Jul 28, 2023 - News

The Minnesota Zoo's $37 million bet on Treetop Trail

Rendering courtesy of the Minnesota Zoo

The Minnesota Zoo is betting big on a pricey new attraction in hopes of returning to pre-pandemic membership numbers.

Driving the news: Friday marks the opening of the long-awaited Treetop Trail, developed in 2018 as a way to reuse the zoo's defunct monorail track.

  • The 1.25-mile walkway reaches heights of 32 feet. The zoo is advertising it as the longest elevated pedestrian loop in the world, aimed at allowing guests to connect more with nature.

Why it matters: At a cost of more than $37 million, including $11 million in state funding, the attraction is an expensive gamble to retain and gain members after steep pandemic losses.

  • Financial statements show that zoo membership fell from about 40,000 in 2019 to less than 24,500 in 2021.

Details: The trail will include new programming and feature ambassador animals such as the North American porcupine, bull snakes and other Minnesota-native species.

  • But the zoo isn't adding new exhibits — the trail only overlooks existing ones and undeveloped zoo land.

What they're saying: Because families tend to "age out" of the zoo, the attraction's programming was intentionally designed to appeal to adults who want experiences in nature, from birdwatchers to walking clubs to fans of outdoor yoga, Treetop Trail project manager Jamie Flaws told Axios.

  • She added that memberships as of last month have risen to nearly 37,000, and it's very possible the zoo will reach pre-pandemic levels this year.

Between the lines: The trail's world-record status will likely attract new visitors right away, but the zoo will have to renew marketing and programming to ensure the boost continues, University of Minnesota Tourism Center director Xinyi Qian told Axios.

Reality check: Unlike the free High Line in New York that inspired it, the trail will cost you.

  • Adult non-members will have to shell out $21.95 for a zoo ticket and another $8 for parking, though Flaws said the cost is in line with other local attractions including museums.
  • Zoo membership, which starts at $65 a year for an individual and $155 for a household, grants unlimited visits.

What we're watching: Flaws said the zoo is discussing instituting a new membership level at a lower price point that allows access only to the Treetop Trail.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional details about the trail's programming and mission.


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