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Nelson Fund grant helps elevate zoo experience

The newest thing at the NEW Zoo and Adventure Park north of Suamico takes the long view. A canopy walk measuring nearly a third of a mile takes visitors as much as 22 feet above the zoo grounds on slat bridges right out of the Adventures of Tarzan.

The zoo received help in achieving this new level of science education from a $50,000 grant from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region’s David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund. The total project cost was $560,000. It also received support from a list of private foundations. The privately operated zoo is not government supported.

Volunteers, donors and zoo staff were able preview the canopy walk Aug. 5, the day before it opened to the public.

NEW Zoological Society President Gary Ehrbar announced the walkway has been named the Neal Anderson Canopy Walk for the zoo’s director for almost 30 years. Anderson retired in August. Construction delays pushed the dedication beyond the date he planned to relocate his family to Florida, so Anderson was unable to attend. Before he left, Anderson had a private tour and was informed it would be named for him.

“It brought tears to his eyes,” acting director Carman Murach says.

The walkway includes 16 platforms connected by 18 suspension bridges — an average of 15 feet above the ground. People walking across the bridges cause them to wiggle, jiggle and sway.  Shoulder-high netting on each side makes it safer than it sounds. Weight limits allow only five people on the bridges at a time.

Yet to be added are sections where animal walkways will parallel those containing visitors, who could come face to face with a snow monkey or a snow leopard. The canopy walk crosses above their cages, as well as the penguin exhibit.

Dave Horst

The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund was created with an estate gift of more than $100 million from the De Pere couple. It awards grants annually with input from an advisory committee. Read more here about the fund’s latest rounds of grants.


The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation is a permanent, donor-advised endowment that generates millions of dollars in grants annually to charitable organizations reflecting the philanthropic interests of the late David and Rita Nelson and their family, primarily in the Fox Cities and Green Bay areas. These interests include parks, recreation and waterways; education; health care; community services and community centers; historic preservation and history — including lighthouses, museums and historical societies; and community catalyst opportunities.   

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