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Wildwood Zoo Wisconsin's Hidden Zoo Gem? | Review of the Wildwood Zoo

Discussion in 'United States' started by Milwaukee Man, 2 Oct 2022.

  1. Milwaukee Man

    Milwaukee Man Well-Known Member 10+ year member

    1 Aug 2011
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    Keep in mind my visit was in late May, so some of this may be a bit outdated.

    Review of the Wildwood Zoo

    Wildwood Park and Zoo

    The Wildwood Zoo is a tiny zoological park in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Although various workers, including the town’s mayor, worked to take care of the animals starting in 1904, it was not until mid-1930 that the Zoo was officially opened to the public. It originally held some exotic species such as gibbons, but shifted to housing exclusively North American wildlife years ago. Today, the Zoo is home to about 25 species.

    Visiting this Zoo marked a bit of a milestone for me. Of the zoos in my home state of Wisconsin, this one was the tenth that I’ve come across. Having now visited, I’m happy to say that it lived up to that distinction. What it may not have in quantity, it certainly makes up for it in quality, including a few unexpected surprises!

    Animal Exhibit Complexes

    Birds of Prey Aviaries – If one were to start their visit at the “Southern Entrance (which is what I did),” then this set of exhibits would be the first to be seen. To begin with, there is the best of the bunch – a large and well-detailed habitat for bald eagles and rough-legged hawk (the latter was unseen). There is a decent amount of height offered for the birds, and the exhibit is loaded with vegetation, including a few smaller trees. There is also a replica bald eagle nest that was neat to see, and is a nice educational touch. Down the path are four more aviaries: screech owls and peregrine falcons (didn’t see either of these) can be found in small exhibits with little detail. Another pair of enclosures contain a fairly active red-tailed hawk and great horned owl; these are average in size and quality, but still have a decent number of perches available. In another part of the Zoo is a non-raptor bird exhibit; near the Kodiak bears, there’s a lush habitat for two sandhill cranes with a nice little marsh area.

    Welcome Center –
    The newest complex to debut, specifically opening in late 2019. The primary draw is a good-sized enclosure for a brother-sister pair of cougars (didn’t see). There aren’t a lot of natural elements found here, for instance the vegetation is primarily small shrubs or bits of grass. But what swings this enclosure back in favor is the wide variety of climbing opportunities for the cats; many large boulders, bare trees, and some scattered logs allow for plenty of height and scaling the landscape in a number of ways. The most surprising feature is that this is a cougar habitat with an open top – a fairly uncommon feature these days! The felines aren’t the only species found here though; going inside the small building, one will come across a few terrariums for Annam stick insect, box turtle, tiger salamander, chuckwalla, hognose snake, and a honey beehive. These are decent in terms of naturalism, and I was even impressed by their size as they seemed larger than what is normally seen for these animals.

    Kodiak Bear Habitat – I decided to leave this section on its own in this review because it is generally considered to be the crown jewel of this Zoo. There was originally a single concrete bear grotto that formerly contained Ms. Grizz, a grizzly bear that lived to be 40-years-old before passing away in late 2011. A few years later, a renovation and expansion led to the return of bears in 2015, specifically a pair of male Kodiaks that are among the very few of their kind on display in North America. The bears share a magnificent home here; starting with the original enclosure, the grotto appears to have maintained the concrete area. However, it has been enhanced via a section with viewing windows, along with a nice expansion. The animals have access to grass, a small den that offers super close views, and a number of rocky areas to clamber around on. That’s not all though – a long bridge gives the mighty beasts a nice view of the Zoo, and the ability to roam between the original exhibit and the newer “Bear Woods.” This is an almost one-acre slice of nature, packed with grass, tons of logs, a natural-looking pond, and a number of tall trees to give the habitat a forest-edge feel. Outside of only offering chain-link viewing, it truly is a fantastic exhibit that can rival several others of its kind. Not only is this Wildwood’s biggest highlight, but in my opinion, it is Wisconsin’s greatest bear habitat. :D

    Small Mammal Exhibits – Three out of the four exhibits are located side-by-side in the central part of the facility. These consist of a small black-tailed prairie dog area with dirt; an Arctic fox resides in a grassy habitat that, uniquely, was once shared with gray fox; and some domestic rabbits (Flemish giant, rex cross, and holland lop breeds) were found in a small, enclosed cage. Near the cougars, there is another interesting mixed-species habitat. A bobcat and a Canadian lynx live together in an average-sized exhibit that is nicely furnished with foliage, a rocky wall, and a little pond. While the bobcat was enjoying the outdoors exploring its enclosure, the lynx decided to snooze the day away; I was astonished to find these two cats coexisting rather than rotating between the two areas. The enclosure alone is fairly nice, but the mix certainly made this area stand out!

