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PGAV Destinations Inspires Connections with Animals at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago


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Trekking Experience is an Innovative Design that Transforms Guests

PGAV Destinations, a global leader in the planning and design of unique destinations, is pleased to announce the opening of their project at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo. The Great Bear Wilderness is the first project selected by the zoo for completion from its Master Plan, created by PGAV in 2006.

Once virtually empty land, guests now encounter a 7.5-acre habitat thriving with polar bears, grizzly bears, Mexican gray wolves, bison, and bald eagles. The $27.3 million state-of-the-art Great Bear Wilderness project reflects the zoo’s commitment to conservation, animal welfare and an unparalleled guest experience. Trekking through new National Park-like areas inspires guests, as they discover animals in the wilderness and absorb vital information that has been woven into compelling stories.

PGAV Destinations developed plans for Great Bear Wilderness during a yearlong design process. The design team generated numerous ideas using storyboards to describe and enliven the experience of trekking through the western United States. Interpretive messages focus on conservation, and the fact that, with timely intervention, animal species can be brought back from extinction and flourish in their natural habitats. Guests set out on an adventure that allows them to connect with animals once at grave risk for extinction.

“Animal welfare is always a priority, ” explains Emily Howard, PGAV Destinations Project Manager. “We worked hard to ensure all exhibit areas are unique and enriching.”

The new bear exhibits are innovatively designed so zoo staff can easily move the bears to different environments, by shifting them through the back of the house. Changing spaces helps to keep them stimulated through exploration. Previously, one species was assigned to one permanent space. With the innovative new arrangement, the polar bears and brown bears are able to share three exhibit spaces.

Guests begin their trek by first encountering a group of bison in a prairie setting. Following a pathway through a tunnel, guests view a mural with graphics illustrating the history of bison on the Great Plains. This exhibit was designed so bison can walk from yard to yard on a bridge over the tunnel. When guests are inside the tunnel, they hear herding sounds overhead augmented by sound effects.

“There’s significant value in adding sound effects to exhibits, ” states Howard. “In addition to natural noises, the enhanced sounds greatly heighten the entire animal experience.”

Other kinds of challenges addressed by PGAV Destinations included infrastructure. For example, an exhibit concern was to ensure the bison prairie remained green at all times, even as the large heavy animals continually graze. To solve this potential problem, PGAV cleverly designed a specific 32-inch-thick soil profile. Its different layers of stone and soil allow water to permeate the rock in the exhibit, quickly filtering water away from the topsoil and grasses and preventing any muddy, non-grassy conditions.

About Brookfield Zoo Celebrating its 75th year, the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, inspires conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature.

About PGAV Destinations 

PGAV Destinations is a global leader in the planning and design of unique destinations. Now in its fifth decade, the practice has evolved to become the ideal destination-consulting partner, skilled at developing growth-oriented master plans and translating those plans into successful projects. No other firm offers such an integrated approach to destination planning.

PGAV’s key clients include industry leaders such as Delaware North, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, the Biltmore Companies, Bass Pro Shops, Ameristar Casinos, Universal Studios, The Gettysburg Foundation, Niagara Parks Commission, The National Aviary, and many others. Recent assignments include planning and design at many of the world’s “must see” destinations, including the Grand Canyon, Biltmore Estate, Kennedy Space Center, Hearst Castle, the Georgia Aquarium, the Hoover Dam, and SeaWorld Adventure Parks.

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