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John Ball Zoo confronts a steep problem: the hill at their entrance

Posted at 11:39 PM, Aug 13, 2019

Grand Rapids, Mich. – The John Ball Zoo is unique for a lot of reasons, perhaps chiefly, because it’s built into the side of a hill. The first few minutes are spent trekking up it.

It makes for an interesting zoo experience, but for some, the simple enjoyments of a day out can turn daunting.

“This is the last major thoroughfare of the zoo that’s not accessible for everyone in the community,” said Michael Lemonaco with the zoo. “This is one of those last major hurdles to truly being accessible to everyone.”

But it won’t be a hurdle for much longer. Tomorrow, the zoo breaks ground on a three-phase project that includes leveling out that incline so folks with disabilities, on crutches or in wheelchairs, or even a family with a stroller can apply a little less effort to get to the good stuff.

“It can really be a climb and it’s not the experience we want for our guests and the resounding feedback is it’s not what they want,” said Lamonaco.

The first phase will break ground Wednesday – it’s for a new all-accessible playground for kids of all ages and abilities. The zoo itself won’t change much; no animals are going away and besides a shift in parking, you likely won’t notice much change cosmetically.

The construction is expected to wrap up by next fall.