"It all began with a woodchuck,'' says the history page at the Toledo Zoological Gardens web site, and indeed it did. Back in 1900, an unnamed benefactor contributed a single woodchuck to the City of Toledo's Parks Board. From that single woodchuck and the conversations around building a home for the little critter grew the park that would eventually become the area's top family attraction and one of the finest zoos in the nation.
The history of the Toledo Zoo is an especially appropriate one for the current times. Many of the Zoo's existing structures were built during the 1930s, as part of the WPA - the Works Project Administration - which lifted the country out of the Great Depression. The Reptile House, the Aquarium, the Aviary, the Amphitheater and the Museum of Science are beautiful buildings that all date back to those Depression days, starting in 1933. So beautiful and so well-constructed are they that many of them are still serving the same purpose for which they were built.
Even more than that, though, the WPA buildings are a special part of the history of both the zoo and the area. The Reptile House, for instance, was built almost entirely of salvaged materials - marble, timber and stone salvaged from old railroad buildings and canal locks. As early as the 1930s, the Toledo Zoo was already conscious and conscientious in saving money by reusing resources. That spirit lives on today in the tendency of the Toledo Zoo to refurbish and re-use existing structures rather than demolish and build new. Thus, a trip to the Toledo Zoo is like a walk back in time.
It is, however, a walk back in time that is informed by today's best practices in zoo keeping, education and conservation. In 1982, the ownership and management of the Zoo was handed over from the City of Toledo to the Toledo Zoological Society, a private, non-profit corporation created specifically to manage the day to day operations and future of the Toledo Zoo. Since then, there has been a steady stream of renovations and renewals at the Zoo. The Reptile House was renovated and refurbished, and the Aviary was rebuilt, winning recognition from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the form of an Exhibit Award for Excellence.
Since 1985, the Toledo Zoo has averaged 875,000 visitors a year, with those numbers topping 1,000,000 in 1988, 1994 and 1999. In addition to the animal exhibits, the Toledo Zoo also offers special events during every season, including Music Under the Stars at the open air Amphitheater and Lights Before Christmas.
The zoo is open year round except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Hours vary by season. Admission is $11.00 for adults; $8.00 for children age 2 to 11. Discounts are available for groups, military, and Lucas County residents among others. For more information about admission and hours, and to check for latest news, contact the Toledo Zoological Gardens at 419-385-5721, ext. 3092