Snow Day

Lincoln Park Zoo in the Snow

After the big storm blew 20 inches of white stuff over Chicago, Wednesday was a snow day for much of the city. Kids turned to sleds as schools cancelled classes. Adults spent the day digging out cars. Flights were grounded, roads closed and businesses throughout the city shuttered their doors in the wake of the weather.

Lincoln Park Zoo was also closed after the blizzard. But while people across the city celebrated a winter wonderland, a group of zoo employees spent their snow day clearing zoo grounds—and caring for the animals.

Bunkering Down

Preparations for the blizzard began before the first flake fell. With the forecast in mind, animal care staff spent the early part of the week doubling down on food prep. “We knew it would be challenging for people to get in, so we made plans to ensure animals got what they needed if we had minimal staff,” says Vice President of Animal Care Megan Ross, Ph.D.

When the snow started to fall on Tuesday, the zoo was ready. Food was stocked, animals were secured indoors and nonessential equipment was turned off in case of power loss.

While most employees headed home to wait out the weather, a few opted to stay at the zoo to keep an eye on things. Public Safety Officer Ronnie Holloway manned the standard overnight shift. Johnson Controls Engineers Matt McDonald and John Earley spent the night at the Conservatory to monitor zoo buildings. And Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Colleen Lynch brought a bedroll into her office to ensure she’d be on site after the snow settled.

“That was all well and good until 3 in the morning,” she laughs. “That’s when Brickman Group [the zoo’s landscaping team] came in and started the snowblowing. After that I watched the news for a while, then started walking around to look for downed branches and damaged fences.”

Digging Out

As the city hibernated, zoo staff started their day. Encountering a stranded bus on Stockton Drive at 5 a.m., Holloway shepherded the passengers into the Farm House at the Farm-in-the-Zoo Presented by John Deere for warmth, water and food. Brickman continued to plow, blow and shovel the massive snowdrifts that had settled on the zoo.

Around 6:30 a.m., animal care staff that weren’t snowed in began emerging from the snow. They spent a busy day moving from building to building, checking on the animals, distributing meals and lending a hand with the shovels. Building engineers under Operations Manager Kurt Zitzner kept power running and aerators pumping in the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond and Waterfowl Lagoon. Overall, zoo grounds weathered the storm well; no damage was found.

For staff who braved the elements, it seems the snow day was a lot of work—and a lot of fun. All in attendance enjoyed a midday break at Park Place Café, where Holloway, Zitzner and Director of Horticulture Brian Houck whipped up an impromptu midday meal.

“We all came inside, warmed up for a bit and got something hot to eat,” says Lynch. “Then we got back to shoveling and caring for the animals.”


by James Seidler • Photos by Brian Houck • Originally published February 4, 2011