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Opening Day for Great Bear Wilderness at Brookfield Zoo

By JoshMogerman in Arts & Entertainment on May 10, 2010 8:20PM

Brookfield Zoo has brought a slice of the American West to the Western suburbs with the opening of the new Great Bear Wilderness exhibit. Great Bear Wilderness is chock full of iconic animals: Polar bears, grizzly bears, bison, and bald eagles (the last two are also native to Illinois).

And judging from opening day yesterday, it looks to be a crowd pleaser.

Despite the decidedly unfriendly weather gobs of stalwarts were on hand Saturday to get a first look at the zoo’s biggest and most expensive exhibit yet---and they did not seem disappointed. Saturday’s zoo goers seemed particularly taken with the antics of Hudson Polar Bear who seemed to delight in diving into a new pool, designed with a massive underwater viewing window and toys to keep the young bear busy in full view. The grizzly bear enclosure is similarly appointed, giving new perspective on the sheer size of the critters.

"These are big, majestic, charismatic species who are very closely connected with people," Stuart Strahl, CEO and president of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo, told the Trib. "We feel these animals spiritually."

That spirituality figured into the exhibit’s opening. Saturday began with a private ground blessing ceremony done in partnership with the American Indian Center and a pow-wow was held on the one of the zoo’s mall throughout the day, helping to extend themes in the exhibit’s interpretive signs.

Great Bear Wilderness is a new permanent exhibit, sprawling over 7.5 acres on the zoo’s west side. Entry is included in general zoo admission. Expect it to quickly become a new hot spot for Chicagoland’s parenting set.