Although it receives nearly two million visitors each year, admission to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory remains free thanks to a diverse mix of funding sources, including money from the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
The House Legacy Funding Finance Committee heard a presentation by zoo officials Monday who testified in support of a bill seeking funding for the upcoming biennium.
Sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), HF715, which was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion, would appropriate $3 million to fund education and appreciation programs, habitat enhancements, special exhibits and garden access and preservation work.
Although the funding request is $1 million more than the zoo received in the 2016-17 biennium, Michelle Furrer campus manager/director of the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, said the increase would allow additional programs that could provide greater statewide impact. A penguin and two-toed sloth were in the committee room during the presentation.
Furrer said projects such as the Como Residency Program, which connects elementary students around the state to the zoo’s plants and animals through field trips and classroom visits, would not be possible without Legacy funding.
Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) also stressed the important role the zoo plays for those who don’t have money to spend on recreation. He told the committee, “Como basically saved our lives” in the past when his family couldn’t afford other activities.
Lesch called the zoo “a regional jewel” and praised the work done by officials and friends of the zoo who raise millions of dollars in private funds each year to help its work continue.
“You’ve got to have options for people, and the investment we’re talking about now sustains that,” Lesch said.