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Hundreds waited in a caravan of strollers, some with children on their shoulders, as Hogle Zoo Friday morning opened its much-anticipated $18 million Rocky Shores exhibit.
Toddlers roared with frustration as they wiggled in the hot sun awaiting a chance to see bears, seals, otters and more just beyond the "ribbon" of rope and fishing net.
An opening ceremony that began five minutes late and lasted more than 15 minutes caused some families to boil over.
"We had a mom yelling at us out there," zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen said.
Kelly Beverly and her 2-year-old daughter, Michelle, decided to wander the rest of the zoo rather than brave the crowd.
Sonya Steiner and her son Ray Ray, 4, waited for the opportunity to be among the first to cross, but Ray Ray did not enjoy the break between stops on his tour of the zoo.
"I'm with the boy, so for us it was a little long-winded," Steiner said.
Rocky Shores is the zoo's largest expansion project ever in terms of size and funding. The exhibits mirror wildlife found on the West Coast stretching from Oregon to Alaska. Creatures on display include a polar bear, grizzly bears, seals, sea lions, otters and eagles.
Funding for the facility came from a $33 million bond measure approved by Salt Lake County taxpayers and funds raised by the zoo.
After a few remarks Friday by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and other officials, the countdown began. The bridge opened, fountains bubbled and confetti rained down as children bolted toward the animals.
Traffic directors moved people through the facility smoothly and helped families park strollers near the opening. Even with the control measures, the environment grew hectic.
Children pressed up against gates and windows, attempting to sneak a peek at an animal or two. As soon as one child spotted an animal, young eyes widened, while choruses of "Wow" and "Ahhhh" echoed through the air.
Nine-year-old Joshua Cropper gazed at the polar bear, Rizzo, from inside a cave-like viewing area for the zoo's younger visitors with his little sister Mae. He had already seen the grizzlies and the polar bear within the first 20 minutes of the exhibit's opening.
"It's really cool, but I keep getting squished," Joshua said.
Mae, age 3, ran from window to window trying to keep up with the bear.
"There she goes again," said her mother, Debbie Cropper.
Zada Sheranian and Mackenzie Smith pressed up against the glass of the underwater gallery watching the seals dive and flip in the water. The 6-year-olds laughed and quickly refocused on a larger animal swimming in the tank next door.
"Oh my gosh! Look, it's a polar bear!" Mackenzie yelled out to Zada, pointing and jumping in the air.
Even the mayor made his way through the crowded exhibits.
"It's fabulous," Becker said. "Is anyone not having a great time? Even the animals look happy."
For some, the sculpture animals and play elements provided more entertainment than the exhibits.
Children ran through a hollowed tree log and climbed atop polar bear and seal statues, avoiding their parents' cameras whenever possible.
Michelle Beverly ran with her friend Elias Martin, 2, through the log, peeping her head out a hole on the side every now and then.
Her mother, Kelly, said the two would likely stay at the play structure for most of their visit.
"I think we'll be here a while," Beverly said. "The log is awesome, apparently."
Hansen said the zoo is preparing for record-breaking crowds over the weekend and has scheduled additional workers in order to keep up.
She hopes visitors will be patient and courteous at Rocky Shores to ensure that everyone will have an opportunity to see the animals.
"I just worry that people will see them and they won't want to leave," Hansen said.
Hogle Zoo's newest residents
The new Rocky Shores exhibit opened Friday at the zoo, introducing new animals. Gates are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12.75 for adults and $9.75 for seniors and children age 3-12. Children younger than 2 get in free.
The new animals include:
Rizzo • a playful polar bear from Cincinnati
Dolly, Lou Lou and Koda • three rambunctious grizzlies from Buffalo
Big Guy, Maverick and Rocky • three outgoing sea lions from California
Hudson, Mira and Nika • three energetic harbor seals from L.A.
Nick and Nellie • a loving couple of river otters from Wisconsin