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Baraboo zoo plans new exhibits

November 19, 2018

Now that the Ochsner Park Zoo’s deer have moved to new quarters, the Baraboo Parks Commission is considering new exhibits it might place at their old stomping ground.

A preliminary plan Parks Director Mike Hardy presented last week called for placing alpaca, owl, donkey, beaver, skunk and donkey exhibits in the former deer area; as well as a new walkway, overlook, seating, concessions and a new entrance at the zoo’s southeast corner near Park Street. The deer moved in April to a new $40,000 privately funded exhibit in the zoo’s northeast corner near Eighth Avenue.

“We’ve been looking at various options to get something in there,” Hardy said.

The face-lift could cost up to $30,000. After learning of staff concern with the proposed setup, the Parks Commission on Nov. 12 asked Hardy to consult with zoo and Parks Department staff and return with new options. It voted 5-0 to authorize Hardy to proceed with work on a beaver pond and fencing in the meantime.

“I think we should table it until the staff is on board,” Commissioner Dan Lewison said. “I think the zookeepers should have a lot of input.”

Zookeeper Tori Spinoso expressed safety concerns about the proposed new entrance near the intersection of Park Street and Zoo Lane. “To me, that’s a dangerous corner,” she said.

She also questioned placing all three varieties of owls side by side, rather than interspersing them throughout the zoo. Most facilities are opting for mixed-species exhibits now, she said.

“It just spreads it out a little bit and makes it a little more interesting,” Spinoso said.

Hardy said parks and zoo staff may not reach consensus, as personal preferences will come into play. Still, commissioners asked him to consult with staff and bring the Friends of the Baraboo Zoo booster group into the loop.

“We should probably look at this a little longer,” Commissioner Craig Schlender said.

Commissioners said the project is important because the former deer pen comprises roughly half the zoo’s size.

“It’s such a huge area. We have to put something there,” Commissioner Angela Witczak said.

After a period of redevelopment that has seen the zoo add the new deer area and an otter exhibit, this face-lift may represent the last major overhaul in the foreseeable future. The city will bring in three beavers once a suitable home is ready for them.

“It won’t change for 20 years,” Lewison said.

Hardy said upgrading the zoo’s enclosures — and easing crowding among its goats, pigs and donkey — will help show the city cares for its animals. “It allows us to keep that image at an affordable price,” he said.

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