When planning their vacation to Colorado Springs this year, Terry and Jessica Brezner added the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to their must-see list. The couple’s three sons are accustomed to livestock — the family lives on a farm in the Texas panhandle — but hadn’t had an opportunity to see the world’s exotic animals.

Two days before the Brezners planned to arrive in Colorado Springs, baseball-size hail battered the zoo, killing five animals, injuring 21 people and forcing evacuations of thousands.

After waiting anxiously for days while the zoo was closed for repairs, Jessica said her family felt a sigh of relief when they heard it would reopen Saturday.

“We heard it’s an amazing zoo, and really wanted to be able to see it,” Jessica said. “We’re leaving tomorrow, so we’re so happy it could reopen before we left.”

The Brezners were part of the 4,432 people who visited the zoo Saturday, slightly below an average weekend attendance, said Jenny Koch, zoo spokeswoman. Despite damage to the zoo’s roofs, Koch said all attractions were open Saturday, including the Sky Ride.

“Some of our employees were dealing with their own recovery, whether houses or cars,” she said. “It was a test for people to even get to and from work, but they still put in long hours with a smile on their face.”

Castle Rock residents Wendie and Nathan Sanders are longtime lovers of the zoo. They’ve been members for about four years and love the high-altitude environment.

They hadn’t visited since March, so when they read about the extent of the damage and loss of revenue, they thought opening day would serve as a way to support recovery and as an excuse to make the drive.

“We’re excited to see how crowded it is right now because when we heard about the cars that are smashed and the animals that died, we couldn’t believe it,” Wendie said.

“Plus, it’s better than the Denver Zoo,” Nathan said.

The community outpouring for the zoo highlighted its conservation and rehabilitation efforts for some visitors.

“You hear about some private zoos that don’t treat their animals well, but then you hear about places like Cheyenne that take care of animals and wildlife in ways that government-owned zoos can’t,” said Ian Both, a Colorado Springs native. “This is a special place, and it’s been amazing to see how it has gotten better year after year.”

Monday’s hailstorm was the second time the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo made national news in the past month. In July, the zoos 8-week-old giraffe calf Penny was euthanized after her legs splayed at 9 days old and she suffered debilitating health problems, including a torn leg muscle and abscess.

She was treated at Colorado State University in Fort Collins’ College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, where the veterinarians decided euthanization was the humane decision.

Avery Howard, a 14-year-old at Liberty High School who followed Penny since her birth, was saddened by her death.

“I was really upset when she died, and then seeing the other animals die was just really sad,” she said. “I wanted to come today to see the other beautiful animals here, how they work and how well they’re getting cared for.”

At the end of the day, whether pelted by hail or under sunny skies, the zoo strives to captivate its visitors with the animals.

“We’re happy that we can invite guests back to the zoo and let them fall in love with our animals,” Koch said.

Twitter: @lizmforster Phone: 636-0193

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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