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Wild Minnesota Lives at the Zoo

Watch a pack of gray wolves roam the woods, then take a peek inside a pileated woodpecker's nest cavity. These are just a couple of the exciting new additions to the renovated Minnesota Trail at the Minnesota Zoo, which was designed in partnership with the DNR and opens on July 7, 2007.

"We haven't done anything with the Minnesota Trail since 1978," says Lee Ehmke, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Zoo, "We thought it was about time we spruced it up because, after all, we are the Minnesota Zoo." The trail now features more wildlife species native to Minnesota in environments similar to their natural habitats. The trail also brings visitors closer to the animals.

A walk on the trail begins and ends at a lodge evocative of the north woods. There raccoons make their home on the porch. Inside, visitors can see a herpetology exhibit featuring frogs, turtles, and snakes; historic photographs of Minnesota's outdoor history; and educational displays about Minnesota's three biomes. There's also a fireplace for the appropriate woodsy feel.

The quarter-mile outdoor trail takes visitors through wildlife exhibits including gray wolves, coyotes, lynx, otter, porcupine, fisher, and wolverine.

When the trail's beaver exhibit opened in 1978, it was the first zoo exhibit to show beavers underwater. On the renovated trail, visitors walk through a beaver pond and down a walkway where large windows offer an expansive underwater view.

Minnesota birds appear in exhibits of owls, an eagle, and pileated woodpeckers. Glass windows in the woodpeckers' tree allow visitors to peer into the nest. There is also an exhibit of Neotropical songbirds in summer. And there is an outdoor bird deck with feeders, so visitors can practice identifying wild birds.

The zoo and the DNR worked together to create interpretive displays on invasive plant and animal species, landscaping to attract wildlife, and rare animals.

Sue Gergen, communications manager for the zoo, calls the new Minnesota Trail "a true immersive experience. We wanted to give people the chance to get close and see animals they won't necessarily see when hiking in Minnesota. We want to excite them to get out and explore, learning to value Minnesota's wild animals and their homes."

With 1 million visitors a year, the zoo gives adults and children a chance to learn about Minnesota wildlife and habitats and, in turn, to become curious enough to get outdoors and explore those natural areas.

Ehmke says, "For kids, seeing animals eye-to-eye is better than the best DVD in the world."

Megan Nelson, editorial intern

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