Larger habitats for the bigger animals and a focus on recreational programming highlight the new master plan for the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo.

Currently two 350-kilogram grizzly bears call a cage that’s less than one-third of an acre home.

“It did fine when it was built as they were cubs, it was built to save them. Obviously as they grew from cubs to 350 kilos that space isn’t sufficient for them anymore,” said zoo manager Tim Sinclair-Smith.

The new plan calls for a 17.6 acre habitat, the largest grizzly bear habitat in an urban centre, Sinclair-Smith said.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the park and zoo. The city is also looking to add recreational amenities to the grounds including a First Nations and Metis cultural area, a skating and fishing pond, an amphitheatre, a new admissions centre and a new parking lot. The plan also calls for upgraded habitats for the cougars and wolves at the zoo.

The new parking lot and the potential foot-traffic patterns was a point of contention when the city reviewed the new master plan.

Peggy Sarjeant with the Saskatoon Heritage Society said the new parking lot would change the façade of the entrance to the park and zoo.

“The tone immediately changes as greenspaces are replaced by rows of parked cars,” Sarjeant told the city’s planning and development committee. “People leaving the zoo will most certainly cross over the manicured lawn, using the shortest route to the parking lot.”

Sarjeant asked the city committee to reconsider of the location of the admissions centre and the parking lot.

Lynne Lacroix, general manager of community services for the City of Saskatoon said various stakeholders, including the heritage society, were consulted in the master plan and the city even held three separate walking tours through the park and zoo, to look for any complications.

“This is the direction we want to go and we’ll come back with more direction this fall with some of the potential costs and timing of phasing,” Lacroix said. “We envision this, depending on funding, it’s a minimum eight-year master plan, closer to a 12-15 year master plan.”

She added the plan is to start on the north end of the park and zoo with the grizzly bear habitat and then work its way south to the zoo entrance.

Sinclair-Smith said he‘s happy to hear feedback on the master plan, and moving forward, balancing the needs and wants of the entire city may come with challenges.

“We love the fact that people care … we have to balance the needs of people in the city and people have told us that they want space for recreation,” he said.

The city's master plan for the Forestry Farm Park and Zoo still needs city council approval at the end of the month.