ASHEBORO – Spurred by idyllic weather, the return of a polar bear and a highly popular dinosaur exhibit, the North Carolina Zoo set a new attendance record over the Memorial Day weekend.
Last weekend’s three-day total of 37,165 visitors shattered the previous Memorial Day weekend record of 32,732 set in May 2008 by nearly 5,000 people. Daily totals of 14,015 on Saturday, 12,277 on Sunday and 10,873 on Monday were also new marks for the Memorial Day period. Zoo officials believe picture-perfect weather combined with media coverage of the reopening of the polar bear exhibit and a revitalized animatronic dinosaur exhibit combined to bring record numbers to the park.
Aquila, one of the zoo’s two polar bears, returned to his exhibit May 15 after a two-year sabbatical at the Detroit Zoo while an $8.5 million expansion of the exhibit was under way. He is back in the older section of the exhibit while construction continues in the expansion areas. Wilhelm, the zoo’s second bear, remains at the Milwaukee Zoo until the renovations are nearer completion next year. Polar bears have been the zoo’s most popular animal since the exhibit opened in 1994.
The zoo’s animatronic “Dinosaurs” are also enjoying a second successful year after the exhibit helped attract the park’s largest attendance in 15 years – nearly 762,000 – during 2012. An entirely new cast of creatures are featured for 2013.
The zoo is located on Zoo Parkway (N.C. 159) six miles southeast of Asheboro off U.S. 220 and U.S. 64. Hours from April through October are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for children 2-12 and $10 for senior citizens 62-plus. For information, call 1-800-488-0444 or visit the zoo website at http://www.nczoo.org.