Round up the pack: Erie Zoo is scheduled to open Feb. 27
Round up the pack: The Erie Zoo is scheduled to open Feb. 27 for the 2021 season
Suffering from cabin fever?
In two weeks, Erie County families can seek some deserved pre-spring entertainment at the Erie Zoo, which is scheduled to open Feb. 27 following its three-month winter closure.
2020 severely tested Scott Mitchell, the Erie Zoological Society's president and CEO, and his resilient staff.
COVID-19 brought about a 3½-month spring closure, layoffs and furloughs, wage cuts, forced cancellation of the annual spring Zoo Parade and delayed work on some new animal exhibit projects.
The economic fallout induced by the pandemic and state restrictions was the zoo's most glaring challenge.
Mitchell estimates the Zoological Society lost about $1.1 million in revenue in 2020, but that was offset by about $500,000 in zoo donations from business, nonprofits, individuals, corporations and grants.
"Our staff here has come together like you couldn't imagine," Mitchell said. "It's been a really cohesive team of people who have been doing whatever is possible to make sure we can get through this pandemic together. We've been fortunate that we haven't had anybody test positive for COVID-19 yet because we have been so careful."
Mitchell said he also is thankful that no animals have contracted the virus.
"We've been fortunate and very protective of animals," Mitchell said. "That's paid off. We haven't had anything yet."
With COVID-19 still shackling zoo and regional economic growth, Mitchell and his staff have spent the winter stepping up fundraising efforts and finding creative ways to generate revenue.
They did so by holding telethons, T-shirt promotions, animal art shows and online gift shop fundraisers.
"They keep coming up with new ideas all the time," Mitchell said of his staff. "You have to keep it fresh, and the community has been so unbelievably supportive and what they have done to help keep us around."
Mitchell's winter staff totals about 30. His staff will probably increase to about 60 by summer. Normally, his summer staff totals 100 to 120.
The public can expect to see some new animal exhibits this year, but Mitchell said the annual Erie Zoo parade, which is typically held in May, will likely be postponed for the second straight year because of COVID-19 concerns.
There is free opening-day public admission on Feb. 27, but you must sign up for a time ticket by visiting www.eriezoo.org or by calling 864-4091. Zoo grounds will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Nov. 30.
"There is reason to be optimistic," Mitchell said. "We have gone into it with the mindset that we're going to do as much as we can do, still follow all the health and safety guidelines and do all the things that we can, but we're planning on events. We may push them back. An event that is normally held in June might not happen until September, but we're still planning on doing a lot of those things that people are accustomed to in some fashion."