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Lions and Zip Lines and Bears—Oh My! – The Nashville Zoo Unveils Expansion Plans

Full disclosure: I have a deep and unfailing love for the zoo.

No, I mean it. It is my absolute favorite place in the city. Some folks like to take in the skyline from the Shelby Street Bridge at sunset, others find their Zen marveling at the sheer Greekness of the Parthenon, but my Nashville happy looks like this: a giant slab of funnel cake, Gibbon Island, a bench, and my toddler howling like a monkey nearby.  Thus, instead of delivering the following news item in a professional, succinct, writer-ly fashion, I’m abandoning all sense of logic and decorum and nerding out. Here goes:


Fellow zoonatics, this news is massive! Am I right? Given the recent growth in both the size and fancy of our balmy, Southern gem of a town, perhaps I should not be so surprised, but I am. Pour-over coffee and Chipotles one expects to crop up in a burgeoning hipster mecca, but cheetahs? Not so much. The recently released $130 million expansion plans are reportedly set to take place over several years and hope to attract over a million visitors each year—a 50% increase from current attendance rates. With $28 million in donations already secured (including a $10 million contribution from Metro—contingent upon matched private donations…tricky, tricky Metro!) it is safe to say that our already fabulous menagerie is about to get fabulous-er. What’s in store, you ask? SPIDER MONKEYS FOR EVERYONE!!!!!!!!

Just kidding! But quite a few more animals, including the aforementioned acrobatic primates, are going to be added to the roster including:

  • Giant river otters (which by the way, are the size of NCAA cheerleaders)
  • Gorillas
  • Rhinos
  • Lions
  • …and Andean bears (oh my!)

The proposal also includes a revamped entrance with a shiny new gift shop (presumably filled with shiny new merchandise), infrastructure improvements, an African safari boat ride, a cutting-edge veterinary hospital, a farmers market, increased dining options, and—according to Nashville Public Radio—a zip line (!!!)

Ever peed in front of a marmoset? Well, get ready to check that one off the bucket list too! The restroom renovations would ensure that zoo patrons wouldn’t miss out on any of the fun when nature, erm, calls. If that isn’t interactive enough for you, the zoo is also hoping to include a penguin exhibit where visitors would be able to walk amongst—and even pet—the tuxedoed little guys.

But wait a minute. Is anybody else a little worried? Just a little?

While Grassmere goers sure have an awful lot to be excited about, (including the chance to witness a 30 something year old mother having a probable wardrobe malfunction on a zip line), this discerning mama also has her apprehensions. For example: will this seemingly glorious expansion be accompanied by expanding admission/membership/funnel cake prices? Exactly how disruptive will such a colossal undertaking be to the zoo’s visitors? Though my toddler finds mini-excavators just as enthralling as alligators, surely not everybody enjoys the not-so-gentle whirring of a bulldozer accompanying their family outing. My chief concern—and this thought makes me a little sweaty—is: will any of the zoo’s current residents or attractions be evicted in favor of some sparkly, new exhibit? They’d better not touch the carousel!

photo (W)

I know. That last paragraph was a little grumpy. Let me be clear: I am super-excited that our zoo is getting bigger! I’ve already picked out my African Safari Boat ride outfit (it’s yellow, in case you were wondering). It’s just that I so love our sweet little zoo the way it is. Perhaps my anxieties are misplaced. It is our city that’s growing—and at breakneck speed. The zoo is just a part of it. It sure is exciting, and it sure is scary. For those of us who know where to find the best ice cream or the right time to go to the splash pad or are able to pick out Library Pete’s bad-to-the-bone puppet voice by heart, any alteration to the landscape on which we’ve built memories with our children is a tad daunting. Okay, more than a tad. We live in Nashville, not LA, New York, Dallas, or Boston (#nodirespecttobenaffleck), and darn it—we like it that way! One thing that can’t be debated: a world-class town deserves a world-class zoo, and I for one (despite my very slight misgivings) am not one to turn a rhinoceros away. Get ready, new zoo! We’re ready to make some new memories, and we’re coming your way!



  1. What We ::Really:: Want for Christmas — Experiences Over “Stuff” | Nashville Moms Blog - November 7, 2014

    […] The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Adventure Science Center, Nashville Zoo (you can read the inside scoop on their expansion here!), the YMCA, Lane Motor Museum, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Symphony (they have […]

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