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Platte Valley Companies becomes largest donor to Riverside Discover Center campaign with $100,000 donation

September 7, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — The brother bears at the zoo are one step closer to a new home thanks to a generous donation from one local business.

Platte Valley Companies is now the largest donor to date in Riverside Discovery Center’s plans to give the bears a bigger home and to make the zoo a must-see destination in western Nebraska.

PVC has pledged $100,000 to the zoo’s capital campaign. The money will be split with $575,000 going to phase 1 and $1,650,000 in phase 2. To date, through pledges large and small, the zoo has raised $135,000 for phase 1 and $50,000 for phase 2. The donation puts the zoo close to 25 percent complete for phase 1.

The zoo has held a mail-in campaign to raise money. Zoo Director Anthony Mason said many donations are small, but every donation helps to get one step closer to their goal. The next largest donations were from the Scotts Bluff County tourism committee, NEXT Young Professionals, Hoops for Heroes and a large local business owner who has been a big supporter of the zoo.

Hod Kosman, president and CEO of PVC, and his family have been longtime visitors to the zoo.

“It’s a privilege to be invested in the project,” Kosman said. “Our associates have had way more fun than $100,000 over the years and this is a down payment on that.”

Cathy Eastman, board member and zoo veterinarian, said everyone is working to make a nice place for the brother bears to live and was thankful for the donation.

“We needed something to get it started so people will see this is real and this is going to happen,” she said. “The board is thrilled.”

During the check presentation at the zoo on Thursday, preliminary plans for the exhibit were revealed. The new exhibit will be roughly 21,000 square feet. The plans, which could change, are to have a covered shelter viewing space and two viewing areas.

“Our goal is to also put in a training panel where people can come to watch a trainer do trainings,” Mason said.

Mason said having a company like PVC commit to the project was big. PVC is known for supporting community development and they see the importance of developing the zoo for the sake of the community and economic development in the region, Mason said.

“They are such a well-known entity in this area and support our community in so many ways,” he said. “It’s pretty wild for an organization to commit and come along on this ride with us.”

Upon completion, the exhibit will have several unique features. The exhibit is designed in the same vein as a frontier town and will have the world’s only water tower in a bear exhibit.

“We wanted to create something that becomes a landmark in the town that people connect with so much that you identify it with the area,” Mason said. “I don’t want this just for the zoo’s sake, I want it to be an iconic thing that people associate with the community.”

The water tower will function and have water that pumps out of it and feed into a stream that connects to a pool near one of the viewing areas.

Halfway up the tower, there will be a platform for the bears to walk on and hang out on.

“It will be functional for the bears,” Mason said. “They can use it to climb on it and play with.”

On the other side of the tower will be a manual wench to use as a scatter feeder.

“At random times it will scatter feed for enrichment opportunities for the bears,” Mason said. “It is random so they don’t know the time and it helps keep them active and enriched.”

A tug-of-war area will also be available, a first anywhere in the world. Guests will be able to play during scheduled, supervised times with zero contact between human and bear.

“This will allow them to play work their muscles and natural instincts,” Mason said.

Although the tower, viewing blinds and tug of war sound expensive, Mason said there were many inventive ideas to keep the costs low.

“It’s allowing us to have those features and keep within the budget,” he said. “If we built everything in the traditional way, it would run way over budget.”

Kosman has fond memories of the zoo. He used to bring Scooter, a male chimpanzee, to his office when Scooter was a baby.

“He’d sit on my lap while I was doing deposits,” Kosman said. “He was fascinated by my mustache.”

Kosman also noted he was happy to be a part of a project that focuses on grizzly bears.

“The grizzly bear was the dominant predator in this area for centuries,” Kosman said. “It will be good to showcase them in their own environment.”

Phase 1 of the capital campaign will be the bear exhibit, which will be where the current zebras are located. The zebras will then be moved to a different part of the zoo.

“When this exhibit is built, it will be one of the largest grizzly bear exhibits in the country,” Mason said. “We’re going to turn this into a real attraction for the area.”

Mason is looking forward to the opportunity of showing the world what can be accomplished when everyone works together toward a united goal.

“I thought, why can’t Scottsbluff have this?” Mason said. “We’re a strong community and have a lot of support. Why can’t we do this both for our community and for tourism?”

Mason said it felt great to be progressing in the campaign, but they are still in need of individual and business donations.

“I hope when people see Platte Valley’s support they feel confident in our project and want to be involved,” Mason said. “It will be great to open a new exhibit and the spike in visitors from out of the county could be huge for many years to come.”

inorth@starherald.com

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