This weekend, Bill Burdt will observe the 10th season opening of Storybook Hill Children’s Zoo since his wife, Terri, died of cancer.
Visitors this year will enjoy a brand-new playground, donated by Burdt’s family in memory of Terri, a former Storybook Hill board member, and Bill’s mother, Ruth Burdt.
“It’s kind of one of those bittersweet things,” Burdt said. “The zoo was a special place in both of their hearts, so it’s important we continue to fund new equipment in that location.”
The zoo, located at 12201 North Cascade Road, opens today for its 43rd year. Visitors can stop by from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day. The zoo’s annual “Fun Day” is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, June 2.
There is no cost to attend, but visitors can make small donations in a designated “wishing well.”
The new playground cost about $4,000. Burdt, who has filled his wife’s board position, installed the playground himself near the main pavilion.
“We just wanted to have an area that families could bring their children out and watch them have some fun on some equipment that’s fairly new,” he said.
The park also features two new play firetrucks, refurbished by a local Eagle Scout and relocated from Town Clock Plaza. Beloved zoo fixtures like twice-hourly train rides and a picnic area remain.
Farm animals, including calves, sheep, goats, an alpaca, peacocks, chickens, geese and ducks are lent seasonally by local farmers.
Years ago, Storybook Hill billed itself as a petting zoo, but board President “Ding” Bell said that for liability reasons, officials now ask visitors not to touch or feed the animals.
Bell said the zoo leases the land, about 10 acres, from the city for $1 annually. Operating costs total $14,000 to $15,000 each year.
Donors like the Burdt family, the Dubuque Noon Optimists Club and the Dubuque Racing Association provide most of the funding.
“If it wasn’t for the Noon Optimists and the DRA, this place probably wouldn’t exist,” Bell said.
Seasonal workers care for the animals, but volunteers largely run the zoo. Bell has spent 35 years there.
“I watched my kids grow up here, and now I’m a grandfather and I watch my grandkids grow up here,” Bell said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”
Dubuque’s Sharon Morris, who visited the park with her 2-year-old granddaughter Thursday, has visited Storybook Hill regularly with her children and grandchildren since 1971.
“The kids always love it out here,” she said. “Closest we ever get away from the city.”