North Alabama is already home to an impressive list of businesses and attractions, but what’s coming soon is sure to thrill residents of all ages from all across our area and beyond.
The rumors are 100% true: North Alabama will soon be home to one of the most unique, awe-inspiring, and incredibly delightful zoos in the nation!
Ethan Woodruff, Executive Director of the North Alabama Zoological Society (NALZS), shared that this project is heavy in the funding phase and expects to open Phase 1 of the zoo in 2024.
Woodruff’s dream of seeing North Alabama’s currently-unnamed zoo come to life has been years in the making.
“Two and a half years ago I took my young daughter to the zoo in Birmingham and thoroughly enjoyed it,” shared Woodruff. “I just kept asking why we don’t have one in Huntsville and questioning if this area could support one.”
After a bit of research, Woodruff quickly concluded that bringing a zoo to North Alabama was absolutely possible, and he quickly got to work.
Two years later, NALZS is formed and nearly 500 acres of land is set aside ready to bring the Southeast’s newest zoo to life.
NALZS will be releasing an official statement in August that will pinpoint the exact location of the zoo, so stay tuned! If you want to do a bit of investigative research on your own though, open up a map and plug in the following clues: East of I-65, west of Gurley, south of the Tennessee border, and north of the Tennessee River.
Just to make the entire plan sweeter, NALZS has also incorporated plans to build a beautiful aquarium as part of the final phase of the project. Three cheers!
North Alabama Zoo Coming Soon
As aforementioned, NALZS will operate on nearly 500 acres, though it’ll be split into two properties that will be developed on a parallel timeline. One site will be home to the zoo and aquarium while the other, just a few miles away, will feature a jaw-dropping research and education center.
As far as the scale of the zoo, Woodruff shared that there are a lot of qualifiers for what makes a “big zoo”.
“Some ‘big zoos’ are generally less than 100 acres while other zoos, like Birmingham, feature 140 acres but aren’t considered ‘big zoos.'”
North Alabama’s zoo location will boast roughly 279 acres and be home to only the animals that will thrive at the location. But yes – traditional “big” animals are 100% in the plans!
“There are a lot of aspects to look into when deciding which animals to bring to our zoo, and we are committed to only bringing those that will absolutely thrive here.”
Below is a map of what visitors can expect from our very own local zoo.
Woodruff shares that everything inside of the thick, dark blue box is Phase 1.
- The entertainment district will feature retail, restaurants, and common areas for both guests and non-guests of the park to come and enjoy (i.e. one does not need to have an admission ticket to access the entertainment district!)
- The “Alabama Natives” area will be highly interactive and educational. Woodruff heavily desires for visitors, especially children, to come and learn about their state and have some fun while doing so! One unique section of this area will be a dairy section where cows will be milked on-site, and no dairy area is complete without a sprawling ice cream parlor, right?! Get ready for some delicious treats!
- The “Cosmic Jungle” will feature all kinds of interactive lessons about animals that have gone to space. How neat!
Future phases of the zoo (which will hopefully be built rapidly but will be fully dependant on how swiftly this project is fully funded) will be split into small adventures around the world. As pictured, these areas include Yellowstone National Park, Asia, an African Forrest Adventure, and an African Savanna Adventure.
Each of these areas will be designed and built to replicate actual national parks in each of these areas. Woodruff shared that visitors can enjoy these areas and feel like they’re able to visit an African national park right here in North Alabama.
The edges of the zoo are considered the adventure trek and will feature horseback riding in Yellowstone, ATV riding in the Savanna, and so much more.
“The public thinks of zoos as attractions, but the modern zoo is so much more than that.”
Additionally, guests will be able to enjoy on-site lodging accommodations that overlook the African Savanna Adventure. The lodging area will also include numerous “glamping” areas.
And here’s more good news: The zoo will feature an expansive splash pad!
“We want this zoo to be a place that is comfortable all year round. We know that it gets hot and muggy here in the summer, but we will still strive to make it a comfortable place to visit,” shared Woodruff. “This is going to be an all-season place. Even when it’s cold out, we’ll still make sure this is a place you want to come to.”
The second North Alabama zoo location is a research, education, and conservation area that will be open to the public to enjoy. Sprawled across 200 acres will be water activities, an event pavilion, a food hall, dormitories, youth camp opportunities, a wildlife research center, gardening (that will help feed the animals at the zoo), an on-site science lab, and so much (SO MUCH!) more.
“We’re really excited to offer more options for our students to study life sciences and the arts,” shared Woodruff. “From toddlers to college students, we want to provide opportunities to fill some of these holes in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) options for kids.”
For example, the research site will feature scientists working behind glass while spectators are able to observe.
“At times, scientists will come out from behind the glass and actually talk with spectators,” shared Woodruff, who is thrilled that youth and adults alike will have such an opportunity to learn in this unique way.
Help Fund NALZS
The faster NALZ is funded, the faster this project moves along! NALZS has numerous support programs including general donation options, corporate sponsorships, employer matching, and much more. To learn about how your family and/or business can invest in the incredible things that NALZS is doing, click here.
Volunteer with NALZS
NALZS is a registered State of Alabama Nonprofit Corporation with IRS 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status. All board members and corporate staff are volunteers.
NALZS is looking to fill a handful of advisory board positions as well as spots on the general board of directors. If you have a passion for seeing the zoo in North Alabama come to life and would like to volunteer with NALZS, click here!