New at the Good Zoo: Upgrading, New Exhibits Planned
WHEELING — A multi-phase improvement plan that began at the Oglebay Good Zoo in 2018 includes upgrades to the red panda exhibit, a new West Virginia Conservation area and a “pollination station” for visitors to walk among butterflies and hummingbirds.
The zoo is in the midst of its three-year facility improvement project that is giving visitors or more immersive experience, while also highlighting some of the animals that are native to West Virginia.
The project costs about $900,000 and will continue this year with three more upgrades that Oglebay officials plan to announce in the spring.
“What does a zoo look like going forward for the community?” Eriks Janelsins, Oglebay Foundation Inc. president and CEO, said during a recent media tour of the zoo. “It feels like it’s all coming together. We want people to be prideful of that.”
Oglebay officials said that zoo membership has grown about 15 percent in the past year to 9,000 members, which highlights the importance of the project.
“The zoo’s growing, membership is growing. This is a great opportunity,” Janelsins said. “People coming here will get a much better experience.”
Wheeling is the fourth smallest city in the country that has a zoo with an Accredited Zoos and Aquariums certification, zoo Director Joe Greathouse said. He hopes visitors appreciate the new educational and recreation opportunities offered at the zoo.
“We want them to realize it’s their zoo, too,” Greathouse said of the community.
The new red panda interior exhibit opened in 2018 so people could see them in the summer when the sweltering temperatures kept them in a private air-conditioned facility away from the public’s view. People from all over the world have visited the exhibit, Greathouse said.
They also built a snow leopard exhibit in 2018, and the zoo has a new female snow leopard that came to the zoo in September. Just a few feet away is an expanded area for goats, llamas and alpacas, giving them some companionship and more space to move and be seen by visitors.
“We’re trying to give everyone more home to roam,” Greathouse said.
There is also research happening at the zoo.
It’s the first zoo to raise the eastern hellbender, the largest salamander in the world, and reintroduce them into the wild. Zoo staff has released nearly 1,000 hellbenders in West Virginia and installed 60 concrete box “nests” with the help of the state Division of Wildlife and The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio. The species used to be found in 33 rivers and streams in the state, but remain in only 11 nowadays.
Nearly 100 hellbenders are currently being raised in tanks in a building attached to the bobcat enclosure, which opened last year as part of the West Virginia Conservation experience.
Greathouse, who is also a college professor at West Liberty University, brings his zoo science classes to learn and interact with the animals.
In the past few months, the zoo installed a half-acre “pollination station” with the help of a grant from Williams Companies to attract butterflies and humming birds. They’ve already tagged 250 monarch butterflies with more to come in the spring. Visitors will be able to walk within the exhibit and get a closeup view of the butterflies.
They were able to plant even more flowers in the garden when the ground froze, Greathouse said. The exhibit will be open to the public from April through October.
“Hopefully, we’ll have lots of flowers for people to see (in the spring),” Greathouse said, adding that the interactive experiences will improve the exhibits and make for a great family experience. “Any interaction with any animals creates a deep connection.”
The zoo opened in 1977, so children who visited decades ago are now parents bringing their own children to see the zoo. But the improved exhibits will offer new and more interactive experiences.
“That’s what we’re striving for. This incredible guest experience where people can have that intimate connection with the animals,” Janelsins said. “When you have this experience, it changes your brain chemistry … makes you more empathetic. It changes you.”
The Good Zoo is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. For more information, go online to www.oglebay.com/goodzoo.com.