“It almost feels somewhat normal,” Riverside Discover Center director Anthony Mason said as he walked down the zoo’s pathway on Thursday.

The zoo reopened May 11, after being closed since March 13 because of COVID-19, and the sound of excited children could once again be heard inside the gate.

“We’re happy to be able to offer an outlet for them to get outside,” said Mason.

The zoo has extended its hours through Memorial Day and is open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Starting May 26, the hours will change from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday-Thursday, and 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. every Friday and Saturday.

“We have been asked for a long time to offer extended hours in the summer,” said Mason. “I’m excited we finally figured out a way to bring that to our guests and members.”

Visitors are not required to wear masks, however they are encouraged, said Mason. Cloth masks, including some in animal print, are available in the gift shop. The masks were made by a staff member and her family, he said.

Staff members are used to wearing PPE, but have been taking additional steps to ensure there is no risk to the community, the animals or themselves.

Paw prints now line the pathways, encouraging patrons to stick to one side depending on which direction their going. Social distancing markers have been placed on areas where people tend to gather, such as the bridge, and sanitizing stations were added throughout the facility.

Additionally, feed dispensers were removed from the bridge. Now, visitors can buy a bag of food at the gift shop.

Large signs containing facts about animals, such as lions, have been posted along the path. Mixed in are signs meant to encourage social distancing and hand washing. For example, One sign tells patrons to keep one lion’s length apart to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The petting zoo, splash pad and Dino Dig remain closed.

“We feel really bad about that,” said Mason. “We want to have them open, but we want to wait until it’s safe.”

The closure allowed RDC staff to finish up some projects, including replacement of the flooring in the gift shop.

The crowds have been steady since reopening, said Mason.

“We come every Thursday,” Rachael Ascherl said as she made her way through the zoo with a group of children.

They visited last week too.

Ascherl said, “it’s really nice to be back to some kind of routine.”

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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