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National Zoo prepares to open new American Trail

Thursday - 8/30/2012, 7:02am  ET

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The new section allows visitors to come face-to-face with sea lions diving under water in a new 300,000 gallon pool. (WTOP/Kristi King)
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A walk through the Zoo's new trail

WTOP's Kristi King

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WASHINGTON - The Smithsonian's National Zoo is preparing to open a renovated section featuring seals, California sea lions, beavers, eagles and other North American animals.

The American Trail exhibit opens Saturday after a $42 million renovation - five years in the making - of the zoo's lower valley. It has been designed with a landscape that evokes the native Pacific Coast habitat of many animals that are featured. The zoo says the facilities were built with environmentally friendly features.

The new section allows visitors to come face-to-face with sea lions diving under water in a new 300,000 gallon pool. A wave machine keeps the water moving, which provides stimulation for the animals. It will be split-level, so zoo-goers can observe the lions outside and underwater.

Also on the new trail is a wolf park where two new American gray wolves live.

It also features otters, pelicans and ravens, plus a a tide pool where children can splash and play while looking at sea stars, barnacles and sea urchins.

Many of the American Trail inhabitants represent species that rebounded after coming close to extinction, the zoo says.

"American Trail is a celebration of our country's spirit and, in true Smithsonian tradition, a showcase for ‘living' American Treasures," said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

The space also will be home to the Seal Rock Cafe serving sustainable seafood. All of the dishes served will consist of seasonal and local seafood in keeping with the new food philosophy at the zoo, officials say.


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