Those looking for a wild ride need look no further than Safari North Wildlife Park in the Brainerd lakes area.
The attraction was slated to open May 9, but was pushed to May 18 because of the governor’s social distancing measures. Now the attraction will offer only drive-thru admission to the park starting Thursday, May 21.
“This is not what we wanted, but it is what we have to do at this time,” co-owners Kevin Vogel and his wife Kelly announced to their followers on Facebook. “We greatly and most humbly appreciate our guests and hope that you can come out to support us and our family of animals.”
Safari North Wildlife Park features bears, tigers, kangaroos, leopards, cougars, bobcats, alligators, lynx, lemurs, monkeys, otters, zebras, porcupines, warthogs, hyenas and barnyard animals, according to Explore Minnesota, the state’s official tourism website.
“Our gift shop can be open because it’s retail, but our zoo cannot be open, but it can be open as a drive-thru,” Vogel said.
More Minnesota businesses are allowed to reopen Monday and the state's stay-at-home order was lifted by Gov. Tim Walz.
“We can open as a drive-thru, so we just wanted to. It was my idea. We were just looking for some way to survive, you know?” Vogel said. “A ‘plan B’ if you want to call it that.”
Under the latest executive orders, Minnesotans are permitted to shop in more stores, malls and other vendors open at half capacity and gather in groups of 10 or fewer for family gatherings, church ceremonies or other purposes.
“You know what? This whole thing is very confusing,” Vogel said with exasperation. “For right now, it’s drive-thru only. Until the governor releases ... restrictions, this is all that we can do.”
Admission will be at a reduced rate and although park guests will not be able to see all of the animals, they will still see a large variety “while enjoying a unique offering during a time when many families are looking for safe ways to get out of the house,” according to zoo officials.
“They won’t see, like, the otters. They won’t see the wolves, the black bears, and probably, you know, the sloths … and then just a lot of the smaller caged animals, you know, bobcats, lynx, things like that,” Vogel said.
All guests will receive a coupon for 50% off a visit when the park is open entirely. At that time, season passes and gift shop items will be an additional 10% off.
“What’s really frustrating is we have 43 acres here. Nothing against Menards, but, you know, they got 500 people in there at any time, and I can’t have 100 people on 43 acres. … Zoos are one thing the governor has not allowed open to foot traffic.”
Safari North Wildlife Park’s eatery is closed temporarily, but officials are building an additional road that will allow drive-thru guests to view the new African lions and jaguar exhibits, which were slated to open next season.
“Honestly, it might be just a little confusing at first just because we’ve never had to do this, you know, so this is something new, and it’s a learning curve for us as well. But I think we’ve got a good plan in place to get the people through efficiently,” Vogel said.
The park opened in 2014 and recently was named No. 1 for “best place for summer family fun” in the Brainerd lakes area in the Brainerd Dispatch’s “Best of the Brainerd lakes” contest.
“I think people are really looking forward to getting out of the house and doing something, and for those that are not comfortable getting out of the house and maybe mingling with the public this is something they can do from the safety of their own vehicle,” Vogel said.
Safari North Wildlife Park will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.safarinorth.com or call 218-454-1662.