Ring in new year with free admission Jan. 2

December 30, 2011 - 7:52am

Zoo celebrates 2011 attendance milestones, anticipates even brighter future

The Oregon Zoo will ring out 2011 in record fashion this weekend with the final nights of its best-attended ZooLights ever – and then ring in 2012 with a celebratory day of free admission on Monday, Jan. 2.

"We're so thankful for the community's continued support of the zoo and its mission, especially in this challenging economy," said Kim Smith, zoo director. "Offering a free day is one way to show our appreciation."

Local schools, government offices and many businesses are closed Jan. 2 for the New Year's holiday.

The zoo has drawn more than 1.5 million visitors for the fifth year in a row in 2011, and it reached another attendance milestone Dec. 27 when 6-year-old Leland Heflin of Camas, Wash., became the 50 millionth zoo visitor since officials began tracking attendance in 1959.

To mark the occasion, Heflin and his family were awarded a prize package that included a one-year zoo membership, an assortment of gift items from the Zoo Store and the opportunity to help deliver Packy the elephant's 50th birthday cake this spring.

The zoo's best-attended ZooLights ever continues through Sunday, Jan. 1. As of Dec. 29, the popular holiday light display had drawn more than 180,000 visitors, well beyond last year's record total of 141,716. ZooLights' popularity has also helped the zoo top its overall attendance record for December, last set in 2006.

"ZooLights has brought a lot of brightness to this holiday season," Smith said, "and the future of the Oregon Zoo looks especially bright too. With the recently approved zoo master plan, we now have a blueprint for the next twenty years."

Among the highlights zoo visitors can look forward to in 2012: In January, a new veterinary medical center is slated to open, giving vet staff the space and equipment needed to provide the very best in animal care. In April, one of Portland's most famous and beloved residents, Packy, turns 50. And toward the year's end, officials expect Rose-Tu will deliver a new addition to the zoo's world-renowned Asian elephant herd.