Iowa History Daily: May 8 - Blank Park Zoo
Iowa History Daily: On May 8, 1966, the Des Moines Children’s Zoo (now Blank Park Zoo) opened 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.
Following the decommissioning of (3rd) Fort Des Moines, the federal government sought to donate the former military base lands to the city for recreational purposes. Abraham Harry Blank of the Central States Theater Corporation worked with Des Moines Mayor Charles Iles to brainstorm uses for the land.
After a $150,000 donation by 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. 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.
Over the following 20 years 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