Approaching its 20th anniversary, The Oberkircher Discover Center has been the longest standing and most consistently used feature in the zoo. As the crux of the education department, the center has hosted thousands of students (both young and young at heart) and has played home to hundreds of animal ambassadors. It is the reason why new educational endeavors can be explored and how we make such an invaluable impact on our community.
With attendance numbers jumping to just shy of 1 million and education bookings through the roof, the need to open a new education center has reached a critical juncture. I hope as you peruse the zoo's most recent successes you are inspired to also review our Education Complex Proposal, and consider once again, making an indelible impact on the zoo's operations. With your support, we will be equipped to educate the community for years to come and increase our animal ambassador collection to house some incredible species.
I appreciate your consideration of this request, and I look forward to having you to the zoo. I know you will enjoy seeing all the changes in person!
A Five-Year Highlight
95 years ago, Elmwood Park Zoo began with a small group of volunteers maintaining an even smaller collection of white tailed deer. Today, nearly a century and 150 staff members later, Elmwood Park Zoo has grown to be one of Montgomery County's largest and most powerful educational and recreational institutions.
The past five years in particular have been unprecedented, with organizational and operational growth across the board. The below information provides a snapshot of these accomplishments, with a full report provided in the link.
Our new General Curator, Marina Haynes, comes to the zoo with over 17 years in animal management and a Masters in Animal Sciences. From vet-tech, to zookeeper, to curator, Haynes has seen every aspect of the Zoo world and is excited to offer her expertise and vision in our period of unprecedented growth.
Coming from her role as Curator of Primates, Small Mammals and KidZooU! at the Philadelphia Zoo, Haynes’ rounded knowledge and award-winning experience with youth-centric Zoological learning make her the perfect fit for Montgomery County’s boutique Zoo.
Director of Education, Laura Houston comes to EPZ with nearly two decades in zoo education. Her knowledge and accomplishments will become integral to the expansion of the zoo’s educational offerings for years to come.
Helping launch Philadelphia Zoo’s accessibility-geared children’s zoo, KidZooU!, Laura brings both expertise and devotion to Elmwood Park Zoo’s facility-wide accessibility overhaul — with her passion already playing a large role in the zoo’s recent accreditation by the IBCCES as the first zoo in the nation to be a Certified Autism Center.
Dr. Michele Goodman, Elmwood Park Zoo's Director of Veterinary Services, received her veterinary medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and her MHS degree at Quinnipiac University.
Working throughout graduate school as a research assistant and animal health consultant at the Livingston Ripley Waterfowl Conservancy, Dr. Goodman has given many lectures in waterfowl rehabilitation and medicine — both around the country and internationally—, and is the current President of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
Cody Lotrecchio, the zoo's Assistant Director of Guest Services, worked for four years as an Assistant Manager in Guest Programs at Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere.
Holding a BA in English with a concentration in Secondary Education from the University of Delaware, Cody is a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation and graduate of the Walt Disney World College Program.
Holding her BA in English from George Washington University, and MA in Education from Arcadia University, Volunteer Programs Manager Sara Harrington comes to the zoo as a former Philadelphia Zoo volunteer Docent and AARK Wildlife Rehabilitation volunteer.
Sara's contributions assisted volunteers to give 32,000 hours of service to the zoo this year, doubling the donated hours from 2018, and quadrupling those from 2017.
New Exhibits and Attractions
Treetop Adventures at Elmwood Park Zoo features over 70 challenges, games and zip lines that reach up to 40 feet above the ground in the trees of the Zoo — not to mention Pennsylvania's only location to zip line over animal exhibits!
Treetop Adventures offers outdoor fun for all ages! With both children and adult courses to choose from, every thrill-seeker has an adventure suited just for them!
Originally a turnkey operation, then purchased outright by the zoo in 2016, Treetop Adventures has added an entirely new earned revenue stream for the zoo and opened the doorway to a whole new set of demographics.
