LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The Ellen Trout Zoo started with a hippo 50 years ago but the zoo is not slowing down.
With no more room to grow once the gorilla exhibit is finished, the zoo is looking to 25 years into the future. Right now Zoo Director Gordon Henley and his staff are working on the new master plan. The plan that has been developed with Mesa Landscape Architects out of Little rock, AR, a firm that has worked on zoos across the country, will give a big expansion to the zoo.
"We sit on just about 20 acres of land," Henley said. "We were looking at the map this morning and as we began to implement this plan we will have about 160 acres of land."
The zoo will incorporate land that already sits in the zoo boundary and new land surrounding the lake.
"Will will have areas of the new world and the old world with the animal exhibits for people," Henley said. "We will have an expanded reptile area with an aquarium as well as a new tree top canopy area. In the canopy we are looking at an idea of putting animals that you could only see in the top of trees in the wild."
An expansion that big means changes will be coming. The drive around the zoo property would go away and two main entrances would be built on each end. Henley said the ideas are just concepts right now but the future could include a boat ride across the lake and a ride on the current Z &OO railroad that would give riders special looks at exhibits that could only be seen from the rides. An area could also be built that includes rock climbing and a zip line.
"It's an opportunity to really do some exciting things and have more things for people to see and do," Henley said.
The exhibits could also include animals coming back to the zoo like bears and wolves who used to be on display.
"We've tried to create visitor immersion experiences where you are in the same habitat as the animal with only a natural barrier," Henley said.
The planning will cover a period of 25 years. The majority of the work will be done through grants and donations, but the ultimate goal is the same it has always been; educating the public about some of the world's most exotic creatures.
"We really tried to increase the education experience," Henley said. "Let them see these animals up close and learn how they are all connected."
Minor changes are being done to the plan before it is sent to council for final approval.