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Louisville Zoo Opens Bear Habitat and Town of Glacier Run


Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak, Louisville Zoo Foundation Chairman Mark Wheeler, Polar Bears International senior scientist Dr. Steven Amstrup and others broke a ribbon made of ice and officially opened the polar and grizzly bear habitat and the town of Glacier Run.  One of the Zoo’s polar bear mascots presented the Mayor with a key (also made of ice) to the town of Glacier Run adding a whimsical note to the opening festivities.

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“Glacier Run is an innovative, world-class exhibit that makes the Louisville Zoo an even stronger center for lifelong education and exploration, ” Fischer said. “This exhibit also provides another strong destination attraction, meaning increased tourism and a positive impact on our city’s economy.”

Designed as an imaginary town on the edge of the arctic wilderness, Glacier Run is modeled after the real town of Churchill, Canada, the polar bear capital of the world, where humans and wildlife have learned to co-exist.

Glacier Run’s bear habitat is home to Arki, a 26 year-old polar bear that moved here from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and three grizzly bears from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation in Polson, Montana — 6 year-old Inga and her two cubs Otis and Rita, each one year-old.  Polar and grizzly bear training and enrichment demonstrations will be held daily at 11:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. with a keeper talk at 5:15 p.m.

Glacier Run features include an old mining quarry now flooded with water (for the bears to play in), a fishery and warehouse dock (more bear play space) and a melting glacier that has destroyed a road in the town (even more bear play space). The exhibit offers spectacular views, captivating stories of the arctic and unique opportunities for close-up encounters with the magnificent and iconic polar bear, as well as grizzly bears.  Guests can interact with zoo keepers, learn about current challenges to arctic environments and animals, and discover how incremental changes in our everyday activities and behaviors can make a difference for our planet and these magnificent species.

“Glacier Run is sure to delight and entertain, but will also tell one of the most important environmental stories of our generation. This arctic-themed exhibit fundamentally advances your Zoo’s mission of ‘bettering the bond between people and our planet, ” Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak said. “The very nature of this exhibit’s design is based on the idea of humans learning to co-exist with wildlife.”

“The Louisville Zoo remains a powerful educational resource for our entire community, and with the addition of the immersive learning environment and up close bear viewing offered by Glacier Run, students in our region will expand their curiosity for science learning even further, ” said Louisville Zoo Foundation Chair Mark Wheeler.

This multi-phase capital project has included several successes to date including the June 2010 opening of the Seal and Sea Lion Habitat, the 2008 completion of the Alice S. Etscorn Tiger Tundra, and the 2007 opening of the Calistoga Splash Park.  The final two phases of Glacier Run are set to open in Spring 2012 —the Glacier Run Arctic Ambassador Center which will include outreach animals such as snowy owls and arctic foxes and an aviary to house the Zoo’s magnificent Steller’s sea eagles.

Once Glacier Run is totally complete, the estimated economic impact of the Zoo on the region will increase to $33.6 million.  Attendance at the Zoo is expected to increase to more than 890, 000.



    Planning/Design began in 2005

    Broke ground in September 2008

    Architect and Design FirmPeckham Guyton, Albers and Viets, Inc. (PGAV)
                                              Arrasmith, Judd, Rapp, Chovan, Inc

    Construction: Whittenberg Construction
                            Weber Group Inc.

    Landscape: Korfhage Landscaping and Design

    Opened in phases:

    2006: Glacier Run Gateway  (Australia area, playground, tram stop, a satellite dining facility)

    2007: Calistoga Splash Park

    2008: Alice S. Etscorn Tiger Tundra

    2010: Seal and Sea Lion Habitat


     $25 million capital campaign. Largest capital campaign in Zoo’s 41 year  history, led by Sandra Frazier and Allan Latts

    Met a $900, 000 Kresge challenge grant in late December 2010 with the help of Humana Inc. and the Ogle Foundation whose gifts helped us reach and exceed our goal

    37 schools from 16 counties in KY and IN participated in a “Pennies for Polar Bears Campaign” that raised over $30, 000 in a student-driven effort September to November 2010


    More than 890, 000 visitors are anticipated annually with the economic impact for Glacier Run exceeding $33.6 million


  • Polar Bear Arki (26) from Brookfield Zoo in Chicago
  • Wild-born Grizzly (Brown) Bears Inga  (approximately 6) and her one year-old cubs, Otis and Rita, all from Polson, Montana
  • California Sea Lions, Cicely (23 and Bart’s mother), Bart (17 and born here), Triton (20), Kahula (2), Patches (23) and Julie (18)
  • South African Fur Seal, Rosi (24)
  •  Harbor Seal, Toney (8)


    Seal and Sea Lion pool:

  •         108, 000 gallons of salt water re-circulated through high-rate sand filters and ozone disinfection
  •          maintained at 65 degrees (colder in winter)
  •          0 to 9 feet depth

    Seal and Seal Lion Amphitheatre seats 200 for animal training demonstrations held daily at 10:30 a.m., 2 and 3:45 p.m.

    Bear pool:

  • 80, 000 gallons re-circulated through high-rate sand filters and ozone disinfection
  • maintained at 65 (colder in winter)
  • 0 to 16 feet depth

    Daily bear demonstrations are at 11:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. with a keeper talk at 5 p.m.

    Town of Glacier Run includes the Glacier Run Mining Company (indoor access to underwater viewing windows of bear pool), Gilbert’s Fishmongers Fishery with a warehouse dock (outdoor bear exhibit area), a town hall (zoo classroom) and a gift shop

    Melting glaciers have destroyed a roadway in the town and have flooded the old mine quarry which is now the bear pool

    Glacier Run was purposefully designed to provide maximum enrichment opportunities for the animals. These include pools, dig pits, grassy areas, a warehouse dock with items that might appear to be trash but are actually elements for the bears to interact with and an ice machine.


    In 2012, the Zoo will open the Glacier Run Arctic Ambassador Center which will include outreach animals such as snowy owls and arctic foxes. These outreach animals, along with their zoo keepers, will be out and about on the exhibit’s walkways and will help convey important conservation stories.  An aviary to house the Zoo’s magnificent Steller’s sea eagle will also open in 2012.

About The Louisville Zoo

The Louisville Zoo, a non-profit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Photo: Louisville Zoo officials broke an ice ribbon today and opened Glacier Run, the Zoo’s newest exhibit, home to polar and grizzly bears and seals and sea lions. Photo by Robert Kemnitz. (l-r) Polar Bears International senior scientist Dr. Steven Amstrup, Glacier Run capital campaign co-chair Sandra Frazier, Glacier Run capital campaign co-chair Allan Latts, Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak, Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Zoo Foundation Chairman Mark Wheeler and the Zoo’s polar bear mascot.

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