St. Louis Zoo earns national recognition

No matter what the season, visitors to the St. Louis Zoo line up to watch the hippos above water and below.
No matter what the season, visitors to the St. Louis Zoo line up to watch the hippos above water and below. mhouston@bnd.com

The St. Louis Zoo’s penguins, elephants and polar bears may have an extra bounce to their step this weekend.

They’re part of the reason the zoo was chosen as the No.1 free attraction in the nation by the USA Today’s 10 Best Readers' Choice Awards Program.

According to a Zoo news release, the St. Louis Zoo was the only zoo selected for consideration when USA Today asked visitors to its website to help pick the 10 Best free attractions from a list of 20 that travel experts selected. After four weeks of voting, the results were announced Friday.

“We thank people throughout the nation and our region for voting for the Zoo and making this possible,” said Jeffrey P. Bonner, the zoo’s chief executive officer. “We very much appreciate the support of our visitors and the hundreds of thousands who visit our social media sites regularly. This honor was also made possible by the strong support of the taxpayers of St. Louis city and County, our generous donors, members, volunteers and employees. They make the St. Louis Zoo great. This is a win for the entire St. Louis region and its residents and civic leaders who have long supported and appreciated St. Louis’ world-class free zoo.”

The Zoo was selected over Central Park in New York City, Balboa Park (home to San Diego Zoo) in San Diego, and Millennium Park in Chicago. Votes for the Zoo were greater than those for the Alamo, the Golden Gate Bridge and Boston’s Freedom Trail. The list also included the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., among others.

In its description of the St. Louis Zoo, USA Today reported, “the 90-acre Zoo exhibits 600 species of animals representing every continent and major biome on the planet. It’s also one of the nation’s few zoos with free entry, though some exhibits and shows charge small admission fees. The zoo’s Penguin & Puffin Coast exhibit is one of the best penguin habitats in the country, with four species of penguins and two species of puffins on display.”

Admission has been free at the zoo, located in Forest Park, since its founding in 1910. The Zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Zoo attracts about 3.2 million visitors each year.

This weekend, the St. Louis Zoo is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s the last weekend for summer hours.