finally confirmed its long-awaited river otter exhibit.

It’s been a long time coming.  The non-profit Friends of the Baraboo Zoo group has been fund-raising money for the river otter exhibit for the past five years.

However the old exhibits have now been torn out, in preparation for work to start on the new compound.

Baraboo City Council voted unanimously this week to approve a $600,000 contract with Reedsburg based Friede & Associates.  The company will both design and build the exhibit.  Baraboo City Council pay Friede and donate the exhibit to the city on completion.

“The city will ultimately be the beneficiary, but we aren’t party to the contract,” said City Attorney Emily Truman.

The Parks Commission had given its blessing to the project back in March. The council’s finance committee has now recommended approving the contract.

“The time to act is now,” says Parks Director Mike Hardy.  He pointed out that construction costs rise with each year.  Prospective donors have intimated that they want to see progress before committing.

“I think it’s a good idea because it’ll help get more contributions,” said Alderperson Tom Kolb.

The Friends group will pay Friede about $350,000 for designing the exhibit and completing the first phase of construction. The second and third phases combined will cost around $250,000.

The phased approach allows time for the Friends to complete their fundraising.  It is anticipated this may take a further five years. In the meantime other animals could use the new space – foxes, raccoons or snow leopards have been suggested.  The aquatic element of the project would be installed last. It’s anticipated that three river otters will eventually take up residence at the zoo.

Friede already has a good relationship with the zoo.  They built the zoo’s bear exhibit in 2004 and the lynx exhibit in 2012.

“I was very impressed with the work they did,” says Mike Hardy. “I think it’s a good partnership.”

Image courtesy of the City of Baraboo.

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