Sahar, Lincoln Park Zoo male lion

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo Will Remain Free Through 2050

July 26, 2019 - 8:30 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Guests of Lincoln Park Zoo can continue to make long-lasting memories free of charge.

Lincoln Park Zoo announced Thursday that the zoo will continue to offer admission for the next 30-plus years thanks to the city of Chicago. 

"We are happy to report the zoo and city have extended the terms through 2050, providing the zoo critical support for ongoing initiatives and zoo management—and to help keep the zoo free," said Lincoln Park Zoo's President and CEO Kevin Bell, in a statement. "We are incredibly grateful to the city and its residents for their unwavering support for this Chicago landmark."

The zoo got its start in 1868 after New York gifted Chicago with two pairs of swans. Ten years later with many additions, Lincoln Park commissioners declared the zoo must always stay free, and it has been that way ever since.


For 127 years, the zoo was managed by the Chicago Park District and operated under the City of Chicago’s budget; but, in 1995, the zoo privatized and has since depended on donors and members, in addition to a fixed financial support from the city - which at the contract was signed accounted for about half of the zoo’s operating budget. 

"Today, Lincoln Park Zoo is proud to support more than 80 percent of its operating and capital costs and continues to remain free thanks primarily to our generous supporters, event-goers, and guests," Bell said. "Whether you buy a soda at the new Bird’s Eye Bar & Grill, purchase a souvenir at the recently renovated Gift Shop, or simply walk through our gates or along Nature Boardwalk, you are helping to support wildlife conservation and a historic institution."

The zoo said it began discussing an extension of that contract with the city in 2017. The new agreement runs through 2050. It’s unclear how much the zoo will receive from the city under the new contract. Last year, the zoo received $5.59 million from the city in the form of a Chicago Park District subsidy, according to the zoo’s 2019 Annual Report.

"Lincoln Park Zoo has been, and will always be, a magical place: a free oasis in the heart of Chicago, dedicated to connecting people to nature and creating environments where wildlife can thrive," Bell said. 

The zoo recently announced renovation plans for the iconic Kovler Lion House. The renovation is the last project of the zoo’s ongoing $135 million capital fundraising campaign.