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Louisville Zoo To Reopen To The Public In June At Reduced Capacity

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A closed sign at the Louisville Zoo on April 2, 2020.

The Louisville Zoo will reopen in June, beginning with members only on Friday.

In a release, the zoo said it would let the general public back in starting June 26, allowing just 100 visitors per hour. 

The zoo has been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic. As it reopens, it will operate under a different ticketing policy. Visitors must select their “date and hour of arrival” to help “reduce contact and manage guest capacity.”  

Louisville Zoo director John Walczak said “it feels great” to reopen to zoo.

“It kind of breaks my heart to have to close the zoo because the zoo is the community's release valve, it's a place where we can escape the stresses of our everyday lives and goodness,” he said. 

He said they’re starting at about 10 percent visitor capacity in this initial phase, going up gradually every subsequent week.

“Through the summer, we hope to be able to get to 50% per day and hopefully more than that on a weekly basis,” he said. “So the metrics we're going to be using are continual gradual growth, and enjoyable experiences in a very safe way.”

And while operating at reduced capacity will present some financial challenges, Walczak said they “have to start somewhere.” 

“We start getting to our break-even point at around 2,200 to 2,400 guests per day,” he said. “So we are starting behind what will be a financially viable day, but we want to emphasize safety… COVID is an unknown and we're learning every day, so our plan can change, and if everything is going really well, we might be able to advance [our capacity].”

The director said they have had to made cuts though due to the economic challenges of the pandemic shutting them down. He said they furloughed seasonal staff back in March and they’ve held off on filling several vacant positions “to try and help manage the budgetary stress because 70% to 80% of our budget, [depending on the year], is earned revenues.” 

“That's through tickets, membership, gift shop sales, food, all the other attractions throughout the park,” he said. “So not being open is a huge challenge and we are making necessary cuts to try and absorb them but it's obviously impossible to absorb 70% of your budget and keep the zoo operating.”

The zoo will operate in accordance with the latest guidance from local, state and national officials. Zoo staff will have temperature checks when they get to work. They’ll wear masks in public areas, disinfect surfaces frequently and help enforce social distancing measures. Zoo keepers will maintain mask-wearing protocols “around vulnerable animal populations.”

Zoo officials are also encouraging visitors to wear masks, and there will be one-way paths throughout the zoo to encourage social distancing among guests. 

The new ticketing policy, Walczak added, will also help with contact tracing as they’ll be able to collect everyone’s contact information should there be a need to mitigate spread of infection at the zoo.

Indoor areas will remain closed to the public during these early phases of reopening. The zoo hopes to reopen rides and playgrounds “in coming months.”

This story has been updated.

Stephanie Wolf is LPM's Arts & Culture Reporter. Email Stephanie at swolf@lpm.org.