Opened in the summer of 1993, the then named Grizzly Discovery Center began giving visitors to Yellowstone a greater understanding and appreciation of grizzlies. Realized by the vision of developer Lewis S. Robinson, the GDC was to be a sanctuary for bears that were removed from the wild - saving them from certain death. Still, many questioned the motives of building a captive animal facility so close to Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Robinson also set up the non-profit International Grizzly Fund to assist bears in the wild with a portion of Center proceeds. Nevertheless, the Center opened its doors to an enthralled audience with three captive born Kodiak Brown Bears (Toby, Max and Lewie). During the first two years, the Center acquired its first wild grizzlies (Fred and Kenai) from Alaska, followed by Canadian bears Revel and Stoke. Kenai was later put to sleep because of spinal damage he sustained in the wild. In December of 1995, the GDC was sold to Ogden Entertainment based in New York. The Center operated as a for-profit while a wolf exhibit and ten captive-born wolves were added in 1996. Kodiak's, Max and Lewie were transferred to Ogden's Silver Springs facility in Florida in the late 90's making room for Sam and Illie in 1996, and Kobuk and Nakina in 1998.
In the summer of 1999 Ogden informed the employees of the GDC that they were going to close the Center if a buyer could not be found. At that point, three long-term GDC managers formed a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation and made an offer for the Center, including the six undeveloped acres south of the facility and the land north of the Center. The 1.7 million dollar offer was accepted in the fall of 1999. Through the extreme efforts of many dedicated employees and supporters, the Center was able to raise funds, awareness and eventually secure a 30-year financing package guaranteed by a United State Department of Agriculture program for rural development that ultimately funded the purchase.
Now all the proceeds of the Center stay with the Center and support the mission. We immediately received instant credibility with many of the past skeptics and began to make new alliances with federal and state agencies. We made agreements with Yellowstone National Park and started hosting some of their programs. We began testing bear-resistant containers for the US Forest Service. We were given the thumbs-up by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to save grizzly bears from the lower 48 because of our non-profit status. Then in 2001 the American Zoo & Aquarium Association accredited the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
In late 2002 the newly named Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center purchased two buildings north of the Center in preparation of exhibiting "BEARS: Imagination & Reality". 2003 was a year of fundraising and remodeling for the 2004 grand opening of "BEARS", now in its permanent home at the GWDC. Also completed that same year was the master plan as developed by The Portico Group, based in Seattle. The plan allowed the Center to incorporate all of our dreams into a working document for the future. The first step was to bring "BEARS" on line. The second endeavor has been completed with the addition of the River Valley Wolf Habitat and Naturalist Cabin in 2007. Visitors now have an opportunity to observe two separate wolf packs from the comfort of the Naturalist Cabin. Various wolf artifacts and displays help add to the visitor's understanding of these complex predators. In addition, in 2012 an outdoor ampitheater has been built to house educational programs.
We are very proud of our education offering and accomplishments. We have evolved from informal contact with our visitors in the habitat to a wide variety of presentations and demonstrations with our staff, Park Service staff and live raptors. Our Keeper Kids program has attracted thousands of participants over the past two years.
Our work on behalf of bears and wolves has been recognized throughout the world as featured on various television and radio broadcasts. We have made some changes by sending bears Fred and Toby to Buffalo, NY, making room for Montana bears Spirit, 101, Coram and twins Grant and Roosevelt. The original wolf pack is no longer but, young wolves have been successfully introduced and have since formed three packs. They continue to amaze visitors with their posturing and antics.
Future plans include a complex of smaller exhibits highlighting the effects that the presence of bears and wolves can have on an ecosystem. Funds are being raised to make the Banks of the Madison River Otter/Riparian Habitat a reality. The new pavilion will feature species dependent on healthy stream systems and include river otters, cutthroat trout, boreal toads and American dippers. A new bear exhibit is also planned as funding becomes available.