BLOOMINGTON — During the first hour after Miller Park Zoo opened Friday, more than 700 people, mostly students, came through the gate.
Needless to say, the 90 parking spaces in front of the zoo were filled and school buses were parked along the main road into the park.
"A day like today, where the parking lot is full, it shows why we need an additional parking lot. It's why we're doing this work," said Jay Tetzloff, who heads both the city-owned zoo and the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
Jeff and Jane Legner and their grandson, Nathaniel, were among the throng of zoo visitors.
"We kind of learned today that Fridays are really crowded with school being close to closing for the year and all the buses coming with kids on field trips," said Jeff Legner.
"It was a bit of a challenge to get close to the zoo and find a parking spot," he added. "When you've got a wagon and a grandson you've got a lot to carry, so it's nice to get close to the entrance of the zoo."
The Legners ended up parking a little south of the zoo, near the amphitheater.
"That will help a lot, I think," said Jeff Legner.
Because of safety issues, the road in front of the zoo entrance also is being removed.
"That's pretty much gone," said Tetzloff. "We don't have to worry about that anymore so there are lots of benefits to this project. Now, they are getting ready to put in the parking lot area. So they are moving dirt from there over to fill in where the asphalt road was."
"While they are working, we will lose a few parking spaces in the (existing lot) and about 10 spots along the (one-way) road that leads up to zoo," said Tetzloff. "They used to be able to park there, but they can't because that is now a two-way street for the short-term."
The temporary loss spaces should have a minimal impact on other events, including Memorial Day and Fourth of July festivities, he said, when Miller Park is always crowded.
"There are still plenty of places to park within the park for park events," said Tetzloff. "Just this one road is really pretty much the only thing to change as of now."
Along with the existing parking lot, there is parking along the main drive, near the amphitheater, along Miller Park Lake, and 30 spaces in a temporary lot added about two years ago between the old playgrounds and Miller Park Pavilion, said Tetzloff.
Plans to open the concession stand for zoo patrons have been pushed back about a week.
"Right now I am going to try to have a soft opening on June 1," said Tetzloff.
The concession stand window for park patrons will open after the old road is removed and landscaping has been added, he said.