Trail of the Jaguar
Home to the zoo's iconic big cats and other species, Trail of the Jaguar is the multimillion-dollar showpiece of what the zoo is soon to become. With beautiful, natural, indoor and outdoor spaces, and thematic Pueblo-style architecture, this exhibit transports guests out of Norristown and into the American Southwest.
Housing three jaguars, an ocelot and two cougars — to name a few, this exciting exhibit is packed with incredible animals on breathtaking display. Sitting behind giant panes of glass, animals and guests are within inches of each other! Interactions are further deepened through a mix of static signage and digital displays that immerse learners in the rich and exciting details of the animals and their natural habitats.
Savanna Station featuring Taphouse 23 Giraffe Feeding Experience
Home to the world's tallest mammal as well as the world’s most iconically striped equine, Savanna Station transports guests out of Norristown and into the African Sub-Sahara. Featuring the zoo's most engaging animal experience, the Taphouse 23 Giraffe-Feeding Experience, Savanna Station became one of the zoo's most beloved exhibits.
And even more recently, in concordance with our efforts to bring the zoo into the 21st century, the zoo chose the Giraffe-Feeding Experience as the site of its very first live exhibit webcam. This new giraffe webcam lets giraffe fans across the world engage in the zoo’s feeding experience, broadcasting a live stream through a user-controlled camera.
First opening in the summer of 2015, Elmwood Park Zoo's ZooBrew bar has quickly become a fan favorite. Spurring rentals, bringing new demographics, and leading to corporate partnerships, ZooBrew is now a multi-faceted revenue stream for the zoo.
Unique partnerships — like Chaddsford Winery’s production of the zoo’s signature Red Fox Red and Arctic Fox White fundraising wines — combined with corporate rentals and local brewery partnerships have buttressed the zoo’s contributed revenues. And happy hours and Treetop Adventure’s adult course packages have granted the zoo access to older demographics, as well as provided adult offerings to those bringing their children.
Coming face to face with the nation's largest land mammal, Elmwood Park Zoo's Bison Feeding Experience is as fun as it is unique: providing kids, parents and grandparents with an experience that will last a lifetime.
This amazing new experience has not only allowed the zoo to get one step closer to its mission, but also breathed new life into one of the zoo's oldest and most prominent animal enclosures.
Birds of Paradise Exhibit
Providing emergency funding in 2016 after the collapse of the exhibit's roof during a blizzard, the Connelly Family Foundation helped the exhibit rise phoenix-like from its proverbial ashes. With its incredible opportunity to hand-feed free-flighted birds, the newly re-constructed Birds of Paradise has become one of the zoo's most engaging attractions.
Serving as the focal point of the zoo's "Touch Tours" programs for visually- and auditorily-impaired learners, the exhibit has taken on new significance in the zoo's push to become an even more inclusive facility.
Thomas Kimmel Playground & Percussion Garden
In 2001 longtime supporters and former board member, Don and Gloria Kimmel, built the Thomas Kimmel Conservation Kingdom, a state-of-the-art (much needed) interactive playground.
Recognizing what the well-maintained, secure playground meant to the community, The Kimmel Family endeavored to ensure the playground would forever receive the attention and
funding it needed.
In 2016, the Zoo and The Kimmels embarked on a campaign to update the playground, adding kid- and eco-friendly rubberized flooring, new jungle gym equipment, and much more!
Carousel & Train Ride
In 2015, Elmwood Park Zoo installed a restored Densel Carousel near of it's newly renovated Thomas Kimmel Playground. In the successive years, the incorporation of the caterpillar-themed children's train ride, and the construction of the Thomas Kimmel Percussion Garden, the zoo's wood-chipped play area has transformed into a robust entertainment complex where children can learn as they play.
Lower Parking Lot
a new 300-space parking lot will open early 2020, increasing available parking to 650 spaces
Elmwood Park Zoo has made some amazing changes in the past few years, adding incredible new exhibits and attractions that will keep guests excited for years to come!
