The Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley is a travel destination for those with a taste for adventure.

The tourist attraction reopened Friday, July 24, to the general public with new features such as timed ticketing and limited capacity for everyone’s safety on its indoor and outdoor trails.

“I think our staff was really excited to be able to safely welcome guests back. It has been a long time coming,” said Zach Nugent, a spokesman for the Minnesota Zoo.

The year-round destination is located minutes south of Mall of America in Bloomington. The zoo closed March 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“And really since about April we’ve been working on plans, looking at how we could safely welcome guests back to the zoo,” Nugent said Friday, July 24. “And we started with a drive-thru experience. And that lasted from late June through July 12. And that was really well-received.”

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A moose at the Minnesota Zoo grazes before guests arrive for the Friday, July 24, reopening of the tourist attraction in Apple Valley. Zach Nugent / Minnesota Zoo
A moose at the Minnesota Zoo grazes before guests arrive for the Friday, July 24, reopening of the tourist attraction in Apple Valley. Zach Nugent / Minnesota Zoo

The zoo has received “an outpouring of kind words and support from our community” during the temporary closure, according to Minnesota Zoo Director John Frawley.

“We had a great response from the community who just seemed excited to be able to come back to the zoo in some capacity,” Nugent said of the drive-thru experience. “And then reopening today was really our next step in that process.”

The new zoo experience is designed with the health and safety of the guests, staff and animals in mind. All tickets must be purchased online, in advance, for a specific date and entry time. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance.

“That’s one of the biggest changes for us and for our guests,” Nugent said of the online ticketing and reservation system. “This lets us keep capacity at certain limits, so we sold out today, but we know the numbers for each day and kind of what to expect coming in at different times.”

Tickets are sold by the half-hour starting at 10 a.m. with the last time slot at 2:30 p.m. before the zoo closes at 4 p.m.

A brown bear takes a dip along the Minnesota Zoo’s Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit Friday, July 24. Zach Nugent / Minnesota Zoo
A brown bear takes a dip along the Minnesota Zoo’s Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit Friday, July 24. Zach Nugent / Minnesota Zoo

“We looked at an average summer day for the zoo and what attendance would be typically, and we put our capacity limit at 25% of that so that we divided that up into the various time slots,” Nugent said. “In a typical summer, we could see anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 people on a really busy day, so we are looking at 2,500 people per day.”

Both the zoo’s indoor and outdoor trails are open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a one-way flow of traffic and markers to promote social distancing.

“Everything we’ve done has been with health and safety in mind and really working closely with the guidelines put forth by the Department of Health, the CDC and the Board of Animal Health as well because we have to take into account animal safety and animal health,” Nugent said.

In order to reduce the gathering of crowds, live programs such as the Wings Financial World of Birds Show and Close Encounters will not be offered at this time. Play areas, including the splash pad, will remain closed and additional cleaning will be done on high-touch areas.

“We took a look at our high-contact areas and areas that typically draw crowds. And in the spirit of promoting social distancing and a contact-less experience, we decided we are going to keep our play areas closed, our splash pad closed … to limit people congregating and touching,” Nugent said.

An Amur tiger cools off in the Minnesota Zoo’s newly remodeled tiger lair exhibit Friday, July 24. Zach Nugent / Minnesota Zoo
An Amur tiger cools off in the Minnesota Zoo’s newly remodeled tiger lair exhibit Friday, July 24. Zach Nugent / Minnesota Zoo

The Minnesota Zoo includes about 500 different species and about 5,000 total individual animals. Some of its most popular high-profile animals include its sea otters, grizzly bears, tigers and leopards,and gibbons and lemurs, according to Nugent.

“We have wolves and black bears, beavers, lynx, so a lot of animals that you would find throughout the Northern Hemisphere you’ll find at the Minnesota Zoo,” Nugent said.

Tickets are now on sale and can be reserved online at www.mnzoo.org. To protect the health of the animals and community, masks will be required of all guests age 3 and up.

“The zoo has been a treasured resource for more than 40 years, and we are excited to be able to safely reopen and invite our guests to once again reconnect with beloved animals and the wonder of nature,” Frawley stated in a news release.

If you go

  • What: Minnesota Zoo..

  • When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

  • Where: 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley.

  • Cost: $19.95 for adults; $13.95 for children ages 3 to 12, and seniors 65 and older.

  • More info: Call 952.431.9500 or visit www.mnzoo.org.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.