POCATELLO — Zoo Idaho recently marked its first day of the season according to Superintendent Peter Pruett.
And the new season will eventually see the debut of the new Zoo Connections Entrance and Gift Shop at the 89-year-old zoo for animals indigenous to Idaho and the Intermountain West, he said.
“The Zoo Connections Entrance and Gift Shop is the centerpiece of the direction we’re taking Zoo Idaho,” Pruett said.
The planned 1,200-square-foot gift shop, which is possible due to donations from Connections Credit Union and the Zoo Idaho Zoological Society, will have two unisex restrooms and a ticketing and concessions area.
It should be completed possibly as soon as mid-summer, he said.
“You don’t ever want to put a time limit on it,” Pruett said. “But we are making steady progress and as people come to visit they will see the progress as we move along.”
The zoo at 2900 S. Second Ave. in Pocatello generally sees around 26,000 visitors a year, except for last year when COVID-19 shut down the zoo for a time and reduced the number of visitors.
But he hopes those zoo visitors, which include a lot of travelers, will return.
“We do definitely attract people from out of state as they’re traveling on I-15 north and south and they stop by,” Pruett said.
And the gift shop will give them yet another reason to stop rather than just pass through.
“The longer they stay in Pocatello, the better for the community because hopefully they’ll be hungry when they’re done,” Pruett said.
Entrance fees for Zoo Idaho are $6 for those ages 13 and older, $4 for youths up to age 12. And for those under age 3 it’s free.
The youngest visitors may not remember the zoo a whole lot at first, he said.
“But as you hit 4 or 5 you start remembering the animals and getting something out of it,” Pruett said.
He hopes for a strong number of visitors this year as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19. They lost April and May activities last year when they were shut down due to COVID-19, he said.
Overall they were down about 50 percent in attendance, so it was good to see people at this year’s Zoo Idaho opening on April 3.
“It’s nice to see a beautiful opening weekend and people enjoying Pocatello as well as it’s a good way to start the spring,” he said.
Plus, it’s nice for the area schools.
Normally Zoo Idaho will see a number of field trips from the schools that include teachers and parent chaperones.
“They go through the zoo and have a great time and then head back to the bus,” he said.
Or they can request a guided tour, which is an additional fee.
And he says if all goes well he believes the zoo will be “rocking and rolling” on tours this year.
“It’s basically just a fun day for the kids,” Pruett said.
And it’s safe. The zoo is 25 acres so it’s easy to have social distancing, he said.
He says all of their guests for the zoo opening were great and understanding and were keeping safe while also enjoying a wonderful day.
So they have high hopes for attendance.
“We’re excited for this year,” Pruett said. “It’s good to see people out and about.”
But the zoo still plans to take all possible precautions.
“We’re just going to watch and follow the basic precautions in place and do everything to make sure everyone is safe and happy when they come to visit,” Pruett said.