Madison's Vilas Zoo, closed to the public since March 14 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is welcoming visitors back beginning at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
To ensure safety within the park, new procedures and guidelines for visitors to follow have been put in place, including reduced capacity.
“Our number one priority is keeping our animals, staff and guests safe,” said Ronda Schwetz, the zoo’s executive director, in a video message announcing the reopening.
This includes increased cleaning and disinfecting protocols, as well as newly installed hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the zoo. Staff are also required to wear face masks and remain 6 feet apart. The zoo is encouraging guests to do the same.
While people are typically free to roam the grounds, visitors must now follow the zoo’s designated one-way path, which starts at the main gate on Randall Avenue. This is the only gate that will be open; the Lake Wingra entrance and other play areas will be closed to the public. The outdoor gift shop and several food kiosks will still be available.
The zoo’s admission continues to be free, but staff will be responsible for counting the number of guests within the park to limit how many people enter the zoo. That means guests may be required to wait in line outside of the gate if the zoo grounds reach capacity.
The last guest entry will be at 4:30 p.m. Peak visitor hours are around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., so visitors who want to avoid a possible wait are advised to come outside those hours.
Though Thursday will be the first time visitors will be allowed back into the park since March, the zoo’s staff have continued to care for the animals throughout the pandemic and have kept the public engaged through Facebook Live videos, as well as other online learning programs. The plan is to continue the videos even after the zoo’s gates open.
Thursday is the first phase of the zoo’s reopening, and other changes may occur as Dane County moves through its phased reopening plan and loosens restrictions on public spaces.