Zoo Week: New facilities to improve Irvine Park Zoo

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, WI -- (WEAU) – Friday concluded our zoo week fun on Sunrise, all week long we've shared the sights and sounds of the Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls. We've covered animal care, Tony the Tortoise, the petting zoo, even threw back to some of your old photos at the zoo.

It's been a ton of fun and now we want to tell you what's in store for generations to come. Right now, the city of Chippewa Falls is planning new buildings that include a Welcome Center and small mammal exhibit. With a campaign in the early stages we wanted to find out more about the project.

For more than 100 years, families have stepped inside the heart of Chippewa Falls, Irvine Park.

"My first date with my husband was in this park,” says Peggy Leinenkugel.

Thousands of dates, picnics and family gatherings have happened here throughout the decades.

"We're looking at about 5,000 visitors per day that come to the park,” explains Dick Hebert, Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director.

Now it's time to look ahead to the future of the free zoo.

Dick Hebert, "It's time for this building to come down, this is the next stage for improving our zoo. The first stage we built a new bear den, then we built a new cat exhibit. So this I would call this stage 3 or our zoo improvement project."

Stage three brings this, a welcome center, a small mammal building, an aviary and a place to house artifacts expected to cost 3 million to 3.5 million dollars. But is there a need?

"All these walls in the winter time sweat and get moldy."

Zookeeper Jennifer London showed me around the current mammal building built in 1962.

London says, "The windows are cracking because the building is shifting. This gutter here is dropping. It's detached from the floor, food particles and water both go under the building now to where it's a mystery. Many of the animals have little ones and they can crawl right out of here, the little ones. We need smaller fencing, larger areas, better flooring."

Hebert says, "The outside cages are not visible, it’s hard for the public to see the animals. They're long and deep and will be wide and the public will be closer to the animals."

Then there's the welcome center.

Peggy adds, "[It] will allow people to gather together and gather more information especially the kids to have an area where we can showcase many of our historical items from the Chippewa Valley."

Dick Hebert says right now they're organizing their capital campaign. He says the money for the project won't come from taxpayers, but from donations.

"Do I think Leinenkugel Brewery will join in on this effort, yes, yes and I know that Northwestern Bank is going to be a large contributor and Mason Shoe will be another larger contributor,” says Peggy.

With contributions already coming in, the future is looking brighter every day.

Peggy says, "Whether it's a small donation or a large donation, we need everybody's help."

The city of Chippewa Falls has contributed $100,000. Dick Hebert says he's confident that the community will raise the money. As soon as the funds are in, the construction process will begin.