Starting with two owls the Pine Grove Zoo continues to grow as it begins journey into its second century

By Liz Verley, Staff Writer 

Pine Grove Zoo Director Marnita Von Hoecke and Senior Zookeeper Becky Charpenter display the banner that will greet visitors who come to the zoo’s 100 anniversary June 8. The celebration will be held noon - 4:30 p.m. (Note: The zoo will not open until noon on that day only).

Pine Grove Zoo Director Marnita Von Hoecke and Senior Zookeeper Becky Charpenter display the banner that will greet visitors who come to the zoo’s 100 anniversary June 8. The celebration will be held noon – 4:30 p.m. (Note: The zoo will not open until noon on that day only).

Who would have imagined from its humble beginning of two owls, that the Pine Grove Zoo would have survived to grow into one of the jewels of Central Minnesota.

The site of the present zoo was preserved by Milton Williams and A.R. Davidson during the rapid logging of the large white pines that were abundant in the area. The original cost of the property was $4,100 which was raised through donations.

According to information on the zoo’s history Web site, “Through these efforts,, the land was deeded to the city of Little Falls Sept. 13, 1907 ‘for the enjoyment, pleasure and benefit of the people of the area.’”

On Saturday, June 8, the zoo will celebrate 100 years.

The land where the zoo is located was part of a gift from some local businessmen and individuals. The zoo began with the donation of two Great Horned Owls. In 1914, the addition of a moose cow was followed by elk from Yellowstone National Park in the spring of 1915. Public interest continued to grow and soon more animals were added. They included peafowl, goats, squirrels, porcupines, woodchucks and raccoons..

The variety of animal species has continued to grow and today is the home to a wide variety including emus, bears, buffalo, wolves, parakeets, tigers and many other species.

Marnita Van Hoecke, Pine Grove Zoo director, holds a  resident  3-year-old Sulcata Tortoise which will be on display at the zoo’s 100-year celebration Saturday, June 8.

Marnita Van Hoecke, Pine Grove Zoo director, holds a resident 3-year-old Sulcata Tortoise which will be on display at the zoo’s 100-year celebration Saturday, June 8.

Most recently the zoo became home to its first zebra. Arriving at the zoo May 31, the 3-week-old male zebra  will be on display for the public to view at the 100-year celebration. It will eventually be joined by a young female zebra which will be born mid- June.

“The male zebra cost $3,500 and the female will cost $4,000. All the money was raised through donations,” said Zoo Director Marnita Van Hoecke

“This is just one example of how fortunate we are. Our public support is great. It makes us appreciate our community. We are very blessed here. We have a very dedicated staff, city council and friends of the zoo to work with. They all have the can-do spirit,” Van Hoecke said.

June 8 will be filled with vintage memorabilia, old fashioned fun and a trip down memory lane.

There will be educational tours, animal demonstrations, and music throughout the afternoon. There will be a Pine Grove Zoo Historical presentation by Marilyn Brown; displays including an old fire engine, Lone Eagle Auto Club and 2 Cylinder Club, vintage tractors, autos, machinery, veterinarian equipment, school house artifacts, lots of information and a Friends of Lindbergh reenactment with Melissa Peterson, acting historic site manager.

Other events will include bear enrichment at 12:30 p.m., wolf enrichment at  2 p.m., bobcat training at 1:15 p.m. and tiger training at 2:45 p.m.

While the celebration events will end at 4 p.m.,  the zoo will remain open until 6 p.m. Admission for that day will be $1.

Van Hoecke said, “We are looking forward to the next 100 years. I want to thank the community for their dedication and support, We would not be here without you. I hope to see everyone June 8.”

The zoo is handicapped- accessible and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $6 and there is no charge for children 3 and under. Call (320) 616-5595 for more information.

 

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