(click the grayed-out images on the map to learn more)
With new attractions like Treetop Adventures, the carousel, the caterpillar train ride, and new
experiences like giraffe, bison, and conure feeding, the Zoo made leaps and bounds in creating
sustainable, revenue-generating models that help protect our past and planned investments; all
of which will be bolstered by the opening of the aforementioned parking lot.
Over 400 Zoo-on-Wheels programs performed at local schools!
Over 300 school education programs performed at the zoo!
Over 30,000 students received on-site programming in the Oberkircher Discovery Center
Over 40,000 giraffe feeding experiences offered!
15 programs performed for visually- and auditorily-impaired learners!
New Inclusivity Initiatives
The Nation's First Certified Autism Center Zoo
In May of 2018, Elmwood Park Zoo became the first zoo in the nation to earn certification as a Certified Autism Center. This designation, given by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), is awarded to organizations that have completed a training and review process with the goal to better serve individuals with a wide array of special needs.
Elmwood Park Zoo's new accessibility map opens ups a whole new avenue of inclusion by overlaying the traditional zoo map with an accessibility legend, providing insights into everything guests may need to make the most out of their trips to the zoo: like indicating ramps, potentially noisy and/or crowded areas, and accessibility-minded amenities like the all-new quiet space.
Thanks to Geiger and Crazy Aaron's, Elmwood Park Zoo guests have access to complimentary daily-use Sensory Packs. The backpack includes noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, a stress ball, thinking putty and laminated copies of EPZ's Social Story, sensory map, and sensory guide.
The zoo's new Social Narrative helps foster a sense of familiarity with the sights, sounds and rules of the zoo before guests visit.
Corresponding with the new Accessibility Map, the zoo's Sensory Guide allows learners with sensory sensitivities to navigate the zoo in a way most comfortable to them, and avoid — or engage in — areas that may be louder, smellier or more colorful.
In accordance with our IBCCES Auitsm accreditation, the zoo is proud to offer a dedicated quiet space — with gate access and available seating — located across from the Prairie Dog exhibit on the south facing side of the Bison exhibit, for guests who require a place of sensory reprieve from the busy zoo.
New Education Programs
Working with Overbrook and Royer-Greaves schools for the blind, Elmwood Park Zoo proudly hosts its revolutionary Touch Tours program, a kinesthetic experience set for blind, visually and auditorily impaired students.
While the visual aspects of visiting a zoo may not be experienced by these learners, the smells, sounds, and textures still elicit that remarkable spark of childhood wonder.
Distance Learning created an avenue to bring the zoo to classrooms, living rooms, and hospital rooms across the county. Understanding that physical, mental and financial limitations may pose concern for onsite visits, Distance Learning ensures the wonders of the wild can be experenced regardless of where our fans may be watching! Each lesson includes meeting an animal ambassador, information on the animals' natural history, and time for questions.
Education Takeover Days
Along with its commitment to those whose physical and mental barriers inhibit standardized learning, Elmwood Park Zoo is committed to serving those whose economic barriers do the same. Through its long-running Title-1 Program, the zoo has subsidized the education of countless low-income students; and this year, the zoo is pleased to announce the creation and securing of funding for Title-1 Education Takeover Days, where every student within an entire grade is invited to visit the zoo entirely free of charge!
STEM Champions is one of the zoo's most comprehensive education programs to date: combating the decline of scientific excellence in middle school students by encouraging both them and their teachers to excel academically and environmentally! STEM Champions introduces engaging lessons to districts plagued by limited resources — creating lesson plans, activities, and partnerships that will carry on year after year, class after class through incredible interactions with live animals, hands-on-lessons, and engaging artifacts!
Thank you again for taking the time to review the zoo's current successes. It is because of those who supported the zoo in the past that we are able to look forward to a bright and prosperous future. We are grateful to you and your family for believing in the zoo decades ago, and hope to have your continued confidence and support as we enter into this new decade.
— Jen Conti
Norristown Zoological Society D.B.A. Elmwood Park Zoo