Zoo asks community to help shape new polar bear habitat

October 4, 2016 - 5:12pm

Survey responses will aid design of Polar Passage, the zoo's new home for polar bears

As excitement builds over the imminent debut of Nora, the young polar bear who arrived here from Ohio recently, the Oregon Zoo is looking for some help designing her new home.

Design work on Polar Passage — a major reboot of the zoo's polar bear habitat — is underway, and the zoo today launched a survey aimed at better understanding local residents' thoughts and feelings concerning polar bears and our role in protecting their imperiled Arctic ecosystem.

"This is a great time for our community to tell us what's important to them," said Heidi Rahn, zoo bond program director. "At this stage, we've determined some of the basic design features of Polar Passage, but we're still exploring a lot of interesting ideas. In addition to providing the best possible habitat for the bears, we want this space to reflect the desires of the community that will be visiting it."

Take the survey.

Zoo officials are hoping for a variety of responses from across the community to help guide the design of buildings, displays and programs offered.

"We want to identify the experiences that will be most interesting and meaningful for visitors," Rahn said. "We want to make sure we're providing the inspiration and tools that will enable people to take action on behalf of polar bears and other wildlife."

Polar Passage, expected to open in 2019, will provide bears with larger, more open terrain that they can patrol as they do in the wild. The new habitat will include natural ground materials, tundra plants, elevated areas for long views, shallow and deep pools, and many viewing opportunities for visitors. 

The zoo is working with Polar Bears International, the U.S Geological Survey and other partners on research projects that will shed new light on the effects of climate change on polar bears in the wild. The new polar bear habitat at the Oregon Zoo will provide visitors with a view into these research activities so that they learn along with the scientists and gain greater appreciation for the bears' conservation status and their dwindling arctic habitat.

Polar Passage is the sixth of eight major projects made possible by a community-supported zoo bond measure in 2008. The zoo has completed a veterinary medical center, an improved water system for Humboldt penguins, Condors of the Columbia and Elephant Lands. A new conservation education center is under construction and due to open in 2017.

The project design team for the new habitat is led by CLR Design, with interpretive components by Main Street Design. The construction contractor for the project is Lease Crutcher Lewis.