    Large Animal Drive –
    Completely separate from the main grounds is a long road where one can drive or hike and see some of the Zoo’s largest residents. Almost all the enclosures are massive, with nearly endless pastures of grass, hills, shelters, and viewing that is mostly through wiring. The exceptions to the enclosure design in this section are the mountain goats and timber wolves. The goats have a large mountain made of boulders; it makes for a cool viewing experience as they scamper up and down the rocks, or as they survey the surrounding landscape. The wolves, on the other hand, can also be seen in the main part of the Zoo. The canine pair reside in a habitat that is not enormous, but still a good size, with lush grass and dotted with tall pine trees. It gives off a nice woodland feeling, with the only comment I have being that I wish there were also some viewing windows in addition to the chain-link. A raised platform is present near the start of the loop too, so there is at least some nice open views for some of these species. The rest of the animals that call this section home are white-tailed deer, American bison, and elk. One final comment I’d like to make is, like Bear Country USA, the Zoo allows for empty paddocks to recover their plant growth and land renewal. I like how facilities educate about these actions or conservation efforts, or take advantage of situations such as this in comparison to leaving a large area not utilized and/or without explanation.

    Visitor Experiences

    This attraction is laid out over 60 acres, most of which is on the Large Animal Drive. While that massive area is essentially a gravel road that goes past large animal paddocks, the main property is where the majority of the Zoo is focused. Although the layout is a bit haphazard in terms of pathways and no cohesive flow, it is easy to walk a route with no backtracking. Also, the tiny size of this area does reduce this issue – in fact it’s easy to see almost this entire section from a couple corners of the establishment! Despite the scattered pathways and mainly lawns taking up most of this property, the variety of natural and manmade features allows for the Zoo to give a nice community feel to it without looking too cluttered or random. The natural elements consist of a stream that flows through, scattered flowerbeds near the sandhill cranes, and a pretty transition from pine forest to open grasses the further one goes into the Zoo. With the manmade features, buildings are either made of brick, wood, or a mix of these that look nice; or are interactive areas for guests like a bear size comparison chart.

    Amenities are quite limited at this free-admission facility – I’d imagine due to the Zoo’s tiny size. There are three entrance gates to this Zoo (North, East, and South), and from what I could tell, they are all basic chain-link gates with the Zoo’s sign next them. Outside of a couple restrooms (one in the Welcome Center, the other on the Large Animal Drive), there are only two notable guest attractions. One is a playground found on the Large Animal Drive; the other is a fascinating education area in the Welcome Center. It focuses on water and power conservation, and how it affects the surrounding town area, along with a display of the water cycle.

    HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Fittingly with the Kodiak Bear Habitat being the Zoo’s standout exhibit, the bears themselves were the stars of my visit. They were quite active; one bear stayed up on the bridge for the most part, patrolling and surveying the area down below, and the other hung out in the older section of the enclosure. He generally walked along the fence line near the bridge, but soon climbed around on the rocks before hunkering down near the den. While most bears I’ve seen were either far away, snoozing the day away, or behind glass, it was amazing to be just a few feet away from the massive beast and actually hear it huffing and chuffing as it strolled by.

    OVERALL: After the four AZA-accredited zoos in Wisconsin (Milwaukee County, Racine, Henry Vilas, and NEW), the Wildwood Zoo is a tiny hidden gem that stands out among the state’s crowd of zoos. There were a number of good qualities that left me pleasantly surprised, like the fairly high standard of exhibitry, nice atmosphere, and unique touches not often found in these small-town zoos. I don’t think I’d recommend making a special trip to see it, but it’s worth a stop if driving through the town of Marshfield.

    Photos have just been uploaded in the gallery - enjoy! :)