John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune, Minn. –
They came with shovels, with pails, with rakes, with chain saws, with gloves and especially with long, sturdy boots designed for thick mud.
Two hundred volunteers showed up at the Lake Superior Zoo on Saturday to clean up the mud, muck and debris left when last week’s deluge turned Kingsbury Creek into a lake covering half of the zoo’s surface and leaving some exhibits under 8 to 10 feet of water.
The flood left most of the animals in the zoo’s barnyard exhibit dead and forced the relocation of a polar bear and two seals. Some of the remaining animals are still in the zoo’s quarantine section, but all of them are in good condition, said Sam Maida, the zoo’s CEO.
The creek was back in its banks on Saturday, and volunteers were hauling out branches and other debris and scooping mud away from fencerows.
“These people need acknowledgment because what they’re doing is incredible,” said Gerry Krippner, a veterinary technician at the zoo who was helping out with her husband, Jay. “I had no idea that this kind of progress could have been made, and it had to be all up to these fabulous people.”
At a news conference on Saturday, Maida said the work was going much more quickly than he had imagined, and that volunteers might have done all they could by the end of this weekend. Another 150 people were signed up to work today, he said.
It’s too early to know when the zoo will reopen, Maida said, although he added that the Fourth of July would be a nice target. “We need to get open again because we need to start generating revenue,” Maida said.
For the zoo as for many Duluth attractions, summer revenue is irreplaceable, Maida said.
“It’s not just about revenue, it’s also about the expectations of people,” he said. “The longer you stay down, the harder it is for people to stay up. … We owe it to everybody, whether they work here or volunteer here or are part of the community, to get back and running as quickly as we can.”
The zoo hasn’t estimated the cost of repairs, Maida said, but a preliminary estimate from the city was between $500,000 and $600,000. Volunteer efforts will cut into those costs, he said. “But there are some structure issues … that are not volunteer work.”
The volunteers, working in a light rain, covered with mud and drenched in sweat, were determined to do their part.
“I had to come and see the damage for myself,” said Josie LaPorte, 23, of Superior, who paused from raking mud away from a fence along one of the zoo’s paths.
LaPorte had worked in guest services at the zoo last summer. “I felt like I had to be here to clean up,” she said. “The zoo has done so much for me. So I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else.”
Pat Kanuit, who paused from shoveling mud, said he came up from the Twin Cities to volunteer. “They needed help and I had to help,” said Kanuit, 36. “I just felt I needed to be here.”
Kanuit worked alongside his girlfriend, Christina Maida, who is Sam Maida’s daughter. But she didn’t volunteer just because she’s the CEO’s daughter, she said.
“I want to be here,” she said. “I grew up here. I worked here. … I want to support it any way I can.”
The devastation has taken a toll on zoo staff and volunteers, Sam Maida said.
“This is very difficult for a lot of staff to deal with,” he said. “We have a lot of younger staff. They’ve probably never been exposed to something like this. They came here to work because they wanted to come here to work, and the zoo was really looking good. We were all excited, and now it’s damaged. That has a real impact on people.”
Peter Pruett, the zoo’s director of animal management, said a grief counselor will be made available to zoo staff on Tuesday. He said he told zookeepers that he wants them to meet with the counselor.
Pruett said he was proud about the way the zoo’s staff responded to the crisis.
“I’m extremely proud to say that I work with them and they work with me,” Pruett said. “They’ve really stepped up and taken hold of a pretty bad situation and really turned it around into something quite positive.”