Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

April 24, 1974 –

Riverbanks Zoo has repeatedly been recognized as one of America’s most successful zoological parks, with nearly one million annual visitors. The zoo and garden maintains 573 animal and 6,536 plant species. Riverbanks has garnered prestigious awards, twice wining the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s highest conservation honor, the Edward H. Bean Award.

(Columbia). The South Carolina General Assembly established the Riverbanks Park Special Purpose District in 1969 to “plan, establish, develop . . . and protect public recreation and zoo facilities within . . . Richland and Lexington Counties.” The district is governed by the seven-member Riverbanks Park Commission, which is comprised of appointed representatives of the two counties and the city of Columbia.

Riverbanks Zoo opened on April 24, 1974, and was an instant hit with residents of the Midlands. Soon after opening, the new zoo experienced some controversy when visitor-generated income did not support the operating budget. This ended when Richland and Lexington Counties voted to supplement the zoo’s budget by levying a dedicated tax. The Riverbanks Society, a private, nonprofit organiza- tion, was formed in 1978 so that individuals could demonstrate their support for the zoo. Public bond issues and private fund campaigns resulted in major expansions of the zoo in 1989 and 2002. A similar funding plan was used to build a botanical garden in 1995.

Riverbanks Zoo has repeatedly been recognized as one of America’s most successful zoological parks, with nearly one million annual visitors. The zoo and garden maintains 573 animal and 6,536 plant species. Riverbanks has garnered prestigious awards, twice wining the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s highest conservation honor, the Edward H. Bean Award. In response to a major expansion program and its status as South Carolina’s largest tourist attraction, Riverbanks received the Governor’s Cup as South Carolina’s Most Outstanding Attraction and the Southeast Tourism Society’s Shining Example Award as Travel Attraction of the Year in 2002.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
  • Coverage April 24, 1974 –
  • Author
  • Keywords district is governed by the seven-member Riverbanks Park Commission, Riverbanks Society, a private, nonprofit organiza- tion, was formed in 1978 so that individuals could demonstrate their support for the zoo, received the Governor’s Cup as South Carolina’s Most Outstanding Attraction and the Southeast Tourism Society’s Shining Example Award as Travel Attraction of the Year in 2002
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 6, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 23, 2022
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