Utah's Hogle Zoo to expand, open 'a different kind of exhibit' in 2023

The entrance of Utah's Hogle Zoo is pictured on Wednesday, as the Hogle Zoo celebrated the start of its east expansion project. The expansion will house Utah native species and a new educational animal center.

The entrance of Utah's Hogle Zoo is pictured on Wednesday, as the Hogle Zoo celebrated the start of its east expansion project. The expansion will house Utah native species and a new educational animal center. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox remembers the first time he came to Utah's Hogle Zoo.

His family didn't have a lot of money growing up, but his grandparents saved up for a trip to the zoo at the east end of Salt Lake City when he was about 6 or 7 years old. Those are memories he still treasures all these years later.

"And I thought I had gone to heaven," he recalled, with a wide grin. "Some kids got to go to Disneyland, California — I got to come here. This was my Disneyland."

That's the type of memories that he hopes children will continue to have, especially as they learn about all the species Utah has to offer.

Cox, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall were all on hand Wednesday as zoo officials announced the creation of the Aline W. Skaggs Wild Utah native animal exhibit, named after the late animal-loving philanthropist.

The exhibit, to be located at the space used by the Zoofari Express for the past five decades, will focus on the education of animals native to Utah, such as bighorn sheep, bobcats, beavers, badgers, cougars, porcupines, wild burros, bees and ants when it opens in the fall of 2023. The expansion will also include the Norma W. Matheson Education Animal Center, as well as a nature trail and other spots for learning about animals.

"We're really excited to develop this area into an area where guests can walk and be inspired through these educational exhibits, and learn about Utah wildlife," said Doug Lund, the president and CEO of Utah's Hogle Zoo.

A map showing where the Aline W. Skaggs Wild Utah and Norma W. Matheson Education Animal Center will be located within Utah's Hogle Zoo. The exhibit is expected to open in the fall of 2023.
A map showing where the Aline W. Skaggs Wild Utah and Norma W. Matheson Education Animal Center will be located within Utah's Hogle Zoo. The exhibit is expected to open in the fall of 2023. (Photo: Utah's Hogle Zoo)

Blake Fisher, the chairman of the Utah Zoological Society board of directors, said visitors should expect "a different kind of exhibit" that he believes will be a popular one. He added that about $20 million was authorized for the completion of the new exhibit.

Fisher also explained that the board's top priority is making the world a safer place for wildlife, ensuring that animals have to thrive. That often starts with education, which the new exhibit focuses on.

"We believe this new exhibit, that will feature the animals indigenous to Utah, is in line with our vision and certainly fits this zoo," he said.

Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Hogle Zoo CEO Doug Lund operate the train as they celebrate the start of the zoo's east expansion project on Wednesday. The expansion will house Utah native species and a new educational animal center.
Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Hogle Zoo CEO Doug Lund operate the train as they celebrate the start of the zoo's east expansion project on Wednesday. The expansion will house Utah native species and a new educational animal center. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Construction is set to begin in late September, which is also when the original Zoofari Express, a popular zoo attraction, is set to close after about 53 years of service and an estimated 12 to 15 million rides in the park. Shortly after the announcement, Cox climbed aboard the Zoofari Express for one of the final rides in the coming weeks.

The ride won't be gone forever, though. Lund said it will be reconfigured in a new location in the future.

"Truly, that is a much-loved part of the zoo experience," he said. "I think that those who grew up here certainly remember riding that train."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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