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Nestled in the trees off of Broadway Avenue in Little Falls is Minnesota’s second oldest zoo; a fact many are unaware of. Right in our own backyard, Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls is a treasure with a fascinating story.
The History of Pine Grove Zoo
Pine Grove Zoo got its humble beginnings thanks to the generosity of several local businessmen who generously donated the land in the early 1900s. As the trees started to decrease, some prominent businessmen, Milton Williams and A.R. Davidson, wanted to preserve a small portion of old growth forest for future generations. A deal for the 55-acre tract of land was initiated through the cooperation of Mayor Charles Vasaly and Mr. Milton Williams and the original cost of the land was $4,100.00. Through these efforts, on September 13, 1907, the land was deeded to the City of Little Falls, “for the enjoyment, pleasure, and benefit of the people of the area.” It was officially open in the summer of 1913.
Pine Grove Zoo Moves into the Future
Since those early days, Pine Grove Zoo has grown from its original row of single cages to an expansive property with much for families to see. With a strong partnership between the Zoological Society and the City of Little Falls, impressive improvements at the Zoo have been made. Now, the Zoo boasts large cat exhibits, spacious areas for the zoo’s Bison, Elk, and Pronghorn, a petting stable, a wolf education building, a very popular prairie dog exhibit and free-roaming peacocks. There is also a state of the art bear exhibit, public restrooms, paved walkways which give families, those with disabilities, and elderly more accessibility, a café for Zoo guests and robust educational programs.
When the Up North Parent team visited Pine Grove Zoo in July, we learned from Marketing Director, Vicki Villebro, and Marnita Van Hoecke, the zoo’s Executive Director, that even more exciting additions are in the works. The former gift shop area will be the new Critter Corner and will house the zoo’s new collection of reptiles and exotic arachnids.
Another “coming soon” addition is a wallaby and kangaroo (baby Sydney, see next photo!) area located behind the petting zoo and a state-of-the-art interactive otter exhibit that is in the works for 2018/2019. The otter area will not only be all glass, it will have enclosed glass tunnels where young zoo visitors can observe an underwater view of the otter’s world.
The photo below is the mockup drawing of the new otter exhibit, coming soon!
Up North Parent and Pine Grove Zoo Little Falls
Pine Grove Zoo was unanimously enjoyed by all of us in the Up North Parent crew. Becky has been bringing her kids annually for over a decade and has loved watching the zoo change and grow as each year passes. The prairie dog exhibit, tigers, and baby bears have been a constant favorite for her kids and they swear there is just “something extra special” about the french fries at the Cougar Cafe; the zoo’s on-site eatery.
Beth brought her three kids along, and their favorite parts were reportedly the peacocks, prairie dogs, petting the tortoise, and feeding the animals.
Laura’s son is now a toddler and a busy one at that. He loved the zoo, and especially enjoyed the petting stable; feeding the donkeys, sheep, goats, and alpacas. He is still learning what “gentle” means, and didn’t quite heeds the instructions to not pet the tortoise’s head (sorry, tortoise!) Laura appreciated the well-manicured grounds and paved walkways, which made it easy to push a stroller around.
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Pine Grove Zoo is a gem in Little Falls, Minnesota, and it’s a hidden treasure to many (even those who live only 30 minutes away!)
It offers a wide variety of animals, many of which aren’t at other local zoos. It also provides a beautifully landscaped, well-maintained layout that allows for a quick trip around the zoo, or a more leisurely day, depending on the time available. We all commented that it is the perfect size for a trip around the zoo before the kids start to get tired and cranky. We were able to get in and out before the nap time meltdowns began! (#parenthood)
If everyone is still feeling fresh and happy after spending an hour or two at the zoo, the zoo grounds also have a huge playground and a beautiful picnic area available. They are underneath the grand old pines and are free for visitors to use.
Many local treasures often remain hidden even to people who live nearby. The Pine Grove Zoo is one such hidden gem in the Brainerd Lakes Area, and proved to be not only a wonderful place to explore as a family but one with an interesting history woven in!