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. 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.
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 a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation was formed. 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 and Wolf Discovery Center.
In late 2002 the Center became the permanent home the “BEARS: Imagination & Reality”. Also completed that same year was the master plan to incorporate all of our dreams into a working document for the future. The first step was to bring “BEARS” on line. Other endeavors have been completed with the addition of the River Valley Wolf Habitat and Naturalist Cabin in 2007 and an outdoor amphitheater was built in 2012 to house educational programs.
The new Banks of the Yellowstone: Riparian Habitat building opened September 2019. The initial plan was actually put to paper in 2005 and after years of fundraising and planning, construction began in 2015. The building is now home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout, arctic grayling and another featured predator of the Yellowstone ecosystem- river otters. Visible just outside, a wolf habitat has been extended to the new building allowing for the unique ability to visualize the diverse relationships between predators, prey and habitats.
A new Bear Habitat and eight new bear dens are currently under construction on the remaining acre of undeveloped GWDC land. With continued financial support these important projects will continue to progress.