Zoo director Brendan Wiley: Camp Cowabunga on track for completion by July

Nearly six months after breaking ground, the construction of Topeka Zoo’s Camp Cowabunga is progressing on time with an expected opening of July 2018, according to zoo director Brendan Wiley.

 

“It’s been amazing to watch it happen,” Wiley said during a tour of the construction site on Thursday. “What the project is really trying to focus on right now is getting the shell of the building built so they can continue to work straight on through the winter.”

The $4.4 million project, four years in the planning and designed by GLMV Zoos, of Wichita, will bring to life the estimated 140 African safaries that Gary Clarke guided after his time as the Topeka Zoo’s director from 1963 to 1989. It will include science center-based activities and animals such as a lion, elephants, African painted dogs and Patas monkeys, as well as cutting- edge educational and interactive concepts employed by today’s zoo industry.

Camp Cowabunga also represents the first phase of the master plan to create a larger habitat for the zoo’s elephants, including a reorganization of the infrastructure needed for the elephant project. It also creates a “premier viewing area” into the future elephant exhibit.

“It’s not just about the animals in the new exhibit,” Clarke said, adding that the progress made to date on Camp Cowbunga is “dramatic.” “It’s the graphics and interaction and interpretive things which will make this zoo experience unlike any other zoo experience.”

Wiley said about $3.86 million has been raised to date for the project with another $568,000 that needs to be raised in private donations. He said $2 million in proceeds from the countywide half-cent sales tax also is accounting for 45 percent of the overall project budget.

“We still continue to look for a few major gifts after we get into that public fundraising portion after the first of the year,” Wiley said.

Melissa Porter Masoner, whose family made a sizable donation to the construction of Camp Cowabunga, said in July during the project’s groundbreaking that “families and zoos just go together.”

“It’s been an absolute joy to bring our family together to do a contribution, a family gift to the zoo, that will go on forever and ever,” she said. “To take Gary Clarke’s imagination and experience from 25 years as zoo director, 25 years as leading Africa safaris, and to be able to put it into a project of this magnitude, people will have the safari of imagination in Gage Park.”

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.

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