Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arctic paradise takes shape

Sneak peek of zoo's big new addition

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IT may not look like much right now, but by 2014, the Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be home to as many as six polar bears, four seals, eight muskox, and many more Arctic animals.

Media were given a sneak peek Wednesday of the $69-million project that includes a state-of-the-art polar bear enclosure and an interpretive centre.

The project cost is $9 million more than the previously stated cost of $60 million, which only covered the exhibit's construction.

The site is very much a construction zone, with only a new restaurant and a building housing the indoor playground resembling their final shape. Crews are hard at work building foundations and the filtration system that will help keep the polar bear pools clean.

The four-hectare exhibit will include three polar bear enclosures, a glass tunnel where polar bears and seals can swim over visitors' heads and a model of the Churchill townsite.

"A lot of people don't realize how big of a project this is," said Rick Chopp, director of major projects for the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. "Nobody has done this to this scale."

The exhibit's opening has been pushed back to the beginning of 2014 from the end of 2013. Constructing a lot of the fake rock that will surround the enclosures is difficult to complete in winter, Chopp said.

However, the new Tundra Grill in the mock townsite will open in early 2013, he added, allowing visitors to see the construction process for themselves.

When visitors first walk in, it will appear as if the bears and muskox are in the same enclosure, although a ravine separates them, Chopp said. "For all the world it will look like the muskox and the bears are in the same space," he said.

Next is the interpretive building, which will house seals and more polar bears. Glass separates the two species, so it gives the illusion the seals and bears are swimming next to one another, Chopp said.

The outline of the amphitheatre that will feature northern lights displays are just starting to take shape.

From here, visitors will walk to the mock-Churchill townsite, featuring the Tundra Grill and indoor playground. The restaurant is lined with a glass wall, so visitors can come face to face with the bears.

"It's going to be incredible. These bears are right there," said Chopp.

jennifer.ford@freepress.mb.ca


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2012 B1

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Updated on Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 6:35 AM CDT: adds video

7:30 AM: adds YouTube embed

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