Detroit Zoo’s newest addition immerses visitors in Michigan wetlands

ROYAL OAK, Mich., July 25, 2012 – The Drifters immortalized it in a hit song, HBO replicated it in a popular cable television series, and now the Detroit Zoo is celebrating it as its newest immersive experience.  The Boardwalk opened this week at the Zoo, traversing through the Cotton Family Wetlands adjacent to the National Amphibian Conservation Center and Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat.  

“The moment you step onto the boardwalk, you’re transported into a world of wildlife and nature,” said Ron Kagan, Executive Director of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).  “It brings you right into the heart of Michigan wetlands.”

The 7,200-square-foot Boardwalk is made from a 95-percent recycled wood-alternative decking material called Trex, composed primarily of plastic grocery bags and reclaimed hardwood.  It features three walkways that converge on a 1,500-square-foot deck in the midst of a 1.7-acre pond and wetlands area.  

The walkways – which measure 50, 100 and 150 feet long – include 10-foot-long benches for visitors who want to sit and observe wildlife.  The deck may also be rented for social gatherings and special events and can accommodate up to 90 people for a seated dinner and up to 200 for a strolling reception.

Most of the Boardwalk actually “floats” on the water’s surface, held in place by posts.  The deck and walkways were manufactured by Floatation Docking Systems in Cedarville, Mich., transported to the Zoo from the U.P. on semi-trailers and floated out onto the water.  

The Boardwalk was designed by Progressive Architecture Engineering in Grand Rapids, Mich., and built by JC Beal Construction in Detroit.  Construction began at the end of May and was completed last week.  

The Cotton Family Wetlands represents a Michigan ecosystem teeming with native fish, frogs, turtles and birds.  DZS benefactors Shery and David Cotton and sons Sean, Jon and Michael – inspired by their love of nature and memories of life on a Texas bayou – donated a leadership gift for the development of the boardwalk and wetlands project.

Construction will soon commence on the Jane and Frank Warchol Beaver Habitat, named for the DZS benefactors who donated a major gift for a beaver habitat to be located across from the river otters.  That phase of the wetlands plan, which will include underwater views of beavers, is slated for completion late this year.

“The generosity of the Cotton and Warchol families reflects a deep commitment to the community and the future of the Detroit Zoo.  Their gifts have enabled us to begin an exciting transformation of this amazing campus over the next decade,” said Kagan.

The Boardwalk will also be used as an outdoor classroom, thanks in part to a $102,350 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The Great Lakes B-WET (Bay Watershed Education and Training) grant will be used for professional development and teacher/student field experiences for 100 urban teachers serving students underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math.  The goal of the grant is to develop and sustain an environmental education practice that helps students meet academic benchmarks and become aware of and committed to Great Lakes stewardship.