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Iowa History Daily: December 23 - Birth of Blank Park Zoo

Iowa History Daily: On December 23, 1963, the City of Des Moines signed an agreement to create the Des Moines Children’s Zoo (now Blank Park Zoo) on the southside of Iowa’s capital city. The only accredited zoo in Iowa, the 49-acre continues to teach Iowans about the natural world through conservation, education, research, and recreation.

After a $150,000 donation by Abraham Harry Blank, the city constructed a 22-acre nursery-rhyme themed zoo featuring a moated castle, Monkey Island, a barnyard, an animal petting zoo, and a miniature train which opened in May of 1966. Over 185,000 people visited the zoo during its inaugural year, an attendance record which stood until 1986. 

As attendance dropped over the course of the 1970s, concerned citizens formed The Blank Park Zoo Foundation in 1981 which fundraised $1.4 million to pair with a voter-approved $1.8 million bond referendum meant to allow for extensive renovation of the zoo. The project modernized the zoo and moved it from a ‘children’s zoo’ to a zoogeographic theme featuring landscaped outdoor environments reopened to the public in 1986.

Over the following decades the zoo averaged over 200,000 visitors a year and gained accreditation by the American and Aquariums Association while starting popular programs like Campfire Summer Camp, Night Eyes, and visiting celebrity animals. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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