Reimagining Mill Mountain Zoo


Roanoke, Va., April 6 — Welcome: Zoo visitors walk down a paved pathway to reach the main entrance of the zoo. Photo: Samantha Hill


by Samantha Hill–

ROANOKE, Va. — Mill Mountain Zoo is looking to the future and developing a 10-year plan.

According to the Roanoke Times, the zoo hired both Zoo Advisors and Kansas architecture company GLMV Architecture in January. Though architectural plans are being discussed, Lucy Cook, the zoo’s executive director, says they are mainly focusing on creating a business plan that best supports their mission.

“It’s not as much about redesigning the footprint of the zoo as maybe looking at the things out of the box,” said Cook.

The zoo’s website says it has been open since 1952. Mill Mountain Zoo is currently home to 130 animals and 77 species. Out of the 77 species, about six are endangered or vulnerable. The zoo is also Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited, which is a sign of excellence in animal care and an overall experience for visitors. Mill Mountain Zoo is one of only four AZA facilities in Virginia.

Cook says the zoo has a great, but small collection of animals. She mentioned how healthy the animals were as well, saying that their wolverine that passed away over the summer was one of the oldest surviving wolverines in the country.

Moving forward, Cook wants to find ways to re-engage with the community. Though the zoo has a breakfast with the animals almost every month and summer camp, she says those are mainly aimed at kids. She wants the zoo to bring back community members who view the zoo as a cherished memory.

“If you go out in the community and interview Joe Schmo on the street, he’ll say ‘oh I love the zoo! I used to go there and ride the Zoo Choo,’ well great, when was the last time you were there? ‘Oh, 20 years ago.’ It’s that kind of thing, and we really need to get them back,” said Cook.

Cook says the zoo is still brainstorming and forming their 10-year plan. She says zoo administration will continue to do this roughly for the next three months. Some of the ideas being brainstormed include the idea of turning the current zoo into an education center, and expanding to a new location to grow into a larger zoo.

Looking to the future, Cook believes the zoo can add something unique to Roanoke’s tourism initiatives, pointing tourists toward the city and everything it has to offer.

“We’re two minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which brings thousands and thousands of people by our doorstep, not only ours literally, but the city of Roanoke,” said Cook. “Whatever this becomes, we’re perfectly suited to take advantage of that kind of placement and all that kind of traffic and information.”