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Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo Kicks-Off Arctic Passage, Celebration of 100th Anniversary

February 11, 2011
Joshua Wescott, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 669-5606
County Executive

New Arctic Exhibit Becomes Reality as Zoo Throws Centennial Birthday Bash


A major new exhibit is coming to the Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo as the zoo celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, County Executive Kathleen Falk said today.


Falk announced at a press conference Friday with the “Friends of the Zoo,” that thanks to a partnership between Dane County and the “Friends of the Zoo,” work is moving forward on the long anticipated “Arctic Passage” exhibit.  This exhibit will showcase a number of arctic animals including polar bears, seals, caribou, and snowy owls.  This replica Arctic habitat will also have an ice cave, reindeer habitat, an Arctic research vessel, and underwater viewing of the seals and polar bears.


“In this frigid polar weather, what could be more fun that announcing the kick-off of our polar bear exhibit?” County Executive Kathleen Falk said.  “These are the critters that love this weather and they’re going to love our new Arctic Passage.  Given the challenges posed to polar bears by global warming, this educational and breeding exhibit will be really internationally important.”


Final design and site preparation work for the new Arctic Passage is underway.  The hope is that ground will be broken for the project and construction started later this summer.  The new exhibit is slated to open in 2012.


“This project will create a world class venue for us to provide education and a strong conservation message to the next generations of environmental stewards,” Tom Dott, President of the “Friends of the Zoo” said.  


In addition to work starting on Arctic Passage, Henry Vilas Zoo and the “Friends of the Zoo” are planning a 100 day celebration of the zoo’s centennial.  These special events will run between Memorial Day and Labor Day and highlight the rich history of the zoo. 


This 100 day celebration will kick-off with a community birthday party on May 28th.  The event will include a number of events for kids and a cake contest in which local bakeries will compete to bake and design their most creative Henry Vilas Zoo Birthday Cake.  There will be a number of special promotions and family friendly educational programs offered throughout the summer and a “Rock ‘n Roar” benefit dance on July 23rd.


Other major events through the year at the zoo will have the 100th anniversary theme including the annual “Zoo Run Run” in September and “Halloween at the Zoo” in October.  The year’s special festivities will culminate with a “Zoo Century Gala” in December.


“You only turn 100 once and we’re throwing a big party with lots of really cool events to make sure everyone has a chance to join in the fun!” Falk said.  “We have one of only a handful of free zoos in the country and given these continued challenging economic times, it’s important we continue to offer families an affordable, close to home getaway.”


A full rundown of events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the zoo is available at:


“Henry Vilas Zoo is an asset to the neighborhoods, the county, and the community,” County Board Supervisor and Zoo Commission member Chuck Erickson said.  “We all appreciate the many hours of volunteer time and financial support of the Zoological Society in fulfilling the zoo’s mission, a free facility that’s open for everyone to enjoy.”


The Henry Vilas Zoo had record attendance in 2010 with over 725,000 visitors at the zoo!


The Henry Vilas Zoo was born 100 years ago (1911) with the donation of five white-tailed deer to live in Vilas Park.  Since then, the zoo has grown into one of the most popular family destinations in the region, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.  Since the zoo opened, several generations have toured the exhibits and learned about hundreds of different types of animal and bird species.