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> Zoo and old Lighthouse open April 1
post Mar 30 2012, 07:30 AM
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Zoo, Lighthouse Museum set to open Sunday

By Lois Tomaszewski
Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012 5:06 PM CDT
MICHIGAN CITY - On Sunday April 1, plan on taking a walk on the wild side or strolling through Michigan City’s past when two of the cities attractions open for the season.

The Washington Park Zoo employees have been working hard to prepare for the season, director Johnny Martinez said. Rooms are being painted, landscaping is being trimmed, fences have been mended and the animals are ready to greet visitors.

Work is also moving along on a new exhibit. The habitat for an exhibit of fruit bats is nearing completion. Housed in the former elephant building, zoo visitors will walk into a darkened space designed to mimic the dark.

Volunteers from the community can lend a hand on Saturday. Come by the zoo to let them know what your skills are, Martinez said.

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New restrooms have been added to the existing building as well, which Martinez said resolved guest comfort. A classroom space has also been added. This room, called the Exchange Club Classroom, can be used for a number of activities, most recently for docent training. Eventually the docent can be positioned around the zoo, offering education and information to the zoo guests, he said.

The gift shop has also been expanded. An adjacent room previously used for storage and office equipment has been renovated to provide more display space.

The zoo is open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $5.50 for adults, $4.50 for children ages 3 thru 11 and $4.50 for seniors. Children ages two and younger are admitted for free.

Last year, bad weather put the damper on opening day at the zoo, Martinez said.

He said it kept visitors away for both April and May, resulting in 5.600 fewer guests in the year-end totals.

According to forecasts, the weather should cooperate this year, with sunny conditions and a high around 70 degrees.

Just down the road, volunteers at the Old Lighthouse Museum will also be welcoming visitors after a winter hiatus. The historic structure housed Michigan City’s lighthouse keepers for almost a century. Built in 1858, it closed its doors in the 1940s.

Throughout the rooms of the house are displays depicting both the maritime history of the area, artifacts from the lighthouse keepers, vignettes reflecting the furnishing and clothing of the era and information about shipwrecks and President Abraham Lincoln. The gallery of photographs, dating from the 1890s, shows a changing landscape and thriving port.

Even if someone has been there before, director Laura Shields encourages them to return.

New photographs have been taken out of storage and are on display this year. Visitors are guided through the two stories and can even climb the narrow spiral staircase to the place where the Fresnel lens was once housed. While the lens is no longer in place, the view from Lantern Room offers a scenic perspective of the waterfront and the uptown area.

The volunteers are a wealth of information, sharing both the factual information and stories that have been passed down. One example of this is whether the copper shield on the Fresnel lens was put there after town residents complained about the bright light or whether it was put on deliberately to save money.

The Michigan City Historical Society, which operates the museum, wants to collect stories like these. Visitors who may have a personal story about the lighthouse can sit down and write their stories in a log book, Shields said. This provides a record for other visitors who may have similar stories or be able to add additional information.

The museum is open from 1 - 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. It is important to note that the building is historic and access for strollers is discouraged, Shields said.

While it does offer some audio components to the displays, the policy is “look but don’t touch” to preserve the items in the Historical Societies care, she added.
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