In the fall of 2011, John Ball Park celebrated $12 million of planned upgrades with some of the key donors pictured here manning the groundbreaking shovels. This first dirt was thrown at the construction spot where elevated train tracks will be laid to carry visitors uphill onto zoo land that could never be used before.
By June 2012, the funicular will access 11 new hilltop acres for visitors to enjoy an observation deck, nature trail, and a “tree” house that can be rented out for private parties. The red funicular seen here is named for Bill and Bea Idema who gave $5 million toward the project, the largest single gift in the zoo’s history. Bea Idema is pictured with Al Hunting, a longtime friend and fellow donor to the zoo expansion.
The Wege Foundation’s contribution to the 2011 hilltop project is not the first. The John Ball Zoo’s location on the city’s west side gives it special meaning to Peter Wege because it’s where his mother Sophia Dubridge Wege grew up. Thirty years ago when the zoo needed support, Peter Wege helped fund improvements to the animals’ surroundings.
Ever the environmentalist, Wege was pleased that those rebuilt exhibits better match the animals’ natural habitats and keep the animals safer.