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Zoos: Elmwood Park Zoo – a Potted History

Related: Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom / Austin Zoo / Wild West City / Wonder World Park

Elmwood Park Zoo is located in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

The zoo began in 1924 when a local landowner handed over to the Borough of Norristown a small piece of property and a few white-tailed deer. The zoo expanded throughout the decade adding the likes of bears, monkeys, raccoons, rabbits and peacocks.

The zoo would be run by the Borough right up until 1985 when the Norristown Zoological Society assumed control and were granted the right to expand the zoo both in terms of its size and in the number of its exhibits. This expansion period would continue throughout the 90s and was only completed in 2002.

Developments that took place at the zoo during this period included the introduction of a wetlands aviary in 1995 and a year later, its previous ‘Sensorium’ facility was renovated and turned into ‘The Bayou’. This exhibit features several species of reptiles and amphibians including alligators, snakes, frogs, lizards and turtles.

In 1997, the first phase of the Grassland Exhibit featuring Roosevelt Elk and American Bison was incorporated into the zoo. Two years later, the multi-million dollar Powell Pavilion was completed. This became the zoo’s official admission area and also housed the administrative offices as well as Cougar Cafe and a nature shop.

The Thomas Kimmel Conservation Kingdom opened in 2001. An interactive playground, this has become one of the zoo’s most popular attractions. Phase two of the Grasslands Exhibit was completed in 2002 with the introduction of prairie dogs and also the black-footed ferret which remains one of the rarest and most endangered species on the planet.  This period completed the primary focus of the development plans formed over 15 years previously which now resulted in the size of the zoo having been increased from 8 to 16 acres.

Today, the zoo hosts over 130, 000 visitors each year with its aim being to foster an appreciation of wildlife and their habitat from a very young age. In fact, the zoo intends to increase the possibilities for educating future generations through play and where children will be able to experience the likes of a prairie dog digging its tunnel underground or through watching bald eagles from the top of a life-sized nest. 

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