Conservation at the Forefront, Free Admission for All

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is a gateway to the wonders of the natural world, where free admission makes it possible to teach two million children and adults the values of conservation every year. From rare orchids to endangered orangutans, there’s a whole world of wild and precious plants and animals to discover at Como, with family-friendly conservation programs that inspire us to appreciate and protect the planet we love.

On Give to the Max Day, your generosity will help make even more possible at Minnesota’s most visited cultural destination. From providing best-practice care for the animals, to earth-friendly pest control to keep Como’s gardens looking gorgeous, to inclusive programs to train the next generation of keepers and gardeners, your support allows Como Park Zoo & Conservatory to stay true to its mission, teaching us all about the life-giving connections between animals, plants, and people.

And thanks to a matching gift from the Como Friends Board of Directors and generous longtime donors, your gift will be doubled, dollar for dollar, up to $40,000.

Have you heard Mumford the lion chuff and roar at the start of a summer day?  Have you strolled through the elegant new winter-white Holiday Flower Show? What did your kids think of the splashy new SPIRE Sparky Show?

If you’re like most visitors, you made more than one trip to Como in the past year, coming and going with the seasons. An urban oasis that belongs to us all, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is always the perfect destination for a day brightener–whether you’ve only got time for a Lil Explorers program before a toddler’s nap, or you’ve got the whole day to smell the roses and meet the animals. 

“This was a year when Como’s audience was ready to rediscover Como Zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory all over again,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. More than 1 million visitors made a free reservation to visit Como in 2022, a 20 percent increase since the year before. And thanks to your contributions to Como Friends, nearly every corner of Como saw the benefits of private support, with expanded education programs, accessibility improvements, and equitable access for all. “We also saw an extraordinary level of generosity from our Como Friends donors this year, who see the need that Como fills in our community, and who understand the value of having a free-admission destination that everyone can enjoy.” 

Here’s a look at how Como Friends invested more than $1.8 million of your contributions in special projects, improvements and daily operations at Minnesota’s most visited cultural institution:

Equity: While inflation soared, the price of visiting Como Park Zoo and Conservatory never wavered. One of only a few major metro zoos and botanical gardens in the country that’s still completely free to visitors, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory continues to be one of Minnesota’s most accessible institutions and one of the most visited destinations in the whole state. Not only do your contributions help to keep Como admission-free every day of the year, Como Friends’ support also helps to pay for the improvements that make the campus inviting and accessible for all. From big improvements like the renovation of Como Zoo’s aquatics building, to smaller updates like the new elevators in the Sunken Garden and stroller-friendly doors at Polar Bear Odyssey, your contributions help enhance the experience for all of our visitors. 

Education: Como’s education programs roared back to life in 2022, with fun programs like Lil Explorers, the early childhood program made possible by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment and your contributions to Como Friends. During the summer, over 30,000 more children and adults came to Como than the year before, drawn to fun outdoor experiences like the SPIRE Sparky Show, making waves every day in the fantastic new Como Harbor habitat. During the school year, virtual learning programs like Como Connections have helped deliver engaging conservation curriculum to classrooms around the state, and to kids studying at home. Your support for Como Friends made it possible to do even more for our school partners, expanding free online curriculum for elementary and middle school learners, and welcoming back busloads of field trip groups through Como’s free online reservation system.

Excellence: How do you get three polar bears to play nice together? Where do you get the 10,000 tulip bulbs it takes to put on the Spring Flower show? How do you persuade an orangutan to volunteer to get her flu shot? Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s exceptional staff of keepers and horticulturists know the answers to all of those questions and more, providing best in class care to animals and plants every day. In 2022, your support for Como Friends helped to elevate everything that happens at Como, from the bulbs and plant material that make the Sunken Garden Minnesota’s most beautiful room, to the behind-the-scenes partnership with the University of Minnesota’s veterinary school, that keeps all of Como Zoo’s animals healthy and curious. Your support also helped to provide for professional development, conservation training, and specialized equipment that helps Como’s keepers and horticulturists do their jobs better, from a new blood pressure and vitals monitor for Como Zoo’s animals, to the portable water tanks that keep all of Como’s gardens looking great.

Thanks to your support for Como Friends, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has the resources to be the best it can be today—and even better tomorrow!

We look forward to seeing you again at Como in 2023!

Make a donation

“It is our first visit here, and it is an amazing opportunity. We asked how much it was and they said it’s free. And I said, ‘Are you sure?” –Lionnel Djon, Thunder Bay, Ontario


Admission is free. Parking is free. Children are free. Adults are free. Como Zoo is free. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is free. At Como, free means free.

Como was founded by visionaries and volunteers who foresaw the need for creating a public green space at the heart center of the Twin Cities. More than a century later, that vision has made Como Park Zoo & Conservatory the most visited cultural destination in the state of Minnesota, often welcoming nearly two million children and adults each year. With its historic architecture, significant horticultural collections and state-of-the-art habitats, visiting Como has been a shared memory for more than five generations of Minnesotans.

 But what’s truly unique when compared to other zoos and botanical gardens across the country is Como’s open door policy–free admission that’s made possible, in part, by your contributions to Como Friends. “Over the past 20 years, our successful public/private partnership has helped  protect the free admission this community cares about, and to introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of nature without any barriers to access,” says Jackie Sticha, President of Como Friends, the nonprofit fundraising partner of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  

We recently asked a few of Como’s two million annual visitors to talk about why kids need time in nature and what free admission means to them.

“My family and grandkids had the opportunity to spend the day at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. It was the best day ever!

How wonderful that we could see and do so many things for FREE! We did make a donation. It made me realize how many wouldn’t be there if there was a big entrance and parking fee like so many other places. Everyone has a chance to go. That is so great!!

Thank you so much for giving families this memorable experience.” Como Visitor

– Dell Brisson, Cottage Grove

“Introducing kids to nature broadens their world and lets them know it is bigger than they are.”

– Dell Brisson, Cottage Grove
– Gina Thrap, St Paul

“We come to Como probably six times a year. The Sunken Garden is a must—when I was in college I would come and study in the Conservatory because it was nice and warm and relaxing. We obviously like the giraffes, but it’s important to introduce kids to nature so they can see the big picture, the circle of life, and see how we are all connected and we have to take care of our animals, and they take care of us.”

– Gina Thrap, St Paul
– Denise Glasrud, Stillwater

“Como’s free admission allows everyone to come and it doesn’t exclude anyone. And I hope it stays that way. It’s easy to visit for a whole day or just a couple hours. It is such a world of electronics that I think that bringing kids back to nature is a good thing.”

– Denise Glasrud, Stillwater
– Guy and Mae Aho, Shoreview

“With a free zoo, you get more public awareness. We are all involved together in saving the wild species all over the world and the people who are connected to the animals. Helping one is helping all of us.

We come every day—you never know who you’re going to meet. We meet people from all over the world here. We talk to parents with little kids each day, we meet grandparents whose grandparents took them here. Como is one thing that they can share with kids and grandkids for decades.”

– Guy and Mae Aho, Shoreview

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