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The Calgary Zoo reopens this weekend for the first time since the global outbreak of COVID-19 forced the facility to shut down more than two months ago.
While it was open to members only on Friday, Saturday is officially the kick-off for the public and there have been some significant changes as the park complies with Alberta Health Services guidelines and precautionary measures.
“It’s not going to be perfect out of the gates,” said Alison Archambault, spokeswoman for the Calgary Zoo. “We’re going to be making little changes every day, every week as we see consumer behaviour and notice areas we can address some gaps and make people feel more safe.”
The first change is all zoo members and the public are required to obtain timed ticket entries, available on the Calgary Zoo website, where attendees can reserve a specific entry window in advance of their arrival.
There is no time limit for how long patrons stay, however. The purpose of the timed tickets is to ensure there are no long lineups in the main entryway.
Archambault said the zoo plans to reduce summer traffic from 2,000 people an hour to 4,000 all day, which will create a more intimate experience and still allow for physical distancing.
“When you come to the zoo, you’re going to feel like you own the place,” she said. “You can relax, take some time to enjoy nature, spend time with your family.”
Since shutting its doors on March 16, the zoo has been planning its reopening strategy. It also surveyed more than 8,000 members and donors to determine what was needed for all patrons to feel safe.
Staff has been hard at work creating set-up for single direction traffic and installing 3,300 paw prints to encourage physical distancing of three metres to keep households safely apart from each other. Certain animal habitats have also been adjusted.
All indoor facilities and habitats in the Calgary Zoo will be closed, along with playgrounds, the carousel, daily programming, water fountains and wagon rentals.
The outdoor exhibits, washrooms (with increased cleaning protocols), and restaurants (with reduced seating capacities) are open.
The Calgary Zoo is also adhering to provincial and federal public health recommendations of encouraging face masks for audiences aged two and older. They are mandatory for staff.
The park will be open Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the hour from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. reserved for members only.
“The letters we’ve been receiving during closure and as we gear up for re-opening have been heartwarming,” Archambault said. “They just mean the world to us knowing that people trust us to keep them safe and people can’t wait to come back and see the animals and the people that do important work at the Calgary Zoo.”
A gradual opening for Heritage Park
On Friday, Heritage Park announced the beginning of the facility’s phased opening, starting on May 27 with the shops in the Haskayne Mercantile Block reopening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays. Meanwhile, the Selkirk Grille and Alberta Bakery will continue offering curbside pick up.
Heritage Park is maintaining a diligent cleaning schedule, disinfecting and sanitizing all surfaces, providing access to hand sanitizer, asking staff to wear face masks and encouraging physical distancing.
The reopening of Gasoline Alley Museum and the Railway Cafe will follow with a targeted opening date of June 3. The park aims to open some aspects of the Historical Village and other attractions in July. There will be a reduced capacity in shops and museums, while the Railway Cafe will only offer take-out window services.
“We’re being cautiously optimistic about what we can open,” said Heritage Park spokeswoman Barb Munro. “It’s going to be a slow process, but I think people will be excited and happy to come back to the park in some capacity.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020