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New Journey to Churchill Zoo exhibit big draw over weekend

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The Journey to Churchill exhibit was a popular destination over the weekend.

After its official unveiling last Thursday, the stunning $90-million attraction that spans four hectares inside Winnipeg's Assinboine Park Zoo attracted over 15,000 visitors in 3-1/2 days from its opening at noon Thursday to the end of the day on Sunday.

"That represents about a 40 per cent increase over the same four-day period last year," said Laura Cabak, the Assinboine Park Conservancy brand and communications manager. "The numbers are on track with our projections and we are very happy with the results."

The attraction features multiple viewing areas to see the zoo’s four polar bears, two harbour seals, five wolves, three muskoxen, four arctic foxes, four snowy owls and three caribou.

The Sea Ice Passage, a 21.3-metre acrylic tunnel surrounded by water, is the highlight of the exhibit as it allows visitor to walk through and view polar bears swimming above and on both sides.

The exhibit includes many interactive elements, such as a bowhead whale dig, the Churchill Northern Studies Shelter and there is a 360-degree domed theatre called the Aurora Borealis Theatre that shows a short film about the Churchill area, wildlife and the seasons through the eyes of an indigenous family with a strong message of respect and conservation.

"We had 400,000 visitors last year. We’re projecting 525,000 this year and perhaps close to 600,000 next year when we have the exhibit for a full year," said Don Peterkin, the chief operations officer for the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. "That’s a very significant increase. We believe now this can become a real tourism draw and, combined with other things going on in Winnipeg, it’s going to be a great time to be a part of Winnipeg and the excitement in the community."

Surrounding each of the three parts of the exhibit -- Wapusk Lowlands, Gateway to the Arctic and Churchill coast -- are interpretive signage, interactive displays and audio-visual components. Peterkin said $6.5 million was invested in the exhibit’s education and interpretation aspects.

Tickets can be purchased at the zoo’s new entrance at 2595 Roblin Blvd. or in advance online at www.assiniboineparkzoo.ca/tickets. Tickets are valid for 90 days from the date of purchase.

Parking is available in the zoo’s expanded parking lot along Roblin Boulevard and in the overflow parking lot located on the east side of the zoo, which is connected to the zoo entrance by a new pedestrian pathway.

The price of admission ranges from $18.50 for adults to $10 for children ages three to 12. Also offered are $10 Tuesdays from July 8 to Dec. 30, 2014 when admission is $10 (plus GST). The summer/fall hours are 9 a.m-5 p.m.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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