All Aboard!! The Zoo Choo at Mill Mountain Zoo is back

In total, the Mill Mountain Zoo needed to raise $65,000 to make all the repairs to the Zoo Choo to bring it back for the guests

ROANOKE, Va. – All aboard the Zoo Choo! The historic train is back at the Mill Mountain Zoo after almost a two-year hiatus due to renovations.

An official ribbon cutting for the train will take place on Wednesday, June 14 at 10 a.m. This is the official public launch of the newly renovated Zoo Choo.

The Zoo Choo is an iconic part of the zoo’s history and gives children and adults a ride around the zoo on its 1,010-foot-long track.

Mary Silcox and her son Jack were one of the first people to ride the train this summer. They both said they had a great time and the ride was really fun.

For many people like Mary, this train is more than just a ride. It is an important part of her family’s history.

“My grandfather, Judge Jack Colter, was a big part of the development of the original Zoo Choo and also laid a lot of the track too, and Jack is named after my grandfather. So, this is exciting to bring him back to the train track he was a part of,” says Silcox.

Even though there have been a lot of repairs to the train, including a complete restoration of the locomotive and two passenger cars and the replacement of the gas engine, the original track that Mary’s Grandfather helped build is still the same.

“I had no idea this was the original track. It makes me feel really special that he was a part of it. It is a great way to remember him,” says Silcox.

Other renovations to the train included an update of the electrical system, the replacement of the hydraulic drive and brake control system and a new sunshade installed at the station platform for visitor comfort.

In total, the Mill Mountain Zoo needed to raise $65,000 to make all the repairs to the Zoo Choo to bring it back for the guests.

Niki Voudren, Executive Director of the Mill Mountain Zoo, says, “Once we raised a portion of the funds needed to renew the Zoo Choo, it was hauled off-site into Kinsey Sign Company and remolded. They had to order parts.”

The Zoo Choo is an important part of the Mill Mountain Zoo’s history. First debuting in 1952, the G-16 miniature train gives you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the animals you can see at the zoo. The ride laps around the zoo twice and allows visitors a 360-degree view of the Roanoke Valley.

“We could just not deny the public’s demand for the Zoo Choo. Those of us who rode the Zoo Choo as a kid just wanted that Zoo Choo back on the tracks. So we listened to our guests, and now with their help, we are able to provide a more robust experience for the guests,” says Voudren.

Kim Garlinghouse, one of the Zoo Choo conductors, says it is truly an honor to drive the train around the zoo for each family and guest.

“They come back making me feel like a superhero with comments like, ‘That was the best train ride ever. I am so excited I want to do it again.’”

Although the Zoo is a participant in many national and international wildlife conservation efforts, conducts research onsite, has many innovative educational programs, camps, and events, and exhibits native and exotic animal exhibits, for many visitors, the train is an integral part of their childhood memories and Zoo experience.

Future goals for the Zoo Choo include a new mural to the train tunnel, as well as adding activities at the train depot